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At the high-end Portofino Tower in South Miami Beach, where condominium units cost as much as $2.7 million, residents pay maintenance fees of up to $2,500 per month not just for comfort, but for peace of mind. But despite round-the-clock security, a rash of car thefts hit the building a year and a half ago. So Portofino’s condo association hired a consulting firm to figure out how to improve security. The result was a $70,000 retrofit of the 4-year-old building’s safety features. Now three of the four garage entries shut automatically after 10 p.m. The lone entry left open is manned by a guard. Cameras record license plates and the faces of all drivers leaving the garage. Residents are watched. Doors to common areas � lobbies, for instance � require electronic keys coded for each resident. A computerized system records the name and time anybody passes through those doors. That’s not all. The lobby elevators can be accessed only with an electronic device. Residents get the device but can only leave the elevator on their own floor. Who goes where and when is stored by the computerized elevators, making it possible to print a record. “We could follow somebody around the building by watching the program,” said Christopher Pappas, Portofino’s general manager. “The condo board felt they had a good system, but they wanted to make it better.” The car thefts, Pappas said, stopped. If it all sounds too fortresslike, that’s what it now takes for upmarket residential buildings throughout South Florida to deliver on one of their most alluring promises � personal safety. The new high-rises scratching the skyline are getting more security-minded designs, while older properties are being refitted with new technology to control access to any entry that could jeopardize safety, from elevator lobbies to key boxes. The chief motive for the push: security sells. Marketing materials for high-end condos lump 24-hour security with such amenities as ocean views and luxury clubhouses. And residents in high-end condos pay plenty to have it, with the greatest portion of maintenance fees as high as $2,500 a month allocated to safety measures. “This is one of the reasons I live in a condo, so that I would have more security than in a house,” said Richard Doherty, vice president of the condo association at Villa Regina. At that 208-unit complex on Brickell Avenue the association two years ago added more cameras and more guards, after a rash of vandalism on the parking lot. “Security is a priority in sales, especially for overseas buyers,” said developer Joe Milton, whose projects include the Pinnacle, a luxury high-rise in Sunny Isles Beach. “I have to make [buyers] believe they’re living in a safe environment.” Another reason for the security push is that better devices are more widely available, and security companies frequently recommend them when addressing residents’ concerns. “I would like to have less guards and more technology,” said Gil Neuman, chief executive of Kent Security Services, a North Miami company that specializes in high-rise condos. A year ago at the Summit, a two-tower condo complex in Hollywood, Kent suggested adding cameras and replacing the metal keys with plastic key-cards. The condo association agreed, adding 35 cameras and installing the key cards. said Neuman: “It’s our job to tell our clients what’s out there.” And condo managers are being pushed to upgrade security by their insurers, who pick up the tab whenever a crime victim sues over an incident that might have been prevented. “The insurance industry is more aware and is saying, ‘You have to have a program in place,’ ” said Allan M. Apo, senior manager of engineering and safety for Insurance Services Office Inc., a New York advisory firm to the property-casualty insurance industry. “ They may not be able to get the insurance unless they have a security program.” For the past five years, Apo has been urging development of a national crime-safety code for all buildings. The National Fire Protection Association, which is expanding its mission beyond fire safety, is expected to address such a code at a meeting in October. Without local codes, Apo said, condo managers take their cues from other buildings in their price range, since courts look to prevailing industry practice in deciding whether safety measures are adequate. Some developers say they are adopting not only the latest technology but also new architectural designs that are safer than older plans. Take Mizner Grand, a 137-unit complex in Boca Raton where units range from $1.5 million to $2.5 million. The building doesn’t brag about safety, because as sales representative Philip Spiegelman puts it, “If I sell on the theory of security, then I’m selling on a negative.” Instead, Spiegelman touts so-called private elevators, a feature that’s popular in newer luxury projects like those of Boca Developers, the Deerfield Beach company that is building Mizner Grand. Private elevators open only to one or two units, instead of to a hallway running along many units. Only unit owners can summon the elevator or send it down to pick up a guest. “Security becomes a residual element that comes with the design,” Spiegelman said. “In an older building, you can potentially get in a common hallway and access an apartment.” Mizner Grand also has high-resolution surveillance cameras in public areas, their screens monitored round the clock by a guard in the lobby. The entrance gate, too, is guarded 24 hours a day. “People at this price and higher expect a higher level of security. I better have a great security package to go with it, because it will close the deal,” Spiegelman said. Pinnacle developer Milton said the current approach to security centers on two key points: guarding entry points and using electronic monitors. “You place cameras throughout the property, even in beach areas,” Milton said. At the Pinnacle, “from the security desk, they have views to all the doors. Every door has a sensor that lets the security know if it’s open. The guests can’t go into corridors that go to the elevators without electronic let-in by security guards. That’s where you should put the money, in the cameras, the entries.” Miami-Dade County is leading the techno-security trend in South Florida, because it is perceived as a higher crime area. At Renaissance on the Ocean, a high-end condo being developed in Hollywood, the security package remains standard, said developer Gordon Deckelbaum: a guard at the entrance and a camera at every point of entry. “Maybe because we’re Broward County, I don’t hear an extreme amount of concern about security as they do in Miami-Dade,” Deckelbaum said. The push for new technology has been a boon for some companies. Vitel Communications Inc., a 7-year-old Coral Gables computer-systems