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Security concerns (fear for personal safety or loss of property) drive a number of reactions and technological solutions in homeowner associations. Developers sometimes install controlled entry gates to attract buyers that are more security sensitive. But most security alternatives are installed after a crime has been committed, much like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. Reactive securitization is more about calming the fears of the victims than deterring future bad guys.

Security is more perception than reality. Installing fake video surveillance cameras (nothing works but a red blinking light) is often just as effective as installing the real ones. While security camera technology has improved considerably due to computer harddrives and the internet, getting a clear enough image to decipher license plates and to ID intruders remains elusive.

Installing large highly visible signs that read "WARNING: VIDEO SURVEILLANCE" can be effective in deterring break-ins. Again, the perception of security can be just as effective as high end and pricey technology.

Security guards are symbolic at best since they can only be at one place at a time. An entry guard does not prevent someone from coming over a wall. A clever burglar posing as a service provider (painter, roofer, gutter) can often slide by a careless guard if the owner isn't home to verify the service. Because crime can happen anytime, guards must be employed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to give a reasonable level of security. The bang for the security buck is minimal. To gate or not to gate? The quality and maintenance of a gate system must be high since accessibility to the community by residents is critical. As Murphy's Law suggests, gate systems never break down during business hours and if they do, the broken part must be ordered. Is the potential cost and inconvenience worth it?

Gated communities are often viewed as elitist moat and castle affairs by outsiders. If your HOA is comprised of million dollar homes, maybe that is the look the residents are hoping for. If not, do the residents feel comfortable with sending this message to others? The gate can have the opposite effect of driving away potential buyers that believe gates are overkill.

As with many homeowner association issues, security is money driven. It is easy for residents to demand guards, cameras, gates and other assorted devices for protection but the cost of these services are usually prohibitive. When there is a real or perceived security threat, it’s best to hold a special meeting for the purpose of determining the level of interest in security to begin with. If a majority do not favor more or better security systems, why continue? Without the money, it's not going to happen. If a majority of the owners are in favor, hire a security expert to explore alternatives and their respective costs.

Usually when the costs come in, self help seems to be the most practical security alternative, in the form of a Neighborhood Watch program. Neighborhood Watch is a crime prevention program that stresses education and common sense. It teaches citizens how to help themselves by identifying and reporting suspicious activity in their neighborhoods. A Security & Safety Committee can be appointed to schedule resident training from the local law enforcement and post signs that are available on the internet. The Committee then monitors criminal activity, runs periodic articles in the HOA newsletter and raises awareness when necessary.

Whether you gate, camera, guard or watch, security is something every HOA should plan for and the residents cognizant of.

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