Smart buildings and smarter security
COVID-19 has placed a higher premium on agility for property managers while smart technology helps them address occupancy and access control challenges
By Alanna Fairey
While the world has been uprooted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unsurprising that buildings have had to adjust their business and security policies to account for the new normal.
Jody Reid, security manager, H&R REIT, at The BOW in Calgary acknowledges this extraordinary shift.
“We’ve noticed the value of the security on the site and how they can bring a lot of value as we change policies and procedures,” Reid said in an interview with Canadian Security. “We seem to be changing daily and sometimes hourly at times, especially in the early days — continually just having to shift with everything I guess was a big part of it.”
Reid explained that The BOW had to change several security policies and procedures, which included a “soft lockdown” when the general public was not allowed into the building. As buildings began to slowly enter the reopening phase, Reid said that because The BOW has some retail aspects in the office tower, he and his team were working with the tenants through continually shifting the policy procedures around security response.
“There has been a huge shift that has been driven by the tenants,” Reid said. “We’re like a single tenant building but there’s some sub leases in there.“A lot of those decisions we made around wearing masks and certain signage and protocols throughout the building have been in collaboration through discussions with the tenants on moving that forward.”
According to Andy Schonberger, director of client services at Intelligent Buildings, LLC, a number of the company’s clients are looking at solutions as simple as additional cleaning services to try and give their occupants more comfort that the building is being looked after and is not going to be a transmission vector.
“It’s really exploded in terms of what our customers are asking for in terms of new capabilities,” Schonberger said.
In a webinar presentation hosted by the Building Owners and Management Association (BOMA) called “Back to Work: How technology can keep your occupants and your building safe,” industry experts discussed policies and best practices for implementing a coordinated and unified security vision within a multi-stakeholder property management model.
Ed Seaman, Related Companies’ director of physical security technology, who took part in BOMA’s webinar, believes that some of the most crucial components of property management are site entry and access control operations.
“The use of access control to assist in occupancy management is a technology tool that is always overlooked and under-utilized,” Seaman explained. “By enforcing access control to ensure the employees, visitors, tenants comply with our standard operating procedures with their safety being the utmost important is one of the features that we are using at Related properties.”
Reid shared that The BOW has taken a look at touchless access points in the form of readers and access buttons as a means to secure the property, while also assessing the risk and retrofitting the technology effectively.
“We’ve also made adjustments on our elevator capacity and utilizing existing software in the elevator systems and adjusting these to only allow a certain number of people on the elevator,” Reid said. “We’re at the three person maximum per elevator, so we’ve been able to adjust the weight limits where if it has three people in the elevator, it’ll bypass all of the floors and won’t stop.”
“COVID has really increased that need to use technology to access the building and within a lot of risks,” Schonberger said. Intelligent Buildings focuses on cyber and technical security — Schonberger shared that those issues have become a huge eye opener for many of their clients.
“They’ve had so many breaches as a result from operations staff not using best practices or not being given proper tools to securely access their building.”
The rise of COVID-19 has seen a plethora of technology solutions for smart buildings, according to property management experts.
“What we’re seeing now is an acceleration of the use of technology,” Schonberger said, “and a lot more comfort with technology being something that can solve business problems for clients and what I think is that COVID has been an accelerant to strategy.”
Nada Ebeid, Genetec Canada’s business development property management, who also took part in BOMA’s webinar, said that technology can play an essential role in making sure that smart buildings are secure and safe as they start to reopen.
“Technology can really enable us all to work smarter and more efficiently,” Ebeid said in her presentation.“Look at how technology can help you manage the flow within your building, your lobbies, your open spaces — how it can help you manage the access control process and the approvals for tenants and visitors and provide you the means to as touchless as possible.”
However, Ebeid warned that just because the technology is “cool,” safety should still be the No. 1 priority.While technologies such as infrared cameras and temperature detection software have soared since the pandemic, Schonberger warns property managers to not be sold on a dream.
“Everybody I think is enamored with the idea that there’s some single technology that is going to solve their problem,” Schonberger said. “Temperature detection is not enough to just catch the virus, or catch someone who may be symptomatic because you may not be symptomatic or the camera may not work properly or there’s ways to spoof it.” Describing this time as a “Wild West,” Schonberger notes that a number of technology companies have begun trying to sell applications, cameras, widgets, sensors or services.
As a modern building (The BOW opened less than 10 years ago) Reid shared that The BOW already had an extensive technology base prior to the pandemic. Built to a high standard, “it allowed us to show the value in some of the technology that we did have in place.”
Utilizing existing analytics tools along with their surveillance cameras, Reid said these technologies have helped bring to light some of the challenges that the property has faced in keeping the building and its occupants safe. “When we’re taking a look at bringing the tenants back in phases and wherever the hot areas were where people congregate, we were able to use existing technology,” Reid said. “We really saw the value in that equipment that maybe was not recognized by the rest of the property management team prior to so that’s been a huge feather in our cap.”
While the property is not utilizing temperature screening, Reid said that the discussion was brought up in the early stages of the pandemic with tenants.
“With some of that technology comes some privacy concerns from the tenant perspective,” Reid said. “Some of our tenants are utilizing some of that technology, but within their own space.”
Added Reid: “We have not done it from a property perspective.”
While there may not be a technological answer, Schonberger said that it’s all a matter of reviewing policy. “It’s about writing service contracts, getting their vendors to declare they have not been travelling and doing the standard screening questions and getting them to sign off,” stressed Schonberger.
“A lot of our clients are trying to show they’re doing their due diligence while being a bit overwhelmed with everything else in the market right now and public health agencies changing mandates and courses every couple of weeks.”
Solutions to consider vary from enterprise grade IP tools, firewalls, remote access controls and virtual private networks.
However, the challenge can be those tools and technologies are expensive and require a skill set that a lot of people in the buildings world just do not have, which will continue to be an area of discussion amongst property managers.
“The response to COVID-19 from a property management perspective has probably increased everybody’s operational budget,” Reid said. “I think in the next couple months, we’ll get a better understanding of the direction forward so that has to be a consideration.”