By Kathy Danforth / Published October 2016
Valencia Pointe Homeowners Association of Boynton Beach and Old Marsh Golf Club of Palm Beach Gardens have been recognized as the winners in the Safety and Security division of the 2016 Communities of Excellence contest. These communities have realized the importance of security in their associations and have maintained a continuing focus on protecting their residents.
Valencia Pointe, a 55+ homeowner association, faced security issues in 2013 and immediately took steps to combat crime in their community. “We had several burglaries at the perimeter of the property and discovered a bullet hole in a sign near the gate. This was unacceptable here,” states manager Kirsten Alvarado, “and we heightened safety and security to reduce crime for the safety of our community. Today those concerns are almost non-existent because of our efforts.”
Securing the perimeter was a vital first step, as much of the border was marked by landscaping but no barrier. “We had a special assessment and put in a black vinyl, chain link fence,” reports Alvarado. “It was a pretty unanimous decision. We’ve also added areca palms for privacy and decorative flowering plants such as fire bush and Panama rose.”
Improvements to the community’s camera and gate arm systems have improved security and provided other paybacks. “We upgraded our cameras to a cloud-based NVR system with 36 cameras,” explains Alvarado. “Previously the camera feed could only be viewed in my office, but now it can be monitored remotely, so the 24/7 guard can view it, and I can pull it up on my phone. Since we’ve implemented these measures, we’ve been able to eliminate our use of a roving guard. The cameras have paid for themselves several times over by identifying who is responsible for property damage.
Quite often trucks run over landscape vegetation and lighting, or people break gate arms; now we can see the tag number, even at night.” Another investment, a trap gate arm system with arms in front of and behind the vehicle, has eliminated “piggybacking” of following vehicles into the community.
Entrance policies have been tightened, also. “To have a transponder [for automatic entry], you must be a resident,” Alvarado relates. “All guests, whether personal or service providers, must enter at the manned front gate. If a vendor has a vehicle without an ad, we provide a magnetic number for identifying the vehicle while it is on the property.”
The Valencia Pointe residents are involved in protecting their community as well as the surrounding area. “The residents donate thousands of hours each year in the Citizens Observer Patrol (COP) program,” shares Alvarado. “We use a sheriff’s patrol car and monitor within a two-mile radius of our community.”
“When security issues started in 2013, Neighborhood Watch was launched by our active security committee to create awareness in neighborhoods,” comments Alvarado. Each neighborhood has a block captain, who has a roster with special needs of residents. Residents put away newspapers when neighbors are traveling, inform homeowners when security lights are out, and watch out for each other and their property.
The security committee has an ongoing effort to educate and alert residents to issues. “In security, complacency is going to happen,” Alvarado observes. “We hold several town hall meetings on security issues, including a night of security with vendors and the Palm Beach Sheriff’s office. We post presentations and update policies on the website, send e-blasts, and use our community channel and flyers to communicate safety information.”
As a recognition of the service that first responders in the area have provided, Valencia Pointe held their first Day of Appreciation for police, fire department, EMT, and local hospital emergency center staff. “We provided catered lunch, desserts baked by the residents, gifts, and prizes,” Alvarado shares. “We kept it open for several hours since the employees came in shifts, and close to 100 guests came. Residents shared stories of how they had personally been helped by these first responders.”
The Valencia Pointe community took immediate steps to curtail security issues and have been rewarded with success. With their strong volunteer program, prevention will likely prevail!
Old Marsh Golf Club, a gated 453-acre homeowners association which includes an 18-hole Pete Dye golf course, shifted its security approach after bringing management in-house seven years ago says association manager Deborah Price. “When I was first hired, most of the guards hadn’t set foot inside the gates—they were involved in entry procedures only,” she recalls.
Desiring a more comprehensive program, the community looked at basic security functions: the perimeter, entry procedures, and vendor relationships. Kerry Finn, Community Operations Manager and Security Director, came on board soon after Price became manager and utilized available resources to build the program their board of directors envisioned. “In the early years we started to network, which is now even more essential,” Finn relates. “We’re involved in the Gated Community Security Managers Association. If we post a question to the group asking for recommendations, we’ll get 30–40 responses by the end of the day.”
This sharing of information helped Old Marsh Golf Club deve-lop procedures to serve with competence and a smile. “For perimeter control, we installed additional cameras, including six thermal imaging cameras set for human temperature and weight at the few areas where someone could cross the fence into the property on land,” Finn explains. “On three sides are wetlands, with snakes, alligators, and bobcats—rather dangerous and difficult. We’ve had several situations with trespassing intruders, and we’ve called law enforcement. Even if they are minors, they’re still trespassing. We go through the procedures, and may or may not press charges.”
“Some homes also have cameras, and a few years ago a theft was caught on the private camera. We tied that in with our check-in and check-out video, and the offender confessed after denying it at first. Cameras really work!” according to Finn.
For guests entering the property, a picture is taken of the driver, driver’s license, and vehicle license. “All workers in a vehicle must have a photo ID,” states Finn. The vehicle is then provided with a five-digit code to submit when they leave.
“We’ve gotten away from the old-school approach of being hard-core and tough with first time visitors,” advises Finn. “At our community, it’s about first impressions with everyone. You can’t turn people off at the gate, if you want to sell them a product. We give an escorted tour or call someone to provide the appropriate information. And, since we are friendly to our vendors, they’ll be the first to tell us if they notice something suspicious while they’re on the property.”
A preferred vendor program managed by the association was instituted six years ago, and that has reduced the number of vendors and ensures that they are professional, reliable, licensed, and insured. “We interviewed every company doing work on our property and recommended three companies in each of 40 categories—landscape, pool, pest control, plumbing, etc. We checked if they paid their employees well, and in most cases, we chose local businesses so we could know the owners. It’s more cost effective for the businesses, and it really helped reduce gate traffic,” reports Price. “The homeowners love the program and 98 percent participate.”
Communication has rounded out the security program. Finn says, “We have added text alerts to residents, and now we have a roving SUV with an AED for emergencies and also a security department golf cart. If someone is away from home, we’ll collect papers or dry cleaning so no home appears vacant, and we’ll add extra patrols. Residents are routinely reminded of ‘See Something, Say Something,’ and this has resulted in the identification and apprehension of trespassers.” Communication between all departments of community employees has been expanded by use of radios and a security log prepared three times daily.
“We share information with the Palm Beach Sheriff’s office, and they do random drive-throughs free as a public service,” notes Finn. “We work with our neighboring communities also—if we see anything pertaining to them, we let them know, and they alert us if they see something. The more eyes, the better.”
Beginning from an initial problem of security being disconnected from the community, Old Marsh has developed an extensive web of relationships that now provides multiple layers of protection for their residents.