Property Management Issues
The Ongoing Impacts of COVID-19 on Security
From the Summer 2021 issue of the CCI Toronto Condovoice Magazine.
Maintaining a Safe Community for Everyone Is Just One of the Responsibilities of Security
Reflecting back with a 2021 mindset to one year ago and the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we can all agree that things are not the way they used to be, especially not in our condominiums and, from my perspective, not how security services were provided previously.
Security providers, and the security industry as a whole, take pride in being leaders in adopting new technologies and being frontrunners of innovation. However, the speed with which we witnessed drastic and sudden changes in practices, rules, policies, procedures and most importantly the roles of security providers and their members was exceptional during this pandemic.
We have all had to deal with enormous change on the fly. Governments mandated orders and municipal bylaws for the public's safety and frontline security were tasked with carrying out enforcement to varying degrees. We saw a dynamic array of new condo-specific rules (with some condos taking a very decisive stand and adopting strict rules and others were less restrictive). In applying and enforcing new COVID-focused rules everywhere from public places to condominium properties, security personnel experienced their fair share of pressure. Guards, for example, were often faced with dissension from normally accepting condo residents who, due to COVID fatigue or frayed nerves, sometimes broke the corporation's health and safety rules and refused to wear a mask. Security guards, just doing their jobs, were met with resistance and animosity. COVID-19 pushed the boundaries of enforcement and the role and responsibilities of frontline security staff – all in an effort to combat the virus and stop its spread.
Let's explore some of the challenges that COVID-19 has created in our condominium communities and share some best practices employed.
Effective engagement: The positive practice of word choice in COVID-19 rules enforcement
As governments and public health at all levels implemented pandemic protocols across the province, condominium corporations were faced with implementing – and enforcing – similar COVID-19 rules for residents and visitors clarifying health and safety protocols. These included the wearing of masks in common areas, maintaining safe social distancing, limiting the number of residents allowed in elevators, etc. In many instances the enforcement of these rules was tasked to the property's security staff. Sometimes security became vulnerable to verbal abuse simply because they were the frontline face encouraging residents to follow the corporation's COVID- 19 health and safety rules.
When faced with residents who refuse to wear masks, for example, Condor guards are taught to de-escalate potentially volatile situations employing conflict resolution tactics they learn in a training program called "Verbal Judo." Guards have used the empathetic approach taught in this program on many occasions throughout the pandemic. This internationally recognized training program teaches security personnel to be respectful and to make appeals to the angry/frustrated person who refuses to wear a mask/follow COVID-19 rules on the common areas or in an elevator to bring about a peaceful, calm resolution.
As a condominium security provider, we have shared various best practices with many clients in an effort to keep their communities safe throughout the pandemic. The most prominent of these include: 1) Conducting visitor and contractor screening through questionnaires and denying access when necessary (includes enforcing limits on number of visitors to prevent gatherings); 2) In an effort to enforce mask policies, provide complimentary masks to those who do not have one or enter the premises without one; 3) Directly delivering parcels/ food delivery to units to limit the exposure from outside delivery who are higher risk due to the nature of their work; 4) Keeping records of anyone entering the premises and reporting infractions (calling 311, incident reports, etc.); and 5) Hiring extra security staff to handle higher parcel delivery, and to conduct COVID-19 screening at the property's main entrances.
Homelessness: Empathy and professionalism
During the pandemic homeless rose by 10–15%. Although the issue of homelessness is an ongoing one and, in most cases, does not lead to crime, we witnessed a higher number of incidents of trespassing as a result of the cold weather with many homeless people not wanting to attend shelters and resorting to sleeping in private underground garages and common elements. In reality, many shelter systems reduced their capacity to allow for safer distancing. Sadly, this left vulnerable people with fewer alternatives. Condominium communities in urban/ dense areas in particular were faced with this issue over the winter months; security and patrol staff became responsible for dealing with homeless people sleeping in underground areas and asking them to vacate the premises on a regular basis. Although most will be cooperative some might become aggressive and possibly resort to violence. In one instance, a guard observed a group of homeless persons in an underground garage and asked them to leave the premises. The group became verbally aggressive and proceeded to charge towards the guard, in an attempted attack. Luckily, the guard was able to flee the area and avoid injury and subsequently contacted police.
To deal with issues of this nature, guards first employ their communication skills through conflict resolution systems such as "Verbal Judo" as mentioned earlier. Using the learned skill of choosing words, tone and empathy, guards have been able to bring about positive resolutions in a majority of instances. However, as demonstrated in the scenario above, not all issues can be addressed this way and, in some cases, incidents are escalated and police do become involved.
Increased security incidents: Trespassing and theft
COVID-19 has led to an increase in the number of trespassing incidents, vandalism and ultimately theft including break and enter of lockers, cars and bike thefts. Due to the rise in theft, we educated boards of directors and condominium management on increased security awareness and how to tighten access to property by making improvements to physical security measures.
To improve physical security on a property, we suggested security audits beginning with exterior and interior lighting – the simplest and lowest hanging fruit is often the most effective in combating crime. We encouraged the corporation to explore their cameras and access control system – are they effective and in proper working order? Are there blind areas where coverage is limited? Are your hardware and locking mechanisms functioning and doors closing properly? Finally, does your property have basic security signage installed to reinforce that you are watching and recording the activities and making trespassers beware. Make it known to everyone that you are 'onto them.' Some crimes are very calculated and planned as we see with some car thefts, but most times they are crimes of opportunity. A simple sign can help deter these crimes from occurring.
Following are five best practices we have promoted to our clients to combat trespassing and theft:
1) Tighten your access control. Limit entry doors into the premises, ask your community members to report tailgating in the garage, make sure doors are always locked and patrols are being conducted regularly;
2) Make sure your security company is using a property patrol verification CV Before After system when they are conducting their patrols so patrols routes can be established, traced and ultimately create the sense of accountability with staff;
3) Many times security staff will deal with these situations alone, in the middle of the night. To ensure their safety they must be able to effectively deal with such incidents. We do not expect security staff to get physical, especially not with COVID-19, so make sure that your staff receive proper training in conflict resolution to generate voluntary cooperation;
4) Make sure staff have a support line to call during such emergencies. This can be through the management companies or their own companies. Ensure someone is available during off hours to assist. This can sometimes be the superintendent who may live on the premises; and
5) Ensure you contact police, but be prepared when police do not show up. Crime is increasing and they will prioritize the calls to respond to them accordingly. So, be aware the trespasser call may be deprioritized over the shooting incident.
Security must be adaptable and resourceful
You may not think of your security guard on duty and what their daily experiences are like. They have certainly faced many new challenges because of the COVID- 19 pandemic, and have had to deal with many new threats. I'm extremely proud of all security guards as they have shown remarkable composure and professionalism throughout the pandemic.
Maintaining a safe community for everyone is just one of the responsibilities of security. This task has not been easy and ultimately changed the framework by which security is provided during COVID-19.
I encourage everyone that next time you see or speak with your security/concierge staff be sure to acknowledge them and the essential work they are doing to keep your community safe and secure from all unwanted elements, including COVID-19.
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