When Locks Are Not Enough

Courtesy of Habitat Magazine

When an untoward incident occurs where we live, our first reaction is often to look at the security system, including front- and roof-door locks, intercoms, exterior lighting, and video cameras. It is tempting to tech up: who wouldn't be awed by the programmable telephone entry and access system DoorKing 1834?

"You don't have to rewire to install the DoorKing system," explains Josh Koppel, president of HSC Management. "You connect it through the phone line, and if someone buzzes from downstairs, the resident can ring them in from anywhere, not just inside the apartment. You could be in Miami and you can ring them in."

Other options can be simpler and just as effective.

I Spy You

"I'm into cameras," says Matthew Arnold, president of Academy Mailbox. They are valuable as much for their deterrent effect as anything else. Arnold also has noticed an uptick in smaller buildings installing video intercom systems. "They used to be maybe 7 to 10 percent of our business," he estimates, "and now they're about 50 percent." With these systems, there's a unit with a video screen in each apartment that replaces the old voice-only intercom, and another at the front door.

"The unit isn't running constantly," he explains. "It turns on when someone rings," which addresses the personal privacy concerns that make some owners and shareholders resistant to the idea of 24/7 surveillance. "Only one apartment can be [buzzed] at a time," he adds, which keeps intruders from buzzing a dozen units in rapid succession, in the hope that someone will let them in blindly.

"The camera will take a sequence of six snapshots of the person who's ringing the bell. Those are stored in the apartment unit" - not in some central location where people other than the owner or shareholder can view them - "and the unit can store up to 40 sequences," Arnold says. At a cost of roughly $750 per apartment, that's a significant security upgrade that doesn't require a sky's-the-limit budget.

Keyed Up

Experts say it might be worth it to consider upgrading the key system. One possibility is to use Mul-T-Lock keys; to get copies of them made, you have to present a special card with an electronic security strip, which prevents unauthorized duplications. Or you can try electronic key fobs. Those are "less expensive than video systems, and they're more controllable than keys," explains Daniel Girdusky, vice president of business development at Rydan Security, because they offer a sophisticated range of functions that allows occupants to customize the access they permit.

"Let's say you have a dog walker or a cleaning person who comes in at certain hours when nobody's home," Arnold says. "You can give them a key fob that's programmed to work during a set time range, one that's easy to change when circumstances do." In addition, key fobs are physical objects - there's no not noticing that one has gone missing, whereas a keypad password can be shared without the homeowner ever knowing it.

Looking to the future, Girdusky sees biometric systems, which identify a legitimate user by a unique physical attribute like a fingerprint, as an option for co-ops and condos. Although they sound like science fiction, the systems already exist; what's changed, he says, "is that they're rapidly decreasing in price."

SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING

Any security system is as strong as its weakest link. "Our best security is trying to have everybody in the building know each other," says Chris Cooper, board president at a 10-unit condo in the East Village. "I'm always saying, 'If you see someone you don't know on the stoop, ask them to move on. Be polite, but say something.'"

That's a sentiment echoed by everyone from managing agents to security experts. After all, you can buy the most expensive tech out there, but without owners and residents watching each other's backs, it's not enough. No camera or key fob system can work if people in the property don't participate.