The Festive Season is now just a couple of weeks away and many families are making the final preparations to take a well-deserved break, considering the challenges presented in 2020. Sadly, this is also the time when there is an increase in crime with many homes being vacant for a number of days, sometimes well into the new year. Many will make use of house sitters and caring neighbours to keep a watchful eye over their homes and feed the pets, but what about other types of crime and your general safety in and around your neighbourhood?
Although many residential and commercial estates make use of multiple security controls, it is always a good idea to perform basic security and risk audits of the main estate and the surrounding areas, from time to time, especially this time of the year. By identifying potential problems and high-risk areas in and around the estate through a site security audit, much can be done to eradicate and remedy issues which could lead to compromised safety, just before everyone goes their separate ways.
There are two basic components needed to ensure a successful security assessment; firstly, a printed drawing of the property, preferably an A1 size so all critical observations can be marked on the drawing which can also double-up as a project management tool by using different coloured markers to indicate different issues (red for high-risk areas, green for excessive shrubs and trees, black for sensitive electronic equipment like cameras and so forth).
Secondly, a detailed analysis or report of crimes committed in the area and surrounding suburbs. This can be obtained from any active security company, your local SAPS community office or any formal community safety organisations such as a neighbourhood watch.
With these two components in hand, it is easier to know what to be mindful of during the audit, for example if cable theft is rife in your area, one needs to look for areas covered in vegetation, with low foot traffic (few people walking through the area) and low visibility such as un-built sections in a residential estate or bordering open fields.
TYPES OF RISKS AND WHAT TO LOOK FOR DURING THE AUDIT
A good approach is to break down risks into groups and to try and address them accordingly. Ideally a site and risk audit should be a careful observational walkabout with a good working knowledge of the estate, it’s people (residents, vendors, and staff), types of crime in the area and a good understanding of the socio-economic demographic and its people.
It is also important that the audit is not only a summary of the problems and risks but also translates into an action plan with identified problems and potential remedial actions in the form of a corrective action plan. This plan must be specific in terms of who is responsible to rectify any issues and by when (target dates). The estate manager or management office must keep a close eye on the progress being made on fixing the concerns and keep this plan on record for future use.
These are risks related to unauthorised access to the estate, either through the main entrance gate, pedestrian gates or by breaching the security perimeter fence.
A typical inspection must include close observation of the main gate, guard house, pedestrian gates, and the overall internal and external perimeter fence.
Besides making sure all elements of the access control system (key codes, access cards, entry disks on vehicles, name tags for staff) are being managed in accordance with the approved access procedures, it is also advisable to make sure all gates are in a working condition and fulfilling their main function, namely, to limit access to authorised individuals only.
Procedures relating to movement and access control after hours are also especially important where there might be night staff on duty. It’s always a good idea to use boom gates by day (to alleviate mechanical labour on the gate motors) but to close the main gate at night, after a certain time at night. This just gives an added layer of access control and forces the security guards to interact with visitors.
Things to focus on during the audit:
- Is there a back-up system to maintain perimeter safety, if the electrical supply is interrupted, for example during a load shedding cycle?
- Is there an anti-dig barrier installed in sensitive or high risk areas along the perimeter fence (internally and externally).
- Is the estate security network linked to a warning and alarm monitoring system?
- Do all these system work? This includes panic buttons, armed response, warning and alarms, strobe lights, patrol monitoring systems, movement detection beams etc.)
- Are there any trees, shrubs or bushes close to the perimeter fence that can be used to jump into the estate? This included tree branches, telephone towers and old Telkom lines for example.
- Are all the electrical wires correctly fitted onto the fence and not cut or damaged at any points?
Attacks and Robberies
These are mainly crimes committed against residents, tenants and staff and can range from minor (by no means less traumatic) one-on-one robberies at knife point, to more serious crimes like car-hijacking, house break-ins, and lately, abduction and human trafficking.
These crimes are usually opportunistic in the sense that these crimes correspond with certain routines; the time school come out, end of day actions of staff leaving the estate, taxi drop-and-go zones and so forth.
One element that these crimes all have in common is that they requires swift action, taking full advantage of the surprise element of the attack. Anything that may cause a delay in the process of committing these crimes, is usually a strong enough deterrent to send the criminals running.
The best defence in this case is to act pro-actively by making use of surveillance technology (cameras, identification software), visible foot patrols and vehicle patrols during the high-risk times, and in high-risk areas. This may include areas outside or just beyond the actual estate perimeter and can be places such as a local taxi collection and drop-off point, a single footpath on the way to a taxi rank, or sections of open land, or areas behind local shops.
Things to focus on during the audit:
- Try to identify the high-risk areas.
- Inform staff on where these high-risk areas are, and during which times crimes are most likely to be committed.
- Is everyone in the estate aware of the crime statistics and types of crime in the area?
- Is there a monthly security meeting involving residents, tenants, and staff, to address or highlight any crime related issues?
- Is there an ongoing safety and security training program to make sure everyone knows what to look out for and what to do if a crime is committed?
- Is there an emergency armed response service provider on contract to act swiftly to calls of distress? Do the alarm notifications work and does the Service Provider act within the required (promised) reaction time?
Internal Security Risks and Related Crimes
Here we mainly refer to crimes committed within an estate due to the exploitation of sensitive or privileged information. This normally takes the form of information leaked to syndicates and can include information such as locations of cameras, gaps in the overall security system, movement of residents and tenants and location and quantities of high value equipment or assets.
Internal crimes also include intentional vandalism and theft of stock, equipment, or private property. The best way to kerb theft is by means of random bag and vehicle checks. To ensure no person is singled out or discriminated against, estate security can make use of the ball-draw system. A little black material bag is filled with 5 ping-pong balls, 4 white and 1 orange. If you draw the orange your bag or vehicle is searched. This is fair and even quite fun at times and ensures that the security guards are objective at all times. It also maintains the surprise element of searches which is so important to remain an effective deterrent.
