When it comes to protecting the property and prized possessions of the ultra-high-net-worth, visions of bulletproof windows, panic rooms, security details and mansions reinforced with the latest technology come to mind. Celebrities, top company executives and other superrich people spare no expense to keep thieves out of their homes and offices.
“Their biggest focus is the protection of family,” says Chris Webb, a sales manager with Avante Security Inc. in Toronto. “They’re away a lot and need the comfort of knowing their family is protected from targeted crime.”
The good news for the well-heeled is that the average criminal is more interested in taking possessions than harming people. The bad news, according to Mr. Webb, is that organized criminal groups today are targeting wealthy homes “hard and fast” with crews of between three and seven people. They typically invade a home, take what they can – even a vehicle, if possible – and exit before authorities or a security firm can respond.
“They’ll stand outside the house and are able to capture the frequency of your key fob and duplicate it,” he says. “Then they’re off with your car and you don’t even realize it.”
In most cases, however, the daily security demands of the average high-net-worth person are more benign. Mr. Webb’s firm, which caters to wealthy individuals across the Greater Toronto Area, is often called upon to do far more than patrol estate grounds or respond to residential alarms. In his experience, many high net-worth individuals want their security provider to offer something akin to a concierge service that ensures protection across all aspects of their lives.
“They’re looking for a one-stop [security provider] that can take anything as it comes,” Mr. Webb says. “If they need us to pick up a kid from hockey practice and go low-key, or meet the guy who’s going to repair their window because they don’t know who he is – and they can’t be bothered – they just want to be able to call one phone number or send one e-mail and it gets taken care of, no matter what the situation.”
Building the best security plan
Reducing a security threat often begins when a high-net-worth individual is designing their home or office.
Shawn Mecklinger, president of Markham, Ont.-based luxury home builder Kilbarry Hill Construction Ltd., starts by getting an understanding of the client’s security exposure, then designing the property in a way that reduces the risk of break-ins or other crimes.
“We install things like double-paned glass in case there’s a bullet or someone tries to break the glass,” Mr. Mecklinger says. “We plan for things like that. Window wells in the basement can’t be too low so someone could actually get in there and kick in a window. Roofs have to be closed. We’re always cognizant of how those things are sealed, so no one can get access.”
The technology side of the home-security plan is something Sidney Lisser of Toronto-based RenPark Security Inc. often deals with, including the installation of high-tech security systems that keep people safe when they’re at home and away.
Mr. Lisser’s clients want both safety and functionality, which is why he sees limited use of the very latest technology, such as biometric entry systems.
“Most of the high-net-worth are not very tech-savvy,” he says. “Plus, the majority have live-in help. They drive right into their garage, which is heated, so they can walk right into their house. There’s always someone at the home. I find [advanced security systems with biometric features] last about a year, then they call us and tell us to take them out.”
Common (and not-so-common) protection measures
Mr. Lisser says a common strategy is to install a perimeter security system to protect a residence, including those aforementioned glass-break sensors, door and window contacts and window films to prevent shattering, along with a customizable, closed-network alarm system that is difficult to hack. The latter would include smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, as well as water sensors and shut-off systems in case of any electrical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) or mechanical system malfunctions or failures in the home.
“The repair of the house far outweighs the cost of a stolen laptop or iPad,” Mr. Lisser says, adding that so-called smash-and-grab robberies – with sellable items such as jewellery or watches being the prime target – are still the greatest risk to the security of luxury homes and their residents.
In rare cases where Mr. Lisser is asked to install a panic room, there are a few options. Some ultra-high-net-worth clients will invest in a secure space with an independent air supply, camera monitors, a full alarm system control panel and backup cellular communications. What’s more common is clients opting to fortify their master bedroom or another room in the house by installing double drywall, putting pegs in the floors and installing camera monitors to create what he calls a “pseudo panic room.”
“Part of our alarm training is finding a safe place within the house that the family can retreat to in the event of an invasion where they have complete communication and a potential exit strategy,” he says.
The high cost of extra protection
Of course, securing a luxury home isn’t cheap. Mr. Lisser says building a traditional panic room could cost up to $30,000, depending on the size and elements included. People in the market for state-of-the-art protection should expect to shell out an additional $14,000 for a sophisticated alarm system and another $8,000 for security cameras.
That’s not including home monitoring. Mr. Webb of Avante Security says that home security typically starts at around $3,000 per year, but annual costs can increase exponentially depending on the client’s needs. He’s seen some wealthy individuals spend up to $1-million over several years on home security.
Whatever the expenditure, Mr. Webb advises wealthy homeowners to work with their security provider to assess every possible risk scenario.
“They need to take a holistic approach and be able to respond with qualified people, no matter the situation," he says.