New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



The Science of Security

It's 6 A.M., and you're just rising from bed to a welcome hot cup of coffee. Suddenly you hear sirens blaring and brakes screeching and see members of New York's police and fire departments rushing into your building. When you emerge from your apartment, confronted by the incident commander, he states, "We have a bomb threat." You are the president of your board. What do you do?

Although this incident illustrates a scenario for a small residential building, picture your doorman, security officer, or maintenance person as the responsible person. Are they ready?

Today's climate of terror threats, criminal incidents, and natural disasters reinforces what security practitioners have been saying for years: plan now for tomorrow's crises.

When we hear terms such as "contingency planning management," "disaster preparedness," and "crisis management" they tend to conjure up visions of endless hours of preparation, volumes of paperwork, and enormous capital investment. While this may ring true for large multinational conglomerates, it is not applicable to the average residential building or complex.

Reduced to its simplest form, the emergency management plan is a carefully designed document outlining the risks of potential incidents to the property and, most importantly, the response to those risks and potential incidents. To begin designing a realistic emergency management plan, you need to first conduct an assessment of your building or complex. It should begin by answering such basic questions as:

• What are the current threats to a residential building within the New York City area?

• What are we protecting against?

• What do we have in place now?

• Is it adequate to protect our building and residents?

Let us begin by mentioning some of the current threats facing residential buildings within this metropolitan area:

Bomb threats. Most bombs threats are hoaxes. However, in today's climate the threat of a bombing is a harsh reality. Most perpetrators telephone the threat or send it in a note.

Suspicious packages. We've all heard about this one: the unattended and unidentified package sitting in the lobby of your building or the package received from a well-recognized delivery service with oily stains on the outer wrapper. Suspicious packages come in all shapes and sizes. Most are harmless, one may be dangerous.

Anthrax. One person in the office has just opened an apparently harmless envelope. A fine white powder falls into his lap. What do you do? A resident has just received a package, opens it in the building mailroom, a mist of powder fills the air, the resident panics, and runs away. What do you do?

Terrorist action. In June of 2002, the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned representatives of apartment buildings that terrorists were possibly targeting residential dwellings. This is not a new danger. It happened in Moscow in 1999.

Vandalism. This threat takes the form of apartment break-ins, the forcible robbery of persons within your building, vandalism, and graffiti. These crimes can have devastating and, sometimes, long-term effects


We have identified a few threats facing your building. Let's address ways to prevent their occurrence and the procedures that should be implemented if such an incident occurs. When determining risk, you will need to start with the surrounding neighborhood. Take a good hard look at the residences, businesses, and landmarks that encompass your community. By conducting this type of survey you will determine what types of collateral damage issues exist.

For example, you live in a residential building with a wonderful close-up view of the Empire State Building. Should that landmark experience a terrorist attack or be subject to protests, you will undoubtedly be affected. Your building may not have been the actual target, but because of its proximity it may have experienced damage or a resident may have been injured.

Another consideration when conducting the neighborhood survey is the actual crime rate. Managers and board members should set up an appointment with the local precinct crime prevention officer. This police professional will advise you of criminal incidents which have occurred within your surrounding area. This information is vital when determining the current criminal threat level for your building. After this information is analyzed, you need to determine if you are in a low-, medium-, or high-crime area. This intelligence is of paramount importance before beginning the next phase of the plan.

After determining the criminal threat level, you are ready to determine the vulnerability of your particular building or complex. Start with the physical security features. Conduct a walk-through, starting from the perimeter and working inward toward the lobby area. Once completed, begin within the internal areas, from the lowest floor upward.

Look at your building's existing security hardware and systems. Determine if fencing, gates, doors, locks, hardware, and alarms are all in good repair and adequate for the current threat level. Repair, replace, upgrade, or install new systems and hardware when necessary.

When the physical security audit has been completed, it is time for the internal audit of security programs. Traditionally, larger buildings and residential housing complexes usually have these programs in place. Management should review and update these constantly. Smaller properties should implement applicable programs to enhance the security of their residents.

Programs are the core of a secure building. You can have the most state-of-the-art locks available, but if you made that "extra set of keys" and misplaced them, the locks can be worthless.


So, let's begin with key control. If you do not know where your keys are, or how many were issued, your locking systems are pretty much useless. Re-keying the entire building probably will not be the most practical or cost-effective solution.

At a minimum, all critical areas of the building, such as electrical rooms, telephone rooms, office areas, and supply facilities should be re-keyed to prevent unauthorized access. After this is complete, a locked keybox should be obtained and secured within a restricted area. Keys should be tagged and an issuance log created and maintained. Only persons with managerial authority should have access to the keybox.

