For much of the country, winter brings bitterly cold weather. It also brings bigger risks for multi-unit buildings which provide warm shelter to many families. Assessing potential security risks and mitigating the impact of an emergency is important no matter the season. Still, freezing temperatures add even more urgency to the need for proper security risk management protocol. Particularly at the start of winter, when holiday festivities are underway and cold snaps leave people desperate for warmth, the potential for an emergency heightens in a variety of ways.

Security Risks to Buildings and Occupants Rise in Cold Weather

  • Greater use of electrical items for heating and holiday decorations as well as use of decorative candles increase the risk of fire.
  • Carbon monoxide incidents are more common in the winter months and in residential properties.[1]
  • Sudden cold snaps can overwhelm homeless shelters leaving those less fortunate in search of a warm place to rest and potentially making security personnel responsible for the safety of unauthorized, unknown occupants.

A thorough review of your buildings’ security risk management measures is best undertaken by a professional firm that can conduct an in-depth review and give clear steps for improvement. Yet, there are some things that a seasoned facilities or security manager should be able to check immediately to increase the safety of building occupants.

When the Temperature Drops, Make Sure These Security Risk Management Actions Are Completed

  • Check All Stairwells and Basements – Not Once but Periodically

    While stairwells may go unused on a day-to-day basis, they become vital in the event of an emergency. Making sure that they are easily accessible, well lit and equipped with emergency lighting, among other things, ensures that they function as a quick exit for residents. Basements should also be checked to make sure they are secure and cannot be accessed by unauthorized persons.

  • Document Security Checks of Maintenance Closets and Mechanical Rooms

    Building management or emergency personnel may need to access a building’s main systems in the event of an emergency. While maintenance closets and mechanicals rooms should be secured, there should always be someone in the building who can provide quick access if needed. There should also be a documented schedule for checking these systems to make sure they are in proper working order, especially during the winter months when heating and hot water systems might be working overtime. Consider creating a sign-in sheet for mechanical systems checks. Similar to how the bathroom at your local Walmart might have a piece of paper on the door documenting the time and date it was last cleaned and by who, building management should be able to quickly tell when systems were last checked and verified to be in working order.

  • Pay Close Attention to Your Unoccupied Units

    Unoccupied units including those that may be owned or rented, but under renovation, are a unique challenge for security personnel. Often residents hesitate to allow regular checks of the units in their absence. Unoccupied units not only pose a potential risk of system failures in winter (e.g., burst pipes) but they can also become housing for unauthorized occupants if not properly secured and regularly checked. This, unfortunately, can lead to theft, vandalism, illicit activity, and potential health and safety hazards in the building. Your security operations should have a policy in place that requires residents to allow security, housekeeping, or maintenance personnel to enter unoccupied or units under renovation on a daily or weekly basis. Residents who resist having their unit checked just need to be reminded that there is no downside to authorized staff inspecting unoccupied units to ensure they are secure.

  • Be Just as Vigilant in Overseeing Your Rental Units

    In a perfect world, every unit, its owner and its occupants are well-documented and that documentation kept up-to-date. In the real world, units – particularly rentals – can change hands as often as several times a year. And if your building allows subletting, security managers may never know who the real tenant is from one month to another. When conducting security assessments of multi-tenant facilities, the Hillard Heintze Security Risk Management team often finds that buildings do not maintain an updated list of unoccupied units, units under renovation, or rental units. Having a current list of these vulnerable units and ensuring they are checked consistently gives security managers a full picture of who they are tasked with protecting in the event of an emergency. These best practices also enable them to create the right protocols to ensure the safety of their entire building.

Putting policies and protocols in place to secure these areas is just a start. The type of in-depth assessment needed to solidify security risk management in your building can be overwhelming for security managers already tasked with the day-to-day operations. But the steps above may prove absolutely essential to having prevented harm to the building, its occupants and its physical integrity.