With the Christmas holidays starting in earnest in the next fortnight, a vacant property service provider is warning property owners and tenants to be more aware of the security of their properties over the festive break. Many of our 24,605 schools will be empty for at least a fortnight, and according to research from Santander, one in six British households – representing around 4.5 million people – will be vacant for more than 24 hours throughout the end of December and start of January.
With an estimated five million people taking an extended break of a fortnight, even commercial properties with professional facilities management teams will suffer – regular security guards will be on holiday meaning that buildings are protected by temporary cover (or in some cases nothing at all). And with regular staff away, many of whom may be the people responsible for locking up, checking windows are shut, turning the air conditioning off or making sure computers are switched off, properties are more vulnerable to fire, intruders and leaks. Those buildings which shut down completely over the Christmas holidays and are also vulnerable.
Recent figures from the Metropolitan Police reveal that burglaries are on the rise in London after years of falling crime. The 30 per cent increase in the price of scrap metal is contributing to the increase, with thieves breaking in to steal copper piping and lead from roofs. British Transport Police has reported a 70 per cent hike in the theft of cables. Research from Direct Line revealed that 16 per cent of people have been burgled while they have been on holiday.
Vacant property specialist SitexOrbis has produced some handy tips for keeping properties safe over the Christmas holidays:
For occupied buildings
· Don’t be brief
If key facilities staff are away over the Christmas break and are being replaced by temporary staff or their work being spread across the rest of the team, make sure they leave good handover notes before they go away and ideally spend some time briefing their replacements. This should include not only their formal roles, but also unofficial tasks such as locking up, checking windows are shut, turning the air conditioning off or making sure computers are switched off. Without that sort of information being handed over, properties are more vulnerable to fire, intruders and leaks in addition to losing money through wasted energy use. Temporary security staff should be thoroughly briefed about all aspects of the building’s protection, its inhabitants, the nature of the business and any past, present or future threats. Also remember that employers have a legal duty of care to all their employees, but specific requirements for those who work alone –such as security guards. The law requires employers and others to think about and deal with any health and safety risks before people should be allowed to work alone. The general duty of employers to maintain safe working arrangements under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act applies. Additionally, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess and counter health and safety risks before allowing staff to work alone.
· Making hay while the sun shines
In most organisations many people are away over the Christmas holidays, or the office shuts down completely, which can provide the facilities management team with the perfect opportunity to conduct planned preventative maintenance, fabric maintenance, deep cleans, mould removal and office moves while causing less disruption; catch up on outstanding work and also reduce energy use by cutting back on the heating and lighting in areas where staff are away on holiday. Use the time wisely, as January will come around all too quickly. But make sure you manage to take a break at some stage so you’re ready to tackle the challenges a busy spring will bring.
· Conduct a risk assessment and take precautions
If your property will be empty over the Christmas period, carry out a risk assessment looking at both how squatters or intruders could access the property and other potential sources of damage. Disconnect services to the property to prevent water damage or fire risk and check protective installations such as fire detection and alarm systems. Property owners may be liable if a squatter or intruder injures himself within the property so it needs to comply with health and safety legislation – if a property owner can prove that he took reasonable precautions to prevent intruders, he may be protected.
· Keeping up appearances
Don’t advertise the fact that the property is empty. A pile of post by the front door is a dead giveaway, so consider asking your contractor to clear it while the property is empty. Lights which never come on, no sign of people coming and going, unkempt plants, and locked doors and gates are all signs of an empty property. Consider purchasing an electronic timer which turns lights on and off at random times to create the illusion of occupancy. Consider deploying temporary alarms with visual verifications and 24/7 monitoring so that incidences of graffiti or other anti-social behaviour can be dealt with quickly. Keeping any landscape contract in place during the festive break means that you don’t return in January to windswept or snow-covered plants and the area around the property is kept clean and tidy.
· Secure your building
Before you close up a building for a festive break, make sure that any window locks are in use, doors are shut and locked and alarms are set (but don’t forget to give the combination or key to anyone who is looking after the property) while you are away. Extra security patrols may be enough to put off many would-be intruders. If necessary demountable steel screens can be installed to prevent intruders. Demonstrating that you are serious about security means they are likely to move on to an easier target.
· Informing those who matter
If you know a property in your portfolio is going to become empty, tell your insurance firm so that you are covered in the event of an intrusion. Regular inspections with a full audit trail are often necessary to remain compliant with insurance requirements and health and safety regulations. You may also need or choose to inform your landlord, local authority and neighbours.
· Being in the know
Having real-time information is vital to facilities professionals. Information such as alarm activations reports must be accessible 24/7, and photographic evidence of all work taken by your supplier will help you to keep an eye on the property without having to travel to the site.