Tips Corner

Is HOA Security at the Gate Old Fashioned?

Among the most common and most visible of security deterrents is the quintessential guard at the gatehouse. Day after day, through year after year, we have dutifully waited in line on the visitor side until our turn came. We were met frequently by the representative of Mr. Low Bid. The guard did not speak English very well, but he smiled and nodded a lot. His uniform was three times bigger than it should have been and he had to keep pulling his pants up. Three times we explained we were there to see Mrs Smith but the poor guy could barely read and so we had to help him like so many others did. We called her from our cell phone, she told him it was okay. And so he opened the gate, then smiled and nodded as we left. I’m sure Mrs Smith felt very secure.

The complaints that come into management are constant. Guards get changed out daily. There is no consistency. Guards don’t speak English so how can they hope to help meet the goals of gatehouse security. Guards are too timid, guards are not proper in appearance, guards don’t and guards aren’t. Etc.! Management would love to have police style security at the gates but this is financially impossible. Why? Residents already scream about HOA fees being too high. There has to be middle ground where we can be happier with gate security. So what can we do?

Most gates today are equipped with some form of technology. The two most common are gate access systems (software programs) and cameras/tag readers. To be sure, there is supposed to be upgraded lighting which assists in camera shots and ability to see people and read materials. The older programs take longer to fill in the blanks and slow the gate process down. Guards who work day or afternoons fear the times of 7:30 AM to about10:00 AM and then 4:30 PM to roughly 8 PM on weekdays especially (not mentioningFriday and Saturday evenings yet). Respectively, this is when all the vendors, from lawn and landscape to electric and plumbing plus all in between, need to gain access to the property. The line is lengthy and if numbers are not updated constantly and new homeowners put in or new renters, there will be a bottleneck as people wait. In the afternoon, all the residents who are coming home and don’t have their clicker for the gate, or they didn’t pay their fees and the gate becomes backed up again. And here is where unfair complaint number one comes up.

How did the lawn guy get to my house? I never got a call.

Okay Mr. Jones, thats true. You didn’t. But Mr. Green did get a call and he approved him in. That was who the lawn guy told security was expecting him. After that, he went to your house and we can’t force them to come back to the gate once they are in the community. We can ask for a daily itinerary from each vendor (someone say time delay?) Party attendees having blanket approvals and thus causing parking problems, different clinics for tennis and other sports being allowed to use common facility and causing greater backups and trying to figure out who is who.

Any of this sound familiar? And, the situation does not improve. It simply goes on. For a variety of reasons. Lets not be so quick just to blame the guards either. Lets look at this from a series of angles. First, the homeowner – They have a responsibility to provide information to management. When they fail to provide contact and resident information, its tough for the guards to make calls or know whom is allowed and who is not. They can’t guess! When residents change cell phones, or rent or whatever, they should update their information. Its just common sense. But for the same reason no one attends HOA meetings is the same why people don’t update or share information. Apathy and I could care less attitudes.

Home owners who don’t want to -play by the rules create headaches as well. They choose to not get a gate opener and so come on the visitor side. Worse, they go on the resident side and insist the guard open that gate for themor we get the resident who did not pay association fees and so their resident access has been curtailed so they are supposed to go through visitor but they end up using the resident side anyway and ask security to open the gate. Security has been ordered by management to open for them. It causes a bottleneck and you know that security is going to have to unclog this somehow. This leads into complaint number two.

Security is too slow and they don’t move the gate properly. And this is not always an untrue statement. But many times, it simply is a case of phones not being answered and security having to do it’s job and saying no entry to someone. Then they don’t want to move. Time is being taken up.

Next complaint is that security did not note all the information in the gate access log.  Today, this should not be the case with tag readers that input the license tag, driver’s license scanners that allow for auto input to text fields in the access log. If you don’t have this at your gate house, you should consider doing so. Numerous programs have this today.

Management itself has to take some accountability. There are many cases where management does not update computer access programs so security does not have the latest resident information either. And if power goes out, and the PC units or laptops are down, is their a written backup which is updated as well? Perhaps there is a tablet that is always on charge which connects to system? That can give you some degree of extended time before going manual completely.

Then too, we can remove the physical guard from the operation if we go to the kiosk with check in mike and camera. Just like your outside bank transactions, there is a person in an office who can talk to you via camera and mike, check your credentials, make calls to residents, etc. and provide access. The fact that they are doing this in 20 communities allows for a much lower service fee than having an assigned guard on duty at all times. Gate logs get provided only at request generally.

What is it that separates security operations at an HOA gate? The answer is how well security can function with the HOA board and it’s property manager. If the two are supportive of security, then it becomes almost an unbeatable combination. Security, especially management and on site supervision, must be completely responsive as if this was the only client they have. Orders should have been prepared together and reviewed with staff with great care. Old fashioned is right. Its old fashioned customer service.

So, as we wrap this up, we have pointed out different items to allow for staff and management to improve  operation at the gate. But those improvements are based on some old fashioned standards. Security contractor must have pride in what they do and who they are doing it for. Thus, they want to offer the best employees in their best appearance possible at all times. Management must recognize the needs of operation at the gate and must offer the best technology possible to assist in speeding the gate access process.

So lets keep some things old fashioned after all. Shall we?

In serving as a consultant to various HOA groups, I have found there is a good system to establishing a well run security unit. Any management company or HOA that wishes to review this with me is welcome to do so.

As always, these are my opinions and mine alone. They are offered as a commentary solely in this forum. No portion of this article may be reprinted, used or copied for any use without my express written permission.

written by Bram Bottfeld