Another important component of a good security program is an employee identification system. Buildings with a large number of employees typically utilize a photo-based identification card. Although smaller buildings with one or two employees may find this unnecessary, it will aid in the immediate identification of who is responsible should an incident occur.

Communication between staff and managerial personnel during a crisis situation is of utmost importance. Depending on the number of employees at your location, it may be wise to invest in portable radios. For the smaller residential building, the capital investment may not be warranted. You may choose the option of using employees' personal cellular telephones. This simple verbal agreement will ensure equipment availability without incurring additional costs.

One final note concerns paperwork. Security logbooks provide documentation of activities such as alarm tests, criminal incidents, building visitors, and package deliveries. Maintaining these logs will complement what your building is doing to protect its most valuable assets: your residents.

You have identified threats, assessed your neighborhood surroundings, conducted an audit of your physical security, and implemented your necessary security improvements and programs. You now need to establish emergency procedures: predetermined written orders that instruct staff on exact responses to incidents. Remember: procedures should be written for your specific building. It is not recommended that generic plans be utilized. Also, keep it simple: one page rather than one hundred.


All emergency procedures should answer six basic questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how. In addition, you will need to establish a procedure for each threat to your building. Do not forget incidents not related to security, such as fires, gas leaks, power losses, and natural disasters.

Who? Determine who will respond. All crises will need an incident commander to instruct staff and deal with responding emergency services. The incident commander will need to be the senior ranking member of the building on duty at the time. Larger properties and complexes often have a security staff that is capable of responding to incidents. Smaller buildings may want to consider predetermined volunteers to aid in evacuation of residents should the need arise.

What? Enact orders that will advise employees on what they are actually required to do. For example, one employee may be designated to call 911. Other employees may be assigned to search for suspicious items in and around public access ways.

Where? Ensure that responding employees know exactly where they are going and how to get there. Ensure your procedure does not include evacuation routes that pass through areas of the building that may create a safety hazard. You may also want to designate a command post for prolonged incidents. That should be within proximity of the incident but far enough away to avoid hazards. The incident commander should be stationed within the command post with all necessary documents to include the building floor plans and fire safety information.

When? The beginning of each procedure should be to call 911. You do not want to respond to incidents until you know help is on the way. Imagine missing this important step, for example, reacting to a report of a fire and the fire department does not respond because it has not been informed.

Why? The inclusion of "why" in the emergency procedure addresses the specific outcome of the event. Phrases such as "render first aid if applicable" and "to prevent panic and ensure residents are evacuated in a calm manner, remember to speak in a clear, calm, steady tone" tend to reinforce the reason for the response.

How? This question deals primarily with training and education issues. Although it may not be written into the procedure, this is the most important step. Ask yourself these questions:

• Does my staff know how to properly operate fire extinguishers?

•Are management personnel properly prepared to handle a suspicious package delivered to the property?

• What will the doorman actually do if a bomb threat were telephoned?

• What will I do if a suspicious person is loitering within the building and I cannot immediately call the police?

The answers to these questions lie within one word: training. Training for emergency situations cannot be overemphasized. It is necessary to train all applicable personnel. Small residential buildings, mid-size residences with a lone doorman, and large complexes all have different and unique training needs. At a minimum, once all emergency procedures have been written and tested, on-site training should be conducted. Personnel, including security officers, maintenance workers, doormen, and - in buildings with no staff - board members need to participate in simulated emergency exercises. By actually walking through procedures, step by step, responses to incidents can become second nature. Other types of training should be implemented to enhance protection of your residents. Consider training staff and residents in such areas as emergency first aid and automatic external defibrillation.

Our residence is where we live and raise our families. When we're home we have an absolute right to feel safe and secure. Property managers, employees, boards of directors, and vendors are entrusted to keep residents safe. By designing and implementing a well-thought-out emergency plan, you can achieve that objective.

Timothy O’Brien has over 20 years experience in law enforcement and corporate security management. His current certifications include New York State security instructor, peace officer instructor, and he is certified in crime prevention management with the New York City Police Department. He currently works for the Criminal Intelligence Administration, an international security consulting firm specializing in security management, counter-intelligence, and counter-terrorism. Established in 1987, this organization has served a broad base of clients worldwide, including the United States Department of Defense, a number of Fortune 500 companies, developers, managing agents, and boards of directors. It works to reduce corporate and property vulnerabilities.

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