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Make sure secure estates really are secure

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The primary lure of housing estates is one of safety and security, with the assumption that surrounding yourself with high walls and the latest technology leads to you and your family being safer than ever before.
But this could be a misconception. According to some of South Africa’s foremost experts on estate security, it instead leads to a false sense of safety and is often the biggest blind spot that criminals take advantage of.
To truly create a safe environment demands that several factors be in place. During a recent roundtable discussion hosted by Axis Communications, a number of trends surfaced that every estate manager should consider.
“The biggest mistake most security environments make is to adopt a knee-jerk reaction to improving security once a crime has already taken place. In contrast, the safest estates take a forward-looking approach and continually investigate new technologies worth deploying,” says Roy Alves, business development manager at Axis Communications EMEA.
Proactive estates also constantly test their procedures for blind spots by running mock scenarios. They invest in the right training for personnel to ensure procedures are followed when something does happen. Complacency is the real sin: criminals are wily and will exploit whatever gaps they discover.
Leading estates frequently invest in better technologies. For example, cameras offering features such as day/night exposure, thermal detection, high resolution, dynamic range control to counter glaring sunlight and colour-feeds are not only more affordable, but they also make it far easier to identify criminals.
There is a caveat: “Don’t throw the kitchen sink at this,” says Carlo Cecchi, head of electronics and ICT at Steyn City. “Some technologies, such as sound analysis and number plate detection, have limited value in residential estates and are prohibitively expensive. The departure point for proactive security must always focus on what the estate requires and how new systems will complement its overall security strategy rather than creating an artificial sense of security.”

Build situational awareness
Secure estates know what is going on both inside and around them. The best security technology in the world cannot stop a determined criminal. For example, it is not unusual for criminals to rent or even buy property within an estate to orchestrate crimes from this central location.
“This kind of inside job is impossible to spot if the estate’s own residents and managers are not aware,” says Max De Lorm, director at Surveillance Factory. “Too often, people move into a secure complex and assume that security is being taken care of, so they need not bother. This is a mistake; the most secure estates are those that actively engage with all stakeholders. This requires regular meetings with resident associations, estate managers, local policing, neighbouring estates and so on. An estate’s security awareness does not end at its electrified fences and walls or perimeter cameras.”
Fortunately new technologies have a role to play here. Software that analyses video feeds for suspicious behaviour is becoming more affordable. Combined with an array of cameras, such software can spot patterns, out-of-place movement, and build a picture of what should and shouldn’t be happening. Some security experts regard this as an essential part of any estate’s operations, since it helps counter the invariably lackadaisical habits that materialize when security guards are watching too many screens. An analysis system can actively alert guards about suspicious activity.

Keep up the maintenance
In another tip of the hat to complacency, many estates will invest in the technology and procedures, but then leave it at that. It may check up on the people, but not pay as much attention to the condition of its hardware. Systems degrade over time. Cables fray, lenses become scuffed or smudged, and fences become dilapidated. As such, a maintenance agreement is critical for any security system to operate optimally.
“Sadly, many estates adopt a good enough attitude. So what if one camera is down? The other dozen are working just fine! Unfortunately criminals operate on opportunity. Once a blind spot is discovered, they will attempt to exploit it,” says De Lorm.
“People don’t like maintenance. It is seen as a cash-cow for service companies to drain budgets. How often do we skip taking our car in for a regular service just to save some money? Ultimately, a poorly maintained vehicle will break down, while the same applies to a security system in need of care which merely gives criminals opportunities to break through,” he adds.

No technology silver bullet
Although there are many advanced technologies that can boost or complement security systems, not all of them are necessarily the right fit.
One such example is fibre connectivity, which is brilliant for many reasons. For example, a camera connected over a fibre network can allow for vast and distant deployment of CCTV surveillance with more than sufficient bandwidth and video stream throughput, as well as provide Electro Magnetic Interference (EMI) immunity associated with copper cabling. Fibre also isn’t prone to signal failure, as is often the case with wireless systems.
“Fibre networks are expensive to install and the complementary security systems & devices to leverage the fibre network can be costly too,” says Cecchi. “Although an estate can definitely benefit from fibre-driven security, it should plan this process carefully, down to who owns and operates the fibre network itself. Simply rolling out the cables and connecting devices onto the network will not deliver optimal results.”
Another popular example is drone surveillance. Modern drones can be programmed to follow specific routes or respond when an alarm has been triggered. Security services are able to get eyes on a situation in the shortest time and without expending unnecessary manpower.
But drones have their own shortcomings. Their batteries are not resilient, which can make them unreliable. Drones are also expensive to implement, perhaps more so than the value derived from them. But the real bugbear is operational: drones not only require staff to be trained, but new legislation places hefty requirements on legally piloting drones around urban areas.
“The best security technology has to be affordable, practical and meet the real everyday challenges of secure estates,” says Alves. It comes back to communication and a proactive view of the estate’s security situation. Involve all stakeholders, formulate a plan, find the right technologies to meet the challenges, and then treat it as a work in progress rather than an afterthought once a crime has taken place.