Getting Access

Getting Access

Best practices for multi-tenant buildings and facilities

Multi-tenant buildings present security challenges not found in single-user facilities. Tenants may come and go at different times. The numbers and types of visitors needing access will vary, and then there are differences between commercial and residential multi-tenant buildings.

An experienced commercial integrator said one of his biggest challenges dealing with a multi-tenant security project was balancing the needs and desires of tenants that often don’t align.

“Professional service tenants who receive many clients and visitors daily prefer a more open, welcoming and accessible environment,” said Dario Santana, president of San Diego-based Layer 3 Security Services. “Tenants who rarely receive visitors tend to be comfortable with more restrictive security in place.”

That forces building management to make tradeoffs. While no approach will completely satisfy every tenant, Santana said the right mix of systems and policies will provide a high level of security to please the majority.

Determining who—and how—tenants and visitors get into the building is another major challenge. Santana said the solution lies with the best security practices he uses in virtually any commercial facility. He recommends keeping main entries locked whenever possible and then using a combination of an access control system and a video intercom to let people in.

Tenants use key fobs or individual codes at access readers or keypads mounted outside the main entry to easily access the building. Visitors locate a tenant name on the display or posted directory and enter the corresponding number into the intercom keypad to call a station in the tenant’s suite. The system lets the tenant see visitors and have a two-way conversation with them. Once the tenant identifies them and feels confident to permit them in the building, the tenant can buzz in the visitor by pushing a button.

Santana said buildings needing to be open during business hours can use these systems when doors are locked at night, during weekends and on holidays.

Matthew Arnold, president of Hicksville, N.Y.-based Academy Mailbox, said he’s used the same access control/video intercom arrangement in the many security projects his company has completed for Metropolitan New York multi-family residential buildings.

“The gateway product is the video intercom,” Arnold said. “It lets tenants make informed decisions about who they let into the building and act as a deterrent to criminals. The unit’s built-in cameras can also record images which may be useful for later identifying people who came to the door.”

Arnold said many buildings now create entry vestibules inside the main public entry. This can help control the problem of tailgating— people rushing into the building along with an approved visitor. A second video intercom inside the locked vestibule gives tenants another chance to see who is entering. It’s a minor inconvenience, but greatly improves security.

Arnold is an advocate of access control systems with key fobs as a quick and convenient way to get tenants into the building. If fobs are lost, they can be quickly disabled by the integrator or an on-site manager and a new fob created at minimal cost.

“Electronic locks and fobs are much more secure than any key and provide greater convenience for little added expense,” Arnold said. “It’s surprising how many older buildings in New York still rely on keys, which can be easily lost or stolen. The cost of rekeying locks adds up fast.”

Ideally, doors should be made of solid-core wood. There’s no need for expensive anti-ballistic metal portals. But from a security point of view, neither integrator favored glass doors. Safety film and screens make glass more difficult to break, but they are still not as secure as wood doors.

High-quality locks are also important. Arnold said he usually chooses electric strike locks with a “fail-safe, fail-secure” standard, meaning they remain locked on the outside during a power failure. Santana said he often looks to trusted locksmith subcontractors to help him choose the best locking mechanism for each commercial multi-tenant project.

Surveillance cameras are another important security layer in all multi-tenant facilities. Combined with the cameras in the video intercoms, they provide additional evidence of who’s entered the building. Cameras are also valuable in lobbies, elevator banks and parking garages.

Santana also likes intrusion detection systems as another layer shared by all commercial building tenants. He installs the burglar alarm system with separate partitions.

“The building’s common areas could be partition A, suite 1 would be partition B, suite 2 would be C and so on,” Santana said. “Everyone in the building would have the authority to arm/disarm common areas and their own suites.”

Santana said tenants and building managers gain from the integration of the various security layers. For example, an intrusion system alarm should signal the nearest surveillance camera to begin recording. Both key fobs and video intercoms integrate with door locks to allow entry for tenants and visitors. Manufacturers using open standards for their products make this possible. Open standards let integrators select equipment based on price, performance and quality by not limiting end users to proprietary product lines. This helps protect the total investment by allowing components to be replaced without ripping out an entire system.

Both Santana and Arnold said tenant training is important for the smooth operation of building security. The systems are easy to use and just take a few minutes of training.

Errors are most likely to occur when a tenant allows an unknown person to enter the facility. One common routine among burglars is to push multiple apartment extensions on the video intercom keypad, noting who fails to respond. If criminals can convince a tenant to open the door, they’re then free to target those apartments not answering. However, wired intercom solutions provide additional security. Calls from entries to tenant stations can only be answered from within the residence, ensuring all visitors have been properly screened.

“Written building policies should specifically prohibit opening the door to anyone a tenant doesn’t know or expect,” Arnold said. “It’s important to make sure the delivery or repair man is wearing the uniform of the company he says he represents. Being able to see a person is one of the great values of a video intercom system.”

Santana said a property manager’s message should be clear; if you let someone into the building, that person becomes your responsibility. When interviewing rental applications, he recommends managers try to ensure the tenant will be a good match with building policies.

Also, each building needs to maintain a list of approved security products to avoid problems as tenants may want to add their own potentially incompatible security devices to protect individual suites. Before beginning any new or retrofit job, Arnold completes a risk assessment of the current security equipment. While creating a project plan, he asks himself how he would want to be protected if he lived in the building.

The definition of a multi-tenant building—various unrelated businesses or residents sharing one facility—will continue to create security challenges for property managers, integrators and tenants. But the proper layers of equipment and strong entry procedures can create security equal to that of a single-tenant building.

As the industry continues to create new and refine older solutions, the choices for securing a multi-tenant building will increase. What may have seemed impossible only a year or two ago, is now possible thanks to the power of network-based systems, integration and open standards.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Security Today.

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