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Our Safe Haven: The Growing Importance of Club Safety

Members want their club to be a safe and secure environment. Are you prepared to provide it?

On a recent tour of private city and country clubs in Bogota, Colombia, security personnel and procedures were a palpable part of the experience. When entering the wonderful city club, El Nogal, members and guests pass through magnotometers like you find at airports. Every vehicle entering their garage undergoes a thorough search. Most of the club’s supplies are received at a remote commissary to eliminate the need for delivery trucks to come on site. This is the aftermath of a terrible bombing the club experienced in 2005, when anti-government rebels attacked it as a symbolism of capitalism and the huge wealth disparity that exists in the country. More than a decade later, security has a noticeable impact on the membership experience and consumes about 5 percent of the club’s annual budget.

Fortunately, America is not Colombia, but at the same time, it isn’t the country it was in the 1950s. There is greater uncertainty and less cohesion. The historically high-income gap between the haves and have-nots has amplified tensions in the U.S. and globally, which makes places where the affluent gather targets of opportunity. Additionally, members want their club to do more for them, further complicating things. For example, there is a clear preference among younger and prospective members for their club to entertain and even take care of family members. That clearly raises the bar, as it challenges the club with protecting their members’ most precious and vulnerable asset, their children.

It can be downright scary to think of all the threats to the safety and the security of a club’s assets and personnel and members and their personal belongings. It could come in the form of a disgruntled employee looking to get even with someone, hackers who want access to privileged information, the petty thief running a smash and grab on a vehicle or the disenfranchised wanting retribution from those who have more. It’s a dangerous world, and, let’s face it, private clubs are soft targets. They exist to create a drop-in, home-away-from-home environment, not put themselves in a castle behind moats and walls. Creating a sense of security is clearly a part of hospitality—people can’t be comfortable and threatened at the same time—but they can also work at odds with one another. Don’t you feel both better and on edge when you go through a security line at the airport or at a concert or a ballgame? On the one hand, you’re thankful for the protection, but on the other, you are reminded of the bad things that could occur.

Safety as an Amenity

In the landmark 2013 NCA-McMahon Group study, “Navigating the Future,” 90 percent of respondents, which included club executives, members, board members, consultants and legal experts, agreed with the statement, “Clubs will increasingly appeal to people as a safe and secure environment.” Surveys of purchasers in gated real estate communities consistently find safety and security as one of the top three reasons for purchasing a home there. People join clubs in search of other people with similar values and interests, but they are also there because the membership vetting process produces known parties, creating an environment where trust and looking out for others is commonplace.

The trick for club leaders is to make their members and guests secure, but not intimidated. As with many issues affecting clubs, your location and type of club plays a role. Most city clubs adopted stronger security protocols years ago when the urban core began to deteriorate. They have evolved these practices even as their environment has improved with the resurgence of the American city. With mostly vertical structures, they have fewer entrances than a horizontal clubhouse or the campus-style layout of a country club. They also tend to have larger memberships and more traffic through their buildings, so diligence is required.

The Model for Club Safety

The gated community club has a natural culture of security. To the delight of their security detail, many presidents have visited Ocean Reef Club (ORC) in Key Largo, Fla. Surrounded on three sides by water and accessible by a single, lengthy access road that leads to a gated entry, the club has been described by the United States Secret Service as one of the most secure communities in the country. Entry by land, sea and air is strictly monitored and only members and their guests pass through the gates. Because the club has hosted so many dignitaries, stringent, but not oppressive security has become second nature at ORC.

The secure environment at ORC is treasured by their special guests and regular members too. In the club’s annual survey, more than 90 percent of the members indicate they place great value on and have high satisfaction with the club’s security program. Through the Ocean Reef Public Safety program, residents and their guests are assured of a seldom-equaled level of security. The tranquil setting, billed as a unique way of life, is greatly enhanced by the peace of mind the security systems create. Each member of the ORC private security force is certified as a paramedic, emergency medical technician (EMT) or firefighter. Several are certified in all three specializations. Most also have law enforcement training. There is a presence of each trained skill on every shift, around the clock.

How Clubs Can Better Protect Themselves

Most private communities don’t have the resources of an Ocean Reef, but it serves as a model of ideal procedures. For most clubs, security starts with a fully equipped and staffed entrance gatehouse. This is important to seniors looking for retirement options and one of the top reasons they choose to move to a gated community. The responsibility and cost for security measures is typically shared with the homeowners association, easing the burden for everyone. Of course, many clubs and communities employ security staff to protect their members, but cameras aimed at the key access points and high-profile spaces, like the golf shop, locker rooms and parking lot increasingly augment this.

Conversations with club leaders indicate the freestanding country club is the category with the most difficult security challenge. Often spread across 125 to 150 acres, some parts of which may be bounded by walls or vegetation while others are wide open. They have multiple buildings and activity centers and much of it was planned in a lower threat environment. There are often multiple doorways into the clubhouse, and with tighter payrolls, it is increasingly common to see unmanned reception desks.

Security gates, once a fixture only at gated community clubs, are becoming increasingly common at freestanding clubs. As with many aspects of security, impressions matter, so an un-manned gatehouse can reduce intrusions and crime without the personnel costs. Even fully automated gates activated with code entry can help prevent unauthorized traffic through the grounds. Cameras and other forms of electronic surveillance are increasingly available and they should be mounted at all key access points. Manned entrances with receptionists are well worth the expense and new tools like RFID chips, near field communication devices and beacon technology make it much easier to keep tabs on who is entering the grounds and monitor where they are in the club.

Another key aspect of creating a safe club is to get the employee element correct by building a strong human resources department that runs background checks on all hires and structures training exercises and emergency preparedness drills. Finally, the financial arm must protect your data through the latest cyber security software, and for that ever-possible breach, cyber insurance.

No matter what the setting, every club needs a plan to create a secure and safe environment. Threats come in all shapes and sizes, and clubs that have been through an event cite how valuable their planning proved at the time of crisis. Properly structured and communicated, a solid plan can be priceless in times of need and an asset in your membership and marketing plan. 

Club Trends Summer 2017