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Hi-Tech Solutions

I live in a cooperative. On July 14, there was a security incident in the guest parking lot of our property. Thieves pulled up in a stolen van, broke into a guest's vehicle, and made off with a number of items.

Security is a key issue today for any building. How well equipped is your co-op or condo to handle the security? Before September 11, most of us were not paying a great deal of attention to security; however, we all had a wake-up call when terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center. How vulnerable is your building to attack? Perhaps a more reasonable question to consider concerns theft or vandalism. What is your board doing to protect your building against those occurrences?

The answer to good security protection today lies in technology. There are new technology elements available from the security industry that can be used today to provide more information on the security in your building than ever before. These elements include solutions to the security camera system that record events at key entry/exit points and the master-key system.

Most are familiar with the traditional analog camera systems that tape information to a videocassette recorder (VCR) and the master-key that has controlled entry to the building. There are two questions to consider concerning the quality of the security in your building. Have you ever tried to review 48 hours of VCR tape to find the five-second event in which a car was stolen from your garage? How many master keys from your building are missing?

For our July 14 car theft incident, the police were called in to investigate. After looking at the video from the new digital security camera system, the police left with a floppy disk detailing the incident. The next day, investigators found the deserted van in Jersey City and returned the stolen property that was recovered from the van.

This result was a significant improvement over a stolen car event that occurred in our garage two years ago. The old analog surveillance system that recorded to a VCR did not even pick up a picture of the car leaving the garage, never mind a picture of the driver. The new digital system gets a picture of the driver as he or she swipes the smart card to open the garage door.

There are two new digital technologies that can substantially enhance the level of security in your building; they are a color digital security camera system, and a smart card access system. These technologies can replace the analog security camera system that records on a VCR tape and the traditional master-key system.

Modern technology is not expensive to implement, and it provides a significant improvement in the amount of information that can be extracted from the recorded data. Analog technology was good at collecting data, but it was very difficult to turn the data into usable information. If you're not clear on the difference between data and information, try looking at a the data on a 24-hour videotape to find the five seconds of information on who stole the car from the garage; this is a very tedious process and not always effective.

With today's modern digital video surveillance systems, the task of picking out the key information takes less time than with the old analog surveillance systems. The quality of the picture is better, and there are fewer mistakes because people are no longer required to change the tape. Instead of recording everything, the digital system only records motion-based events. The events are automatically stored on a computer hard drive for 21 days; longer if you purchase a bigger hard drive. That way, the videotape does not accidentally get recorded over because someone forgot to change the tape.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, we had an incident occur on our property. Very early Sunday morning, two shareholders returned home in a highly inebriated state. On their way from their car to the elevator, they decided to rip an American flag off another car in the garage. The security guard was alerted to their entry into the garage and he focused the camera on these two people, recording the whole event. The next morning, the manager looked at the incident report, reviewed the digital footage of the event, and called the resident who owned the flag. After reviewing the footage, the resident called the police.

In addition to providing information on abnormal events, these digital security systems can be used to manage day-to-day activities. Every building has dissident shareholders. These people do not support the actions taken by the board, and will sometimes remove notices or other pieces of information from the notice boards on the elevators. With a new digital camera system, it is very easy to see these people in action, and thus they can be presented with an appropriate letter from the manager. In our building, informative messages are no longer being removed or defaced by the dissidents. The house rules have been amended to require a fine for such actions, and the security camera system provides the evidence.

There are other areas to consider. Do you have a master-key that lets you into the building? If so, how many of these keys are missing? When people move, they don't always turn in the keys; so where do these keys end up? Two years ago, we did an audit on how many master-keys had been cut in the past six years; more than 200 keys were missing.

The solution to the master-key problem is the smart card. This digital system is similar to the EZpass system that permits you to bypass the traffic lines at the Lincoln Tunnel. Smart card technology will permit your manager to know who is entering and who is leaving and at precisely what time they came and went. It will permit alerts to be set up to look for specific cards.

In our building, this proved to be very effective when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was examining a specific resident concerning the World Trade Center incident. A smart card alert was set up to let us know when the resident returned to the building; the manager then called the FBI, and the resident was taken away for questioning. Could your traditional master-key have provided this type of help?

If the events described here don't provide you with a wake-up call on your security systems, then nothing will. Co-op and condo organizations should seriously consider upgrading their security systems' capabilities. The new digital video set-ups can be easily integrated with the smart card access systems, thus providing a significant improvement in security. Ask yourself: who is coming in? Better still, who is taking things out?

In our property, the digital camera system can be viewed in real-time from many places, the security shack, the concierge's desk, the super's office, and the manager's office. From a historical perspective, the manager and the superintendent can also review information on their computers. The security computers and the management computers are all connected on the building's local area network. If your manager's computer connects to the internet on a static IP address, then any board member who is computer-literate can look at the security information across the internet; this requires the appropriate password and access codes. The big advantage of digital information is that it can be readily shared with all concerned.

There are other advantages to such a system. It is entirely possible that your co-op or condo organization has people who are habitually in arrears on their maintenance. One solution is to pass a resolution to the bylaws permitting the manager to tow the vehicles of those in arrears. It is easy for the manager to deactivate the smart card so that the delinquent party cannot get in or out of the garage, without turning off their privileges to enter the other doors to the building. The camera system can then be used to check the parking space to see if the guilty party has tried to sneak in using another resident's smart card. Believe it or not, this will happen if there is no on street parking available. It is amazing how most people in arrears will make the necessary maintenance payment on time when their car is banned from the garage.

Another advantage of the system is that cards can be deactivated if a resident loses his card. This is a simple matter of entering a keystroke into the computer, and issuing the resident with a new card. There is a charge for the new card, and each resident gets only one card. This is very important if you want to keep control of the security access to your building. Give residents more than one and they will lose one and fail to report it. Give them only one, and they have to report it to get into the building.

Smart cards can be issued to temporary guests at the request of the resident; the computer is used to effectively manage the usage time frame requested by the resident. The same controls can be applied to private residential cleaning staff, maid service, and baby-sitters. Along the same lines, your building employees can be prohibited from entering the building during non-working hours, other than through the front door where they must sign in. All of this is done automatically with these new digital systems. It can be set up to restrict access to certain areas of the building, e.g., it can be used to permit entry to the pool or gym, but only for the residents who have joined the swim club or the gym.

The combined cost of these two modern systems, digital cameras and smart cards, is about $130,000. This will get you a 32-camera system to record color video for 21 days, and smart card access to 16 doors. The systems are modular, thus growth can be easily added. As they say on the Discovery Channel, the advantages of information technology at work are clear and precise.

You should consider an upgrade to the old analog security systems. Times are changing and the terrorist threat is not going to go away quickly. This new technology could be the preventative solution that saves your life or protects your property.


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