NYC co-op installs video intercom system to increase resident security, convenience

April 6, 2015
'The Sands' combines video and voice to protect tenants in a busy downtown venue

Residents of The Sands, an upscale co-op located on a tree-lined block of New York City’s 45th Street, have been all too familiar with the passions of international activism. The 14-story building is located within walking distance of the United Nations headquarters, the site of frequent protests against issues ranging from climate change to the proposed building of a Nicaraguan inter-ocean canal.

On cold or rainy days, the nearby Sands entry vