In light of recent terrorist attacks and active shooter incidents in Paris, California and Colorado Springs, the role property managers play in protecting their tenants as well as their building assets is more important than ever.
“Security is really front of mind for all of our property manager customers right now,” said Steve Claton, president of Universal Protection Service, Western Division. “Not only because they are responsible for managing core real estate assets, but also because they are receiving dozens of requests from their tenants, who are asking, ‘What are we doing to reduce the likelihood of something like this happening at our property?’”
While there is no silver bullet to secure a property from all threats, there are several tactics property managers should incorporate into their arsenal.
“Property managers should take the recent unfortunate events as an opportunity to proactively perform a security assessment for their properties, which starts with bringing in their security service provider, sitting down and really understanding the risk profile for their property, and if their current security program complements that risk profile,” he said.
Property managers must know their building inside and out. Having an exit plan in place and making sure everyone in the building knows the plan is very important, said Lt. Kevin Edling with the Denver Police Department.
A manager should analyze his building to determine if it is a soft target or hard target. For example, a soft-target building may have open access to the general public with no safety mechanisms or features in place, he said. A hard target may include security personnel, controlled access and security cameras.
A security guard hardens the target, and if that person is armed, it may deter the threat to an easier location, he said.
In order to understand the threat, the property management team and the security team must be aligned in the characteristics of the property. Every property is unique, so it’s important to assess each property individually to design a system that complements the business and security needs of the building, said Claton. “A high-rise commercial office property in downtown Denver is going to respond differently to an active shooter threat than in a suburban office property in Colorado Springs,” he said. “And certainly a retail property is going to respond differently than a multifamily property.” As threats evolve, reexamine the building’s security plans, even if it’s just a few years old, to ensure that the program is still appropriate. Managers may consider changes to on-site guard shifts, visibility, updates or repositioning cameras and access control systems, and reviewing the skill set of the security professionals, he said.
An overall review of the security program must address the manned security component, the current and potential security features, training and its scope. This will allow managers to create a risk profile of the property, which also takes into consideration who the occupants are and the structural characteristics of the property. “When we take all of those considerations and re-evaluate, we’re able to customize and refine it to not only provide a more robust security atmosphere, but also still be appreciative and sensitive to the business needs of the property,” said Claton.
There are two major hurdles for many property managers to juggle: budget and appearance. The latest security features can be outside many managers’ budgets, so new plans should increase the visibility and effectiveness of the security features while remaining within the budget.
However, while increasing visibility can act as a crime deterrent, managers must be cognizant of their responsibility to balance a business-friendly environment with a strong security presence.
“Our property manager customers are in a tough position,” said Claton. “They have to provide an environment that facilitates business activity, so they can’t put a barb-wire fence around their property with armed guards at the front doors. It’s not Fort Knox.”
While the role of security guards is evolving from primarily an observe-and-report position to one that encourages situational threat assessment, other security aspects remain constant: training and communication. Training of the property management team as well as building tenants is very important. “It’s so important for all of us to be trained because in the unlikely event of some kind of violent activity at your property, your first instinct will be to fall back on that training,” Claton said.
Some security firms, including Universal Protection Service, will provide property management teams active shooter training. After a presentation, Universal hosts a tabletop exercise to determine what responsibilities and actions each part of the team – managers, security, parking, janitorial, etc. – would take in the event of an active shooter situation.
“This allows us to work with our customers to assess everyone’s responsiveness to a situation like this,” said Claton. “Everyone, of course, would be able to call 911, but what happens after that?” Once the team members’ roles are determined, managers should educate their tenants on what actions they should take. The Department of Homeland Security website is a good place to find material on training as well as information on the “see something, say something” campaign.
“We are very concerned with education and communication,” said Edling. “We want people to know what to do and have a plan in place, because the time to think about this is not when it happens. You should practice and drill; it will save lives.” DHS created a list of three key things to remember if found in an active shooter situation: run, hide, fight.
“In the event of an active shooter, the first instruction is to run, to get out of the area where the shooting is taking place; if you can’t evacuate, then hide – barricade yourself in an office or under a desk and avoid contact with the assailant; and then lastly, if you can’t run or hide, follow DHS training measures to defend yourself and fight against the assailant,” said Claton.
Edling referred to a five-minute video on YouTube, “Run. Hide. Fight,” created by Ready Houston that breaks down the three options and steps to follow, which is a helpful educational tool to share with tenants.
“We want people to be aware of their surroundings,” said Edling. “I call it a healthy paranoia. It doesn’t mean you have to have your head on a swivel, but use common sense and be situationally aware.”
When creating an action plan, it is a smart approach to use the training materials available from DHS, from a liability standpoint, rather than creating your own, said Claton. Tenants should know where they can go to be safe and how they can protect themselves. People need to know how to respond and what their role will be if found in a situation that requires them to run, hide or fight, Edling said.
It’s important for them to know how to call 911 if the building has a trunked system that requires multiple steps to make an outside call. Also, remind tenants of fire alarm locations, which can be used to sound the alarm.
In addition to communication among the property management team and clear communication of the action plan for your tenants, communication with the community is beneficial as well.
“Building owners and property managers are very focused on taking care of security in their perspective buildings, as they should be,” said Tamara Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership. “We are working hard with property owners and managers to bring some of the resources and tools they have to help us look at downtown as a whole – to make all of the security offered in downtown bigger than the sum of its parts.”
A two-year initiative by the Downtown Denver Partnership, the Downtown Security Action Plan, was introduced recently. The plan focuses on security in the downtown area, both in terms of actual safety as well as perceived safety. The holistic plan offers a strategic way to look at the downtown environment as one entity rather than a collection of individual buildings, said Door.
“It is about making sure that we’re all communicating and working together toward a common goal of keeping downtown safe, as well as individual properties,” said Door.
“This is the role of the private sector and the public sector.”
Featured in the CREJ’s Property Management Quarterly January 6, 2016, issue.