A Necessary Amenity Security/Video Intercom Communications Systems

A Necessary Amenity

Many years ago, when I was living on the Upper West Side, a neighbor of mine was notified over his scratchy intercom system that a UPS carrier had a package for him. Without hesitation, he buzzed in the deliveryman and opened his front door. Instead of receiving a new package, the neighbor was met by an intruder pointing a gun. Tragically, my neighbor was shot and killed.

This story represents an extreme case of what can happen when buildings rely on unsophisticated audio-security systems to protect their residents. For me, it was also a personal wakeup call.  The tragedy that befell my neighbor could have happened to anyone.

Unfortunately, while our city is much safer today than it was ten or 20 years ago, some risks have not changed.   Buildings without strong security systems may be exposing their residents to potential risk. In the post-9/11 world, “building security” has come to mean more than a simple intercom; more reliable and effective tools that enable visual and audio communication between concierge and residents have become the gold standard.

Reliable communication can do more than just alert people to disaster. It can point them in the right direction and allay their fears. For example, when New York Yankee Cory Lidle’s plane crashed into an Upper East Side building in October, there was immediate speculation that it was a terrorist attack. But if the concierge had had the capability to immediately explain the actual circumstances to residents, their anxiety would have quickly diminished.  Unlike outdated audio-only intercom systems, modern, cutting-edge security and communications systems have both audio and text message features that allow concierges or doormen to alert the entire building—or individual apartments—to impending events.

Post 9/11, developers and owner/residents must refocus their attention on security and communication and assess the adequacies of their current and future systems. They need to ask:  Is an audio security system sufficient?  Are all entrances to the property secure? Do residents have a way to contact authorities if an intruder is already at their door? Is it easy for the concierge to contact residents directly, and vice versa? Are the systems in place to meet the needs of all residents? If the answer to any of these questions is no, it may be time to take proactive steps towards purchasing a new system or upgrading the old one.

System Features

Security systems come in all shapes and sizes. Some feature audio-only functions, while others offer a combination of audio/video, or audio/video/text features. Each system has its benefits, but

more and more buildings are being retrofitted or built from the ground up with audio/video systems.

Audio/video systems enable residents to hear and view visitors on a small screen from the safety and comfort of their apartments. The most advanced systems don’t stop there. Top-of-the-line systems feature video intercoms with strategically placed hidden cameras in public areas, intrusion alarms, medical alerts, advanced smoke alerts, duress emergency systems—which allow residents to alert the concierge/doorman without an intruder’s knowledge—on-screen messaging that can be forwarded to a cell phone or an e-mail address, remote management…even a taxi request function.

In addition, the concierge can send text messages or audio messages to apartment units and the residents’ cell phones simultaneously.  

Having for example, an intrusion alarm integrated into a building’s security system, can make the shareholder/owners eligible for a 20 percent reduction on their homeowner policies. And if the building installs smoke alarms with carbon monoxide detection, the building should be eligible for a discount on their insurance as well.

Installation, Maintenance, and Upgrades

Security systems need not be overly expensive to be effective. Potential purchasers should examine different systems and their features to see what works best for their building and what they can afford. A system with all the bells and whistles, i.e., integrated audio/video intercom, CCTV, and more—can cost approximately $700 to $800 per apartment.

Owners should also make sure the company that sells them the system will be available whenever there are maintenance questions or issues. Like any product that works round-the-clock, even the best building security system will need servicing eventually.

Many security companies promote basic systems that cannot be upgraded or altered. Athough these systems may be less expensive up front, they could pose costly problems down the road—particularly if the entire system needs to be replaced. Also, it’s important to be sure that upgrading the system will not pose lengthy or challenging installation problems.

Many owners and new developers take a great deal of time determining what amenities to have in their buildings. Should they install granite countertops in the kitchens or marble in the bathroom?  What kind of hardwood should the flooring be made of? Is there going to be a fitness room or play area for children?  

At least equally important, but often given less thought, is consideration of what type of security system to have in place.  Security systems protect residents’ valuables and save lives. They also provide comfort, convenience and preserve one’s privacy—and in reality, those are the most important amenities of them all.

Lucien Bohbot is president of Unitone Communication Systems, a company specializing in video intercom and alarm systems for residential buildings.

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