Live Oaks Preserve in New Tampa uses technology to amp up security :: Sarasota, FL – December 2010

Live Oaks Preserve in New Tampa uses technology to amp up securityBy Shelley Rossetter, Times Staff WriterTechnology at Live Oak Preserve records gate activity via Sarasota.

NEW TAMPA – As visitors pull up to the entrance gate at Live Oak Preserve, someone is listening and watching – someone from more than 60 miles away.

The stranger’s voice comes over a two-way speaker mounted outside the guard shack: “Live Oak. How can I help you?”

The visitors answer, and a video camera transmits their every move to a building in Sarasota where the person with the voice sits, eyes fixed on a monitor.

Meanwhile, cameras snap pictures of each car’s license plate, as computers note the time and date of each arrival. Over by the pool, motion-activated cameras send live feeds if someone enters the area after hours.

It’s a new approach to security at Live Oak and some other gated subdivisions looking to replace live guards with technology. The system was expected to go into effect this week.

Touted by community representatives as more efficient and less expensive than traditional security service, the system was recently installed at all three access gates of the 1,300-acre private community off Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

“The remote system gives us something we never had before,” said Frank Micallef, president of the homeowners association. “Now we can see all the gates, we can control access.”

Installed and run by the security company Envera, the system connects visitors with a guard in the Sarasota office who can either permit or deny entrance. The remote guard sees visitors approach the gate through live video. After visitors identify themselves over the two-way speaker, the guard checks whether they have been registered in the community’s guest database or calls a resident to confirm the visitor should be allowed in.

Prior to installing the new system, Live Oak had at least one guard on duty at all times and visitor access was restricted to the main gate. But residents’ concerns about vandalism, theft and increased construction in a vacant area of the community called for more security, Micallef said.

“We were looking at big increases in expenses with building another guard shack and hiring more guards,” he said. Those costs could have exceeded $200,000 a year.

That’s when a volunteer committee of residents began looking at other options.

“When we saw Envera’s technology, we were floored by it,” said Anthony Leone, the association’s vice president.

The technology allows the community to help law enforcement by sharing photos of license plates on cars entering or exiting after a crime occurs. For instance, damage to gates by people forcing their way into the subdivision cost residents more than $90,000 last year, Micallef said. Now, a look at the cameras can shed light on who’s responsible.

“This is the first time we have taken a stand as a private community to invest in our security,” he said.

Residents will still have a security guard on the premises 24 hours a day, but the new system gives on-site guards more freedom.

“That person will have the ability to rove the community,” Micalleff said. Before, they were stuck manning the gates.

With cameras and speakers also installed in the vicinity of community amenities, such as the pool and clubhouse, neighborhood rules are more easily enforced.

“If kids hop the pool fence in the middle of the night, it’s unsafe and a liability issue,” Leone said.

After pool hours, video cameras are turned on to sense movement and send a live feed to the guards in Sarasota. Using the speaker system, the guards can then tell the intruders to leave. If they don’t, Sarasota guards can alert local authorities. The scene would be something an ordinary guard would have patrolled in the past.

“We can increase the level of security at a fraction of the cost of live guards,” said Tom Swain, the senior vice president of business development at Envera.

With Envera, communities are charged on a per-house basis. Live Oak Preserve has more than 1,000 homes. Micallef wouldn’t disclose how much the community is paying for the service.

Another advantage, Swain said, is that Envera captures every license plate, face and vehicle entering the property and logs the information into a computer system where it’s archived.

Live Oak board members said residents aren’t bothered by what some may consider an invasion of privacy. A perk of living in a gated community is the extra security, they said.

Envera installed a similar system at Steeplechase, an upscale community in the Keystone area, Swaim said, adding that the practice is gaining popularity with other communities.

Micallef said he thinks the use of technology will only get more popular in coming years.

“I think other communities will look at this as a model and think they can use this as well.”

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.St. Petersburg Times 

Reprinted from St. Petersburg Times, in the “Human Interest_News” section.