In the 101 edition of Condo Association Safety and Security, we covered the basics of how to ensure your Association is safe and secure. Today we’ll follow up on more advanced topics to help you have a secure and safe Condo Association.
The AED Issue
Automatic External Defibrillators (AED) are one of the greatest inventions with regards to saving lives in the past few decades. Combined with Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), the survival rates of CPR+AED are significant. If you want to hear how great they are, ask a firefighter or paramedic about their thoughts on AEDs – you’ll get an exuberant earful. AEDs aren’t cheap, but they aren’t prohibitively expensive either, and they come with service contracts. The new ones are very easy to use – they talk to you and tell you what to do. Many CPR classes will also give you experience with trainer AEDs.
So why wouldn’t your building or Association have one? Enter… legal liability. While there are liability protection laws in place for AEDs related to good samaritans, they often require all employees of the AED owner (in this case, the Association) to be trained. This means that should you have an incident where an individual collapses, an employee renders CPR+AED, but the individual perishes, a civil suit could go after the Association alleging insufficient training or insufficient response. You might prevail, you might settle, but you are adding financial liability to your Association. Does this liability outweigh having one of the greatest lifesaving devices known to humanity in your building? That’s for your Board to decide. It is not an easy decision and should be made with consultation of legal counsel. If you do want to add an AED, I suggest you tell your counsel you want to do so, and ask them what steps you can take to mitigate your liability.
Dealing with a Security Incident
It is inevitable that you’ll deal with a security incident in your building, particularly in a larger Association – it’s a matter of statistics. The key to navigating such an incident is clear communication and clear action – but also ensuring you don’t overreact.
First, you’ll want to make sure the incident is reported to the police. While reporting it, find out if there have been similar crimes in the area – for example, a car thieving ring might be operating in the area and you may want to alert your Owners. Share the information you have with your Owners, but only share things that are fact (i.e., from the police report); do not share assumptions or rumors. You do have a duty to share the police report, but ensure the victim is aware you’ll be sharing the information. In 99 out of 100 cases, a victim will be fine with this – few people want others to be victims too! When communicating with Owners, provide timely updates, but also make sure they know you can only communicate what the police share with you – it may be a long gap before the police catch the perpetrators, so Owners need to understand that. You might also invite Owners to attend the next monthly Board meeting if they have concerns – this builds trust and gives people a chance to express their concerns.
As a Board, you’ll need to review what the issue was. It may be that the incident reveals a security flaw, like poor lighting or a failing lock; if it is something you can fix, be ready to fix it quickly, and then communicate to Owners that you did so. If it is something more broad, like an incident that occurs in a well-lit area outside of the building, you’re going to have a tougher call to make. Unfortunately, sometimes bad things happen and nothing reasonable could have prevented them from happening outside of a National Guard unit deployed on premises. Nonetheless, there may be a groundswell of Owners who might want to hire security guards, for example. In these cases, you’re going to need to assess the situation and make the decision that’s right for the community. As I mentioned in the 101 article, in general, my advice is to look at crime stats and trends. One isolated incident is not something that should make you start spending large amounts of (or potentially any) money. Several incidents may indicate that you do need to spend money to protect your community. In those cases, I advise you retain a security firm and find the best value of improvements, and then communicate with Owners what those improvements will cost and budget accordingly. People like the idea of living in a super-secure building until they find out their Condo fees are going to increase 20%.
Host Town Halls with Police and Fire Departments
Your local police and fire departments (and emergency medical services, although they usually are combined with the fire department) should have a community liaison, or at least have someone who does liaison work part time. They will almost always be delighted to come and speak to your community about best safety practices, and also to give you an idea of what’s going on in your jurisdiction as a whole – for free. I recommend doing these annually – usually the Fire Department in spring before grilling season and the Police Department in fall when it starts to get dark earlier/crimes tend to increase around holiday season. You can also host these events after a relevant incident (like a crime or fire) to help educate your Owners – when things are great, no one worries about the police; after an incident, attention spikes. It’s human nature.
Having your liaisons come creates fantastic opportunities, as you get first responder professionals talking directly to your Owners. This has the added benefit of additional credibility for information provided – often Owners will trust a police officer more than the Association, even if you’re sharing the same information. We had a minor property crime – the first in a long time – and it was one of those “shit happens” moments where there wasn’t anything the Condo Association reasonably could have done that would have prevented it. Nonetheless our Owners didn’t like that answer- but then the police liaison came and reiterated that we were in one of the safest parts of our town. When the police said it, our Owners listened.
For extra credit – if you ever host parties for your Owners, invite the local station/precinct to come by. They will show up if they’re available, and it’s a great way to build a better relationship and show thanks to the people who might save your life one day.
Condo Association safety and security is one of the toughest parts of being a Board member. More than any other issue, you’re forced to balance safety and security against financial and legal implications, which is one of the most miserable parts of the job. As with all of the tough decisions, be sure to gather information, consult with qualified professionals, leverage local government resources, get Owner input, and trust your gut.