Criminals increasingly targeting gates of secure complexes

By Andy Lawler, Sentinel Risk Management

Recently, as a security assessor, I’ve been called upon on a more regular basis by gated communities, in order to assess their safety as South Africa has seen a marked increase in forced intrusion and armed robbery, especially at communities that boast high security standards.

Why, you might ask, is this possible, as most gated communities have state-of-the-art access control and Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority-registered guards?  The answer is simple, take an individual off the street, train him or her in basic access control and security measures, place them at a gate with no weapons or protective gear (sometimes only a torch and a radio), pay them a pittance and then expect them to stand up for a community against a car-full of heavily armed, well-organised and coordinated criminals.

The decision he is forced to make, in the blink of an eye, is one of three options: “Do I obey their commands and allow them into the community to do what they want to do?  Do I run away and leave my post unmanned?  Or do I try to resist these criminals and end up as a dead hero?

Let’s take the average complex gate; here we see one or two guards on duty for a 12-hour shift; often being verbally abused by residents and visitors for carrying out the duties that they have been employed to do.  Add to this, the attitude of dependency by people living in gated communities on the security guards, which leads to residents ignoring proper security protocol and becoming totally complacent behind their complex walls and gates.  Then, should an incident occur, the first person they blame is the security guard.

Start with a thorough security risk assessment

Unfortunately, most gated communities do not get a thorough Security Risk Assessment before deciding on what security or access control hardware to install and, therefore, do not have all the facts regarding their vulnerability.  Without a comprehensive assessment, the chances are that the security hardware employed will only solve 40 to 50% of their risk.

Communities need to understand that the police and private security companies cannot be at all places at any one time and, thus, by putting all one’s eggs in the physical security guard basket, the communities’ security would be seriously lacking in a time of crisis.

With this in mind, if you were a security guard and someone pointed an AK 47 at you, what would you do?  Would you take action against them, or would you run away?

So, how do we protect ourselves?  The odds are is not simple and involves a number of steps; firstly, whether you have a new complex all one that has been around for decades, always start with a Comprehensive Security Threat, Risk and Vulnerability Assessment.  This assessment will reveal your vulnerability and will help you decide on what preventative, detective and corrective controls can be put in place.

The next step, which is exceptionally important, is to collectively develop a security mindset which needs to be embedded in the very culture of the community. Ie.  Despite the fact that you’re living in a gated community, always keep your garage and home doors locked; furthermore, security gates also need to be kept closed.

As a security professional, I live by the mantra that an open or unlocked barrier is not a barrier at all.

Lastly, and equally important, the community needs to keep the guards in mind when designing the complex gate.  The guard room should be on the inside of the perimeter and not on the perimeter or outside the perimeter.  This way the guards would be safe in the guardhouse and are able to enjoy the protection of the communities to close gates in the same way that the community enjoys this protection.  One should also consider panic buttons for the guards, and nearby situated armed response team as well as bulletproof glass on the front of the guardhouse.

For more information on security risk assessments and installation advice, please feel free to contact Sentinel Risk Management.  Our telephone number is 082 953-1594 or you can e-mail us on

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