company that started by setting up security systems in commercial buildings, now gets 40 percent of its revenues from condos. The company retrofitted the Portofino, as well as two other high-end projects: the 12-year-old South Pointe Towers and Sunset Harbour, a 7-year old complex in Miami Beach whose marina provided wide-open access for outsiders. Currently, Vitel is working with the developers of Biltmore Village, a high-end project in Coral Gables where Vitel is consulting on a cable infrastructure to connect security devices. “Security companies traditionally provided burglar alarms,” said Andrew Corcoran, Vitel’s president. “We’ve taken that five steps forward.” How? By providing a package that includes surveillance cameras, electronic keys, door sensors and data recording. “Ten years ago you might see a camera pointing to the main entrance. That would be the extent of it,” Corcoran said. “Now, what you’re seeing is that there is a central security system and you’re placing cameras in strategic places. You’re providing a security element that would have required five, 10 bodies to watch all those places.” Sunset Harbour, Corcoran said, had about 20 access points that were not controlled. A recent $100,000 retrofit included equipping those points with electronic entries that open to residents or marina users who have the required devices. “We’re able to control who goes where, if need be,” he said. The new gadgets are changing the role of the security guard, developers and security consultants say. Take Kent Security, a North Miami specialist in residential security. Founded in 1982, the company used to provide guards. But five years ago, it moved heavily into technology-based systems that rely less on the decisions of guards. CEO Neuman said the company’s revenues, 80 percent of them from condos, have doubled in the past two years. Kent now might give a client this option: Hire a guard for $11 an hour or, for 50 cents an hour more, get software installed at the gate as well. The software forces the guard to record the license plate and ask the appropriate questions of a visitor � name, person being visited � before the gate will open. “The problem was the guard would sit down, talk with his girlfriend on the phone, and when a car approached, he would say, ‘Oh yes, go on,’” Neuman said. “Now, we even go the extra mile where the guard doesn’t open the gate anymore. The computer opens the gate after he’s asked all the questions.” Security doesn’t come cheap. A condo association might pay $28,000 a month for round-the-clock guards, said Wendy Mitchell, a security manager at Kent. Costs of new technology varies � from less than $100 for a surveillance camera to $2,000 per door for an electronic-key system, said Neuman. Often, condo associations are persuaded that technology is cheaper in the long run. “Usually you don’t raise maintenance fees just because of security, but people are more willing to pay for security than to pay for anything else,” said Vicky Nazarre, a manager with the Continental Group, one of South Florida’s largest property management firms. At the property Nazarre currently manages, the Seacoast 5151 Condominium in Miami Beach, the condo board has agreed to spend $17,000 to install seven biometric readers � devices that read a three-dimensional picture of your hand to decide whether to unlock a door � and replace card keys that were being used for common doors. The price reflects a savings from using wiring installed for the previous card-key system. Crime experts say that in places with high security such as these condos, the crimes that do occur typically are inside jobs. Can any measure of security protect from criminal machinations of the hired help? Ask Alceu Aragao. A Brazilian businessman, Aragao’s family wound up the victim of a kidnapping last December not in his native Brazil � where abductions happen at the rate of 50 a month � but in his South Florida safe zone, the parking garage of Oceania I Tower in Sunny Isles. “If security for the building had been good, this wouldn’t have happened,” said Aragao. He recently sued the developer, the condo’s management and the valet-parking company, Ross Parking, and accused them, among other things, of negligent hiring, retention and supervision, stemming largely from the key role in the kidnapping played by an Oceania valet-parking attendant. (See accompanying story, page XX) “It’s an incident that could happen anywhere,” said Oceania I’s general manager Oscar Behncke, who said no major changes have been made since the incident. Developers and property managers say they conduct background checks of the on-site employees they control, require it of major outside vendors they hire, such as security-guard or parking companies, and hope for the best with the other outside workers who come onto a property, such as house cleaners, repairmen or landscapers. Certainly, an incident like the kidnapping in Oceania is one that developers and property managers don’t want to see on their properties. “That was a shame,” said Milton, the developer of the Pinnacle, only a block away from Oceania. “It was the fact of a condo association hiring a company not appropriate for the job.” Still, during the Pinnacle’s development phase, Milton said he had his share of security headaches. As units were sold at the Pinnacle, some owners began modifying their units, hiring contractors to do the work. The contractors had to be admitted, and it wasn’t possible to require criminal background checks on them. “It is the trickiest time,” said Milton. He assigned a person in his staff full time as a “receiving person” to admit contractors. The guard at the lobby would then allow them in the elevator � which are locked off from the main lobby � and program the elevator to stop only at the floor where the contractors would be working. Still, there was nothing to stop contractors from taking the stairs wherever they wanted, because locking stairways is illegal, Milton adds. There, the only security back-up were surveillance cameras. “Luckily enough, we didn’t have any problem,” he said. “Only I lost stuff. They took stuff from me. A plumbing pipe here, a microwave there.” Chris Cobb, vice president of the Ocean Club, an 11-building, 800-unit luxury community in Key Biscayne where units go for as much as $3 million, said he doesn’t believe the Oceania kidnapping has prompted changes. Given the choice between a thorough background check for $200, and a superficial check for $20 � which may come up with the same results for most job candidates � managers may find it hard to justify the higher outlay, Cobb said. “It’s a balance between doing enough and wasting your money. I think anybody will tell you that a criminal with a will will find a way,” Cobb said.

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