Some estates have sufficient buildings where all staff can leave their bags and personal belongings in the security office and collect it again on their way out. This also ensures that no items can be hidden or placed in handbags, personal sport bags or under clothing.
Random foot patrols by security guards, linked to random searches are also highly effective deterrents to theft. Contractors and other external parties on site can also be expected to wear visitor’s name badges, issued by the security office upon their entry to the premises. Any contractor found on the estate outside of their demarcated scope of work can then be cautioned, questioned and if need be, escorted off the premises.
Things to focus on during the audit:
- Do all visitors complete the visitor’s register?
- Are contractors and their representatives issued with name badges?
- Is there a key register and key safe where all building keys are signed in and out?
- Are all staff on contract and is there a general personal information sheet and a copy of their ID’s in the security office, or in the Estate Management office?
- Is there a procedure in place to ensure that tenants and residents inform the Estate Management office of their whereabouts? (this is helpful to ensure these properties are specifically patrolled and checked at night).
Security Protocols and Equipment
In the majority of cases a site security audit relates specifically to the existing security system of the estate. This includes security equipment, emergency and security procedures, and the efficacy of the security guards and their on-site patrols (as a pro-active measure) and other safety related actions.
It is important to keep in mind that assessment is only one part of the process, the other is to affect the necessary changes to improve the existing security systems. High quality security is created in layers and can take a number of years to become a comprehensive security system. In the early days of a new estate, many Body Corporates or Home Owner’s Associations (HOA’s) find themselves barely collecting enough funds (levies) to pay for expenses such as landscaping, security personnel, maintenance, staff and many more. Over a period of time, estates create a healthy bank balance and can start making progressive improvements to security until the overall system is watertight and world class.
Fortunately, residents and tenants don’t have to wait until then to make sure they get the best out of their existing security system which at the basic level includes a perimeter wall and electric fence, with some form of access control and security guards. This is a workable system, but it has to function optimally, and this requires keeping a close eye (by doing an audit for example) on all elements of the security service and protocols.
Things to focus on during the audit:
- Is the perimeter fence in working condition?
- Are the voltages on each electrical fence line operating at the prescribed electric voltage?
- Are there enough security guards to effectively manage the estate security duties? Are they suitably graded?
- Are there alarm notifications in case of an attempted or successful breach into the estate? Do these alarms notify the guards as to the location (zones) and the type of breach?
- Is there a security monitoring system in place? Is the system backed-up in case of power outages? Is the system useful and does it improve the safety and security of the estate?
- Is there a patrol monitoring system in place? Does the patrol system generate patrol reports? Does anyone receive and read the patrol reports? Are there consequences for guards who fail their patrol reports?
- Do all security cameras work? Is there a central unit where all the cameras are monitored? Do the cameras operate with facial recognition software? Do guards know what to do if any unauthorised suspects are identified?
- Is there an armed response system in place? How is the armed response notified or called? If it is notified by panic buttons, do the buttons work and how long does the security company take to arrive in scene?
- Is there an Emergency Response File (ERF) in the security office? Do the guards know the security procedures in case of a crime or emergency?
- Is there a list of emergency numbers in the security office in case of flooding, fire, medical emergency, crime, or electrical issues? Do the guard know who to contact in these circumstances.
- Is there a security meeting file in the security office, and do the guards have access to the minutes of the last meeting?
The South African Police Services (SAPS) produces a rather comprehensive national crime report each year. This report and the detailed break-down of crimes per suburb contains useful information that showcases a range of important socio-economic data and provides an in depth understanding of the factors that drive crime in South Africa as well as new crime trends.
While having a clear understanding of crime in your own area, it is also advisable to be aware of crime in neighbouring areas and close-by suburbs. This will aid in identifying trends and foreseeing future crimes before they occur. Make sure your security service provider is also aware of these crime stats and trends and that they tailor their security services accordingly.
Further to the above, surrounding areas also refers to open sections of adjacent land or un-built portions (erven) inside the estate. Be on the look-out for homeless people or squatters. Ensure vegetation in these areas are well maintained and that any temporary structures or make-shift sleeping quarters are removed swiftly. Involve the SAPS and local social development authorities if necessary, and make sure to check these areas at least twice a week.
Communities usually face similar crimes and crime syndicates. As a result, especially in high crime areas, many communities form neighbourhood watches, and patrols, linked to an emergency response action like an armed response company or a local response team.
It is of utmost importance that these different organisations and community initiatives network with one another and also join forces with the local SAPS branches, who in many cases are more than happy to work with communities to improve their safety and to keep them crime free.
A good way to network and to promote co-operation is to host each other’s meetings on a round-Robin basis and to allow members to meet each other during these sessions. This has proven to be incubators of new ideas and initiatives to make suburbs safer and to rid communities of crime.
It is surprising, and sad, to note that large numbers of incidents of crime are witnessed but not reported, purely because the witness to the event, thought nothing of the event at the time. Crime happens right under our proverbial noses every day. Sensitise all members of your estate to be vigilant and to report suspicious behaviour. WhatsApp groups are invaluable in this regard to keep everyone on their toes.
Another idea, which has a track record of diminishing crime, is to create a whistle blower hotline (which can be outsourced to a third-party service provider at minimal costs), where any information, suspicious activity, or tip-offs of internally organised, or externally planned crimes can be reported, with no risk to the safety of the whistle-blower, before the happen.
Whilst the safety of your home and assets are important, it is also important to let go of the daily stressors in your life and to make use of the opportunity to rest and relax during your holiday – you have certainly earned it!