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HNW Family? Avoid These 5 Worst Private Security Fails.

Or, How To Build Endurance & Safety For Your Household Like The Pros

If you have decided your family needs to improve its physical security, you are not alone. The number of homes with security systems is expected to double by 2025. But one approach does not fit for all.

There are all sorts of ways you can overdo it or end up with a bad result. How do the pros get the right fit? We focus on endurance. The solution has to work over a long time. How? Start by trying to avoid five common mistakes.

DIY Security

It seems obvious, but being smart and successful at your day-job doesn't mean you are the right person to build out your family's household security program.

Risk management for households and private security for families is a profession itself, informed by all sorts of data and experiences that aren't widely accessible. Crime statistics are notoriously incomplete, and all sorts of major loss events get swept under the rug and never get reported to the police. Your household may be exposed to idiosyncratic risks from neighbors you'd never imagine. And, you likely have not had decades of experience working with different approaches and systems to see what will work best for your circumstance.

Think of preparing to improve your home security like you would preparing to run a marathon or climb Mr. Kilimanjaro. Sure, you probably could do it on your own if you set your mind to it. Wouldn't your performance be better if you had a nutritionist and a personal trainer, and someone to help you get the right gear, and the right performance tracker? Absolutely.

Remember, home security is about protecting your entire family's peace of mind, and a DIY approach really isn't the right way to go. Sure insurance might cover the financial value, but is it really going to recover your children's innocence after a break-in, our your spouse's comfort in the home you've spent literally millions on, or your reputation? Absolutely not.

Derek Elmer, the founder of global security consultancy I-OnAsia and former chairman of the Hong Kong chapter of the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) is an expert at helping families improve their security. "I'm always available to answer any questions, if people want to ask my opinion about what security solution is right for them," he says. "We think I-OnAsia's strengths are the global reach and experiences of our team, and our practical hard-working approach." But no matter, who you choose to help, Elmer advises avoiding taking a DIY approach. "That will just lead to heartache."

Getting A Dog (& Taking Other Shortcuts)

If you find yourself thinking "I'll just get a dog..." or "I'll just put up a camera there..." and it seems like a simplistic solution, the odds are it probably is.

Simplicity absolutely has advantages, particularly when it comes to security. Things have to work for the children when they come home from school, for you when you come home late from an 18-hour day, and for you staff - especially if they are unfamiliar with your home's technology.

But simple is different from simplistic.

Dogs are absolutely man's best friend. They can be a great help, and have been used for security for over 20,000 years. But with the lifetime cost of a dog now approaching US$10,000 their ROI from a security perspective is pretty limited. You can't rewind a dog to play back security footage, or identify who was on-site when. And, dogs need rest and proper training, and to truly be effective should have trained handlers, which means an honest improvement to your security isn't "just get a dog".

So, if you hear some so-called expert make a simplistic recommendation, ask yourself if you might be getting a false sense of security by taking a shortcut.

The reality of modern households is incredibly complex, and is only likely to grow in complexity as workplaces are re-imagined. The challenges of securing workplace secrets in home office are significant, and every time you move into a new home or your company makes a change, the entire program has to be reviewed. Changes in family circumstances, can shift a risk profile too. Growing children who once actually enjoyed being escorted by security trained driver might now want their independence, and demand a fresh approach.

Oliver Laurence, a former police officer and head of I-OnAsia's office in London tells an interesting story.:"Recently, I was actually called in to supply dogs to a large estate. But when I started speaking with the family, it was clear that protecting the children was far more important than securing any possessions in the residence. As the conversation continued, and we conducted a low-key survey of the neighborhood, it became clear that having dogs might be scary to other neighbors' children and would actually create an atmosphere where the children felt isolated. We took the priority (provide the right security support to get the children around safely), and then identified the right solution to fit the priority (implement a program where security trained drivers can take the children, family, and house keeping team anywhere safely, at a moment's notice). We empowered the family to work and play and avoid unnecessary isolation."

James Tunkey, whose 25-year security career has taken him across the planet in support of HNW families shares another example close to his office in Manhattan: "Just a few months ago a client on the Upper East Side bought a beautiful brownstone. At some point they decided they needed a camera for the front door, and installed one of those cheep-o 99 dollar cameras. But because New York City streets are busy, the battery was constantly dying. That was fine enough pre-Covid when everyone was home and could change a batter, if a bit inconvenient. But this simplistic solution ultimately failed when the family was gone for more than a week."

Getting Bamboozled by The Techies

As we said at the beginning, security is a huge industry that continues to grow. And like ants at a picnic, your need for security is very likely to attract a few pests just trying to take advantage of the situation. And just like an ant can carry off a heavy load well above its weight, unscrupulous vendors of security technologies can walk away with your money and leave you with a poor level of security. How do they do it? They know more than you do about security technology and how it works.

