Video Intercom Enhances Security At Co-op

By John Mosebar

Residents of The Sands, an upscale 111-unit co-op apartment building, share a midtown Manhattan neighborhood with the United Nations Headquarters—the latter a regular magnet for protestors seeking justice on a wide variety of international issues.

Often, the co-op’s entry vestibule provided protection for protestors looking to stay dry during a rainstorm or warm themselves on a cold New York winter day. They still couldn’t access The Sands lobby or elevator banks without first using a voice intercom system to buzz a tenant. But the throngs were a nuisance to tenants at a minimum—and represented a potential security problem, particularly when the doorman wasn’t on duty.

Video intercom system installed at The Sands co-op residence in New York City

The co-op board and the building’s management company worked together to find a solution. Their idea was a video intercom system that would allow the vestibule door to be kept locked at all times. The system would require visitors to use an outdoor unit to buzz a tenant who could then see and speak with the person before remotely unlocking the door to the vestibule. Once inside, the visitor would again summon the tenant using an identical video intercom before gaining lobby access.

The board sought bids for a system to meet the resident’s needs. The selected project, the installation of which was begun and completed in the summer of 2014, included the installation of video intercoms throughout the building. The outdoor and vestibule units are recessed, stainless steel panels including a color camera with a 170° view, a microphone and a digital keypad to page apartments. LED lighting built into the units helps identify visitors at night.

The units in the residents’ apartments allow them to speak with a visitor and zoom and tilt the front door camera to get a good view of the person. By pressing a button on the intercom, the resident unlocks the door into the vestibule. The intercom unit allows the door release timer to be set from only a few to as many as 20 seconds.

The second unit guarding the lobby provides assurance that the visitor hasn’t allowed an unapproved person to attempt to enter the building at the same time. It takes a couple of extra seconds, but adds another layer of security for building tenants as it’s not uncommon for people with no business in the building to try to piggyback with an approved visitor.

One key to keeping the job affordable for the co-op owners was the project integrator’s ability to reuse cable from the previous 30-year-old voice intercom. The existing cable was copper in a PVC sheath that should last for decades to come. Running new cable throughout the building would have nearly doubled the cost of the project and added significantly to the three weeks it to complete installation.

Some residents had initial apprehension about a new technology, but that quickly evaporated as they judged the new video intercom system to be reliable and user friendly.

Co-op board member and resident Tom Uhl said the system has met with widespread approval. “There was some initial discussion about upgrading to another audio-only system,” he said. “But the video gives residents a better opportunity to see who they are letting into the lobby and the system gives our building better curb appeal.”

A voice-only intercom unit on the doorman’s desk allows him to remotely unlock either or both of the doors into the vestibule and lobby. He can then check with residents to get their permission to allow a visitor to continue upstairs or accept deliveries on a tenant’s behalf. Residents can also use their video intercom to communicate directly with the doorman.

The integrator praised a very cooperative building superintendent with helping to make the installation proceed smoothly. Having won the resident’s trust, the majority of them provided him with key to their apartments. That allowed installers to get into each unit—along with the super—even if no one was home. That saved significant time in scheduling and installation.

By being so involved in the process, the super also became very familiar with the system and could assist residents if they had any problems using the new units. Also, the project integrator provided each tenant with a printed sheet explaining how to use the system.

Next up at the Sands is a basic access control system to be installed at the front entrance allowing residents to use a key fob to enter the building without having to enter a code into the intercom panel.

And residents no longer have to worry about becoming unwillingly involved in world politics.

Mosebar serves as vice president of marketing for Aiphone. He is a 32-year veteran of the company, a manufacturer of security video intercoms.