Combatting guardhouse intimidation
The single point of failure for estate security may be sitting in the guardhouse11th Dec 2020
Your estate’s front gate guardhouse is both its most visible and most vulnerable security point. That’s the stark warning from several security companies, as cases of guard intimidation continue to increase at estates and other sites across South Africa. Off-site monitoring, despite its challenges, may be the most effective solution.
Intimidation from all sides
‘We’ve seen it,’ says Mike Voortman, MD of Verifier Group. ‘Lone workers and smaller groupings are often the targets, because it’s more difficult for criminals to threaten a bigger control room. But if you have a single-guard scenario, they’ll try to trick the guard into coming out of the guardhouse so that they can pull a gun on them, or they’ll simply say to them: “We know where you live and we know where your kids go to school, so at 5am tomorrow you will leave your post.” Unfortunately these guards tend to live within the communities, so they obviously feel threatened.’
But criminals aren’t the only sources of security guard intimidation, as Shaun Swindon, Operations Manager at Trafalgar Property Management, points out. ‘Intimidation towards security officers has been around since the first person stood watch over another person’s property,’ he says. ‘I do, however, feel that with the advent of modern-day technology and new improved access and exit procedures at gated communities, where the human element in some cases has been totally removed from the equation, the type of intimidation has changed.’
Swindon says that the removal of that human element has meant that security officers are faced with implementing a ‘zero tolerance’ attitude due to the technology at their gates. ‘This has left the officers exposed to a variety of unpleasant situations,’ he says, ‘where frustrations have boiled over into anger, verbal abuse, false allegations being submitted to clients to damage the relevant officer’s reputation, and – in some cases – physical assaults.’
That might make for uncomfortable reading for some estate residents. Yet it’s true that as much as guards can let important security procedures slip when they have a gun pointed at their head, the same is true if they have an entitled resident throwing a strop because they left their access disc at home.
And, as Swindon says, ‘this leaves the officer in the middle, feeling as though he is in a “damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t” situation.’
The case for off-site monitoring
That vulnerability is why Voortman describes the front gate guardhouse as ‘the single point of failure’ for most residential estates. ‘It creates a false sense of security for the owners, the tenants and the residents, who think that all is good and well with their front gate team,’ he says. ‘If you take out that guardhouse, you have control of everything. And – to be honest – most people living behind the walls of a security estate don’t lock their houses properly, and don’t have their own security up to scratch. They live in Cloud Cuckoo Land. And then when there is a breach? Then what?’
Companies like Verifier provide third-party, off-site monitoring of properties’ on-site security teams. Swindon has mixed feelings about this kind of solution. ‘Having two separate service providers on site “policing” each other creates a good sense of competition, as usually the service provider managing the control room would appreciate the opportunity to quote on running the site where the invoice value is the greater of the two,’ he says. ‘But having two service providers in a state of constant caution of each other does not build a good team on site, and eventually results in a mud-slinging match where no party willingly accepts responsibility when issues do eventually arise for whatever reason.’
Still, if those competing interests are managed effectively, off-site monitoring can provide a very valuable layer of protection against guardhouse intimidation – and it removes much of the vulnerability of that single point of failure.
‘You still see estates putting all their CCTV equipment in the front garden,’ says Voortman. ‘That vulnerability is just ridiculous. The bulk of our clients have their security equipment in a separate server room. We receive our signals from there, and not from where the guard physically sits. A second alarm will be triggered via video analytics or by some rule being broken or a door being opened out of hours. We’ll pick that up remotely. So, if the worst-case scenario happens, we’ve still got the signal and we know what’s going on.’