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Can AI-Backed Security Cameras Help Mall Landlords Save Money?

AI-backed security cameras can now detect weapons and notify police of potential threats.

Mall owners are increasingly focusing on new security camera technologies to boost safety while saving on property management expenses.

Typical security at regional malls nowadays consists of cameras and perhaps mall security personnel, according to Rachel Hedge, a Honolulu-based account manager with real estate services firm Colliers International. Some large malls also hire security companies to monitor those cameras 24 hours a day. “At the end of the day, having a visible guard presence is an important part of property security,” says Hedge.

Recently, property managers have placed a “dramatic focus” on training, especially on ensuring tenants and property employees are familiar with emergency responses, including the “see something, say something” programs, notes Barry Wood, senior vice president and director of operations with real estate services firm JLL. Depending on the center’s location, local police can also be retained to support the contracted security staff.

JLL’s emergency preparedness program for its on-site staff includes two live drills, four tenant interactions and four tabletop drills annually, according to Wood. “Additionally, each summer our properties receive a ‘crisis in a box’ scenario that relates to their property. The property team opens the box containing an unknown scenario and reacts in accordance with their preparedness training. Results are submitted to our operations teams and reviewed with each team as a follow-up.”

However, when it comes to security camera systems, hiring and training 24-hour personnel is expensive. A new crop of AI-backed security cameras uses predictive analytics to monitor and detect potential threats, cutting down on the need for on-site security personnel. Still, “Camera systems are more prevalent for new construction,” says Wood. “Most of the traditional properties are working with security teams and local police departments.”

Athena Security, one of the companies that provides these security camera systems, integrates its technology directly into a center’s already existing camera network, and costs $100 per month per camera. The software can detect weapons, notifying local police in seconds if the camera senses danger. On a direct comparison to hiring on-site 24-hour personnel, the technology can be a cheaper solution for mall owners. “Malls know that shoppers feeling safe is essential to their business model, and many are looking for the best way to deploy world class security,” says Michael Green, president of Athena Security. “Physical people on-site and watching cameras are relatively very expensive. Cost is always a factor.”

“Predictive analytics allows you to program parameters into the system that identifies changes or risks; when these occur, it notifies a dispatcher that can better focus on the matter or act,” says Wood. “As an example, if a car drives through the parking lot, it may not warrant a notification. But if it stops or drops something off it will, and [it] creates a notification.”

Mall security typically oversees the common areas, while merchants handle security and crime prevention within their own spaces. Still, security costs are typically the largest common area maintenance expense for landlords outside of electricity, according to Hedge. Wood says security is “very typically a top five budget expense.”

With regards to operating security cameras, the one-time cost to set them up varies depending on whether the property is new construction vs. an existing center, the availability of conduits, raceways for wiring, and access to wireless technology. Woods estimates it ranges between $4,000 and $6,000 per camera.

Twenty-five to 40 cameras will provide reasonable security coverage for an average 750,000-sq.-ft. center with three courtyard areas, a food court and only surface parking, he notes. If service areas are included, the number of cameras could increase by 30 to 50 percent. This means that if an average existing mall upgraded its security camera system, the property owner would pay roughly $2,500 to $4,000 monthly for the services, in addition to the initial set-up. Over the course of a year, the monthly service costs would add another $30,000 to $48,000 to total security expenses.

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