Security executives in property management secure commercial buildings in a variety of ways, depending on location, risk, whether the building is public, private or semi-public, what sort of asset is being protected, hours of operation, and the like. Protecting buildings from risks such as theft, loitering, vandalism, rioting and workplace violence comes with a variety of unique challenges and can take a lot of forethought, planning and creativity.


Risk Assessment

The first step to a good commercial property security system is a risk assessment to determine the level of security needed. According to Rick Avery, President of the Northeast Region at Securitas Security Services, you should ask:

  • What are you protecting?
  • Why are you protecting it?
  • How will you protect it?
  • What’s the likelihood of something happening?

Looking at the possible consequences helps enterprises rank risks, preventing them from spending $50,000 to protect a $2,000 asset.

If possible, the risk assessment should be done before construction begins on a new location, says Nick Vicente, Contract Security Director at Whelan Security. This way, the building can be designed using CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) principles and in as secure a manner as necessary based on the risk assessment.

“Security is dictated by environment. The three approaches are that you evaluate the perimeter, exterior and interior and evaluate each of those areas in terms of the nature of the operation. Is it private, semi-public or private? What are the demographics of the people, your at-risk population? Who is coming to work? What ages are they? Are there more females than males?” says John Roberts, Security Strategist at JR Roberts Security Strategies. The answers to these questions will help determine how tight security needs to be, as well as what sorts of strategies to use.


Security Measures

As noted previously, the security measures used will depend on the risk factors associated with that particular building, but may include alarms, security video, access control, CPTED design, security officers, visitor management and designated parking, among others. Certain areas of the building may be more high-risk than others as well and require stronger security. Having a successful working relationship with the property manager will ensure that security installations fit each property’s unique culture, says Vicente.

Visitor management systems are a great asset, particularly to those property managers who have multiple properties in their portfolios. The records generated through visitor management programs help building managers address tenants’ safety concerns, says Chris BenVau, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Solutions at Protection 1. The knowledge of who is in a building at any given time can help both in investigations and emergency response, such as evacuations.

Designated parking, particularly for visitors, should be a big security consideration, says Roberts. Every tenant should have an assigned parking space and visitor parking should be “in an area that allows for maximum natural surveillance, to see and be seen, so security can see at a glance that everyone is parked where they need to be,” he says.   



Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design is a method used often in security planning and is most effective when a building is at the design stage. “In commercial buildings, CPTED becomes even more important because it can be used to combine a pleasant aesthetic while at the same time reinforcing boundaries, restrictions and oversight,” Roberts says. “You send a clear signal that this is a monitored area and that it has rules and they will be enforced.”

Good CPTED practices “use a lot of subliminal or subconscious strategies to alter behavior and send signals to the legitimate and the illegitimate users of the space,” says Roberts. “That’s more than lights and signs; it’s also aesthetics and color and surroundings.” In contrast, broken windows, trash in the parking lot, and graffiti all signal that a property is not being taken care of and that crime can be easily committed there. 

“Sending a clear signal right at the perimeter of the property is important. There is control, and that means there are rules that can be reinforced when you move from the private to the public thoroughfare,” Roberts says. For instance, using speed ridges to slow drivers down in a private area and posting the speed change.

There’s a second generation form of CPTED called SafeGrowth. Created by urban planner Gregory Saville, SafeGrowth is intended to help build communities and plan buildings that create safer environments. “Increasingly, people in security want input from the ground up. Architects often don’t take into account that form follows function and that function should include good operative security security considerations as well,” says Roberts. SafeGrowth can also be used for existing buildings, which are a big challenge for the security industry, particularly buildings that are poorly designed.    

You can learn more about SafeGrowth design at



There are a variety of challenges when it comes to commercial property security. A major one is providing just the right level of security and meeting your tenants’ expectations. According to Avery, the biggest challenge property managers and their security partners face is selecting the right security solution for the property, whether it’s a combination of people and technology, just technology, or even just personnel. Finding that balance based on a risk assessment is critical to a good security management program.

Another challenge is providing a good wage for security staff. Avery recommends that security pay should be commensurate with job responsibility. For a high-risk, high-cost asset, security leaders should look for technology-savvy and aware personnel, providing them with good wages and benefits. This helps to create an environment where security officers are invested in their jobs, better safeguarding the asset they are assigned to protect.

Workplace violence incidents are a major consideration for security managers in charge of commercial buildings. This is exacerbated when tenants do not disclose knowledge of potential threats to their property manager or security, says Vicente. Security should be made aware of any disgruntled employees, angry former partners, restraining orders, allegations or stalking and other potentially threatening events. The more information a security team has, the more protection they can offer, especially in a multi-tenant building.

Mixed use facilities – buildings that are used for more than one purpose, such as a bakery with offices above it – can be challenging in the commercial security arena. Mixed use buildings introduce the public into what were traditionally the private environs, and securing these facilities can get complicated quickly when common areas are included, says Vicente. Relying heavily on human intelligence is a good strategy to start with, he says, establishing networks with other retail establishments in the building. These networks include other employees as well as frequent patrons, who might be able to recognize unusual behavior.

For Mike Elkin, Sales and Marketing Manager at Marcomm Systems Group, one of the greatest challenges in securing the medical marijuana facilities in Canada that he works with is storing video. There must be 24/7 recordings, and the video must be stored for two years. He also finds the “Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations” created by Health Canada to be difficult as the regulations are not specific and each building is different, yet this one directive must apply to every situation.



Vicente believes that, because of the economic environment we’re coming out of, the future of commercial security will see a split between practicing reactive security and proactive security. The reactive side will become more customer service-oriented – the “friendly face at the front desk” – staying alert, making notifications and conducting investigations. On the other hand, a more tactical application of security is in practice to move toward proactive behavioral analysis, networking, intelligence gathering and more, which requires an in-depth reliance on formal and informal networking and information-sharing, he says.

An increase in the use of biometric scanning is the future that Roberts sees for the industry. “There will also be a type of facial recognition that lets us verify that someone is a legitimate user. The future will go even further. That facial recognition or that unique biometric imprint, whether it’s a fingerprint or a retina scan, will extend to mechanical operations within the building,” he says. For instance, an elevator that, based on your biometric imprint, will only let you go to certain places in the building based on your clearance.


Want to Learn More?

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