I-OnAsia's Laurence describes how one client felt as it happened. "Oliver, I don't know if you remember but the first time you walked into our home we had a few so-called experts standing in the kitchen trying to sell us on some substantial security technology upgrades." The client continued:

“In a room full people, I felt like prey, surrounded by predators, you were the only one I knew I could trust in that room…and you didn't let me down..”

Security expert Derek Elmer has seen this a hundred times before: "Clients must be empowered to have control over the decision making process. This means they must have a full audit of security as it exists, a risk assessment of needs, AND they must have a detailed understanding of their security systems options. In a corporate setting, corporate security teams put out detailed tenders of their requirements and performance expectations that are linked to specific gaps the company needs filled. These Chief Security Officers and Chief Information Security Officers seeking tenders know the inter-operability challenges and have considered emergency and backup needs. And, they know which vendors deliver the right solutions for a good price. So, they get far better ROI on their spend compared to the most families. When we work with elite families, we are basically upping the game in the same way a corporate CSO might, elevating the quality of requests to tech providers and reducing any one vendor's ability to prey on our client's lack of expertise with security technology."

Tunkey, I-OnAsia's process focused Chief Operating Officer gets into the weeds even further. "Actually like most things these days, its the monthly service costs where security technology vendors look to make a profit. Unfortunately, these can often be empty promises. You think you have coverage, but you might not. Maybe you think cameras are going to be monitored but they really aren't. Maybe you expect you will get good service if there is an emergency, but no one shows up for days. Meanwhile, you are still being charged a monthly fee that is just painless enough that you don't cancel the contract and switch." Tunkey recommends audits and due diligence before selecting a security technology vendor.

Laurence agrees: "Vetting and screening suppliers, contractors and other third parties who provide support services across the property is critical in building a culture of privacy, safety and security, from household staff to garden contractors, all need to be cleared through the vetting process. There have been countless examples sadly where the greatest threat to a HNW/UHNW family has been those they have around them inside their home, rather than the threats outside it. A comprehensive onboarding process is required to ensure that those entrusted with responsibility are the right people."

Over-Reliance On Gated Community Guards

Did you know that the average pay for a security guard in the United States was US$26,500 in December 2020? That is a poverty level income for someone supporting a family of four. The statistic is pretty universal globally: security guards are just not paid that well.

In a world where you definitely get what you pay for, how comfortable does this make you about the skills, qualifications, or motivations of the average guard at your gated community? Or the stresses that may be placed on him or her? How does this affect your expectations and impact your measure of security? (Don't forget that intruders have a completely different set of skills, qualifications, and motivations.)

I-OnAsia's Derek Elmer describes the situation from his perspective in Hong Kong: "The guards, if they are paid the industry average salary are working poor. They have to work multiple jobs to get by, never mind get ahead. You go up to The Peak and the guards have nice uniforms and certainly have the basic licenses and a radio. But they get hungry, they get tired, and they get bored. Too often I've been called to investigate a serious theft and there were guards on duty but they saw nothing."

Tunkey, who handles security for executives around the world, including at many residences, says the problem is truly global: "We conduct secret audits of security programs to ensure things are working as they are designed. The average guard in a gated community is worse than bad window dressing, because as a shared resource the already low level of coverage has been thinned." Tunkey recommends thinking about security in layers: "You have first, second, and third lines of defense. And the security guard at a gated community shouldn't be your only line of defense."

Over-Reliance On Other Household Staff

For most successful families, the time they have available to solve new problems is extremely limited. This means existing household staff are often asked to fill in. Without the time to hire or train a security specialist for the family, the housekeeper is asked to keep an eye out.

Sometimes family needs change. They need more security and less babysitting, but the caregiver or dogwalker is loved and so (s)he is asked to shift roles take on a new position.

Sometimes to avoid conflict the cook is demoted but still employed to sit in the guardhouse.

We've seen it all before, and there many other reasons why household staff may be asked to handle what is effectively a security function without the requisite skills or training.

Oliver Laurence puts it succinctly: "You have to hire the right person with the requisite skills and training to fit the job. This takes a lot of vetting and due diligence. When I work with families on putting a long-term security solution in place, I often hear clients ask 'Why can't someone do the job?' I look at the resume and say, that person doesnt have the training.. and it would be a bad fit."

If you have more questions about how to avoid the pitfalls in building a solid security program for your household, please feel free to call us for advice. We're happy to answer any questions.

I-OnAsia ensures that its protectees (principals and their families) are well supported, from the time they purchase their property and exchange contracts. I-OnAsia's team have quickly assessed the effectiveness of the estate management team in place, ensured that the critical infrastructure 'the heart beat of the home' is supported and fully operational, addressing any urgent maintenance requests, that these processes are quickly implemented to ensure the transition into the new estate property is as smooth as possible.

During Covid we have seen many stressful moves and attempts to reconfigure security on the fly. This can cause significant anxiety and disruption for global families, who must still navigate challenges to their businesses and investments across several times zones around the world.

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