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Lessons from the Mayhem of May 19

Written by Aliwassa Pathnadabutr, Managing Director of CB Richard Ellis Thailand and published on The Nation dated 21 June 2010.

From the recent events last month, our property management team has learned invaluable lessons from direct experience in managing 12 buildings in the red zone, seven of which were at the centre of the riot areas.

Every company is concerned about staff safety, but one profession that has to continue its duty to provide security for the buildings and occupants is property management, regardless of the situation.

Only a few staff were voluntarily on duty to man the buildings amid the clamour of bombs and gunfire and smoke from fires in nearby buildings and the uncertainties of what would happen next.

The recent events have raised security concerns for both commercial and residential buildings. Many residential buildings do not have proper gates to the compound to prevent intruders. For commercial buildings, an open gate design is often adopted, but the problem lies at the building entrances, which are mostly glass doors without shuters.

A measure most commercial buildings have implemented is to control elevators not to open on ground floors.

However, it is clear that most properties are not well prepared for such riots, as no one imagined it would happen in the heart of Bangkok.

Following the events, there are lessons to be learnt. Whilst buildings comply with fire-safety regulations, there are now other risks to consider.

In other parts of the world, sophisticated security measures and technology are implemented to prevent or minimise the impact from natural disasters, riots or even terrorist attacks. However, the fact is these security systems are expensive and ineffective without the right people using them.

Therefore it must be a combination between the right system and the people. Landlords must balance the security measures against investment and the standard of safety they need to provide to occupants.

From our perspective, there are three broad aspects that should be reviewed.

First, the physical control of ingress and egress. Buildings should have one main entrance that can be security-protected from outside.

An access-card control system should be effectively implemented at all access points including the main lift lobby and all car park floors.

Visitor cars should also be checked with a car park allocated separately from the occupants’ car parking area.

The building exits should also be carefully planned to allow evacuation in case of fire, explosions, natural disasters or terrorist acts. Multiple emergency exits should be available and effectively activated when necessary.

Other routine measures that are often overlooked include updating the layout and M&E plans of the building and the list of occupants/tenants and their contact details, and make this available on-and off-site.

Fire staircases and exits, CCTVs, and security and safety equipment should also be inspected on a regular basis.

The second aspect is people. Security guards and property management staff should be proactive and professionally trained to use the system and equipment and handle emergency situations beyond fire evacuation.

Occupants must also realise the importance of the measures and comply with the procedures.

The last issue is design. New security systems may not be implemented in existing buildings with design limitations, but architects, developers and all design professionals should be aware of these requirements.

The systems are best incorporated right from the start of the planning for the site, layout and structure to M&E.

All too often many buildings do not implement proper security measures for the wrong reasons such as disturbance to visitors or privacy of occupants, budget constraints or simply because of the lack of staff discipline to control or implement.

Residential building owners must assess what is more important – convenience and privacy or security.

Commercial building owners must also find a balance between allowing uncontrolled public access to building facilities and implementing measures to reduce security risks.

It remains a question of how long people will continue to be alert and aware.

But as Thais tend to forget easily, we do hope that these lessons can be learnt and remembered, as prevention is always better than a cure.

Aliwassa has been the Managing Director οf CBRE Thailand for a number of years. As a Thai national, Aliwassa is extremely knowledgeable about the sale of property in Thailand, specifically large scale high value condominium developments largely in Bangkok.

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