COVID-19 still poses an especially high housing security risk in dense urban areas. As of March 2021, apartment dwellers made up a significant portion of the U.S. population—anywhere from 4.8% in West Virginia to 17% in California to nearly 24% of New York state residents. As multifamily tenants return to more active lives outside of their apartments, close quarters make them vulnerable to new waves of infection.
Lockdown’s Lessons for Future Emergencies, Ongoing Security Threats
While not a physical security challenge in the conventional sense, COVID-19 is nonetheless a deadly force. It killed nearly 400,000 people in 2020, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. That made it the third-leading cause of death, along with heart disease and cancer. The coronavirus was responsible for 20 times the number of fatalities connected to gun violence.
Asset managers and security companies can take these five action steps, as part of an integrated security approach, to control COVID-19 exposure before it threatens the health, well-being and peace of mind of tenants and building employees.
1. Revise your security response plan. In the current COVID-19 reality, apartment security solutions must address lockdown-type incidents. Security officers must be trained as first responders to a range of emerging threats, whether posed by pathogen, weather emergency or civil unrest. Managers should consider the impact of any temporary reduction in workforce related to virus-related illnesses. Determine how to cover missed shifts and put a communication protocol in place to inform staff, onsite security officers and tenants about developing situations.
2. Address COVID-19 with your security service provider. Just as apartment security planning prepares tenants for natural disasters and other emergencies, so it also must set procedures for communicating ongoing security risks and incidents to police, staff and residents. Super-spreader events pose a danger to tenants and guests. Let residents know when a tenant or employee contracts COVID-19 at a gathering where many people were infected—especially if it involves several people in your multifamily building. If employee background checks or drug tests were suspended during lockdown, now’s the time to reinstate them—bolstered by pre-employment coronavirus screening.
3. Leverage your security technology. Security service companies can advise property managers on building access control protocols and technology to identify visitors for contact tracing, delivery service or crime investigation. Temperature screening kiosks can effectively monitor visitors and traffic in and out of building (including delivery service personnel), while also sending a visible message that your housing security procedures and security guards take COVID-19 seriously. Thermal imaging cameras can also act as
a COVID-19 alert system, as it scans entrants for elevated temperatures. Together, smart technology tools can mount a robust defense against the virus.
4. Monitor changes in occupancy. Who’s moving in or subletting? Anytime there’s a shift in occupancy—otherwise a fairly routine activity—apartment security must rise to the occasion. That means assessing any new risks of COVID-19 infection and enforcing prevention in public spaces where residents, movers and visitors gather. Mask wearing and social distancing shouldn’t be optional, and security officers must courteously insist on their continued use, without being confrontational. Mobile patrols should monitor large gatherings near building entrances and exits.
5. Inform your tenants. Remarkably, a large amount of COVID-19 misinformation persists, even after more than a year of pandemic conditions. Those immune to the virus may not know they can still spread it to others, for example. And even with a historic vaccination effort, states and cities are still experiencing coronavirus spikes. Physical security very much means protecting tenants from health threats—so make sure they have the right information to enhance or relay concerns about their safety. That information should be shared by everyone who lives and works in multifamily housing.
In unsettling times, security service enhancements give tenants confidence that they can enjoy their surroundings safely with neighbors and guests. In making them feel truly at home, multifamily property managers can foster community as the nation strives for immunity—and win renter referrals and lease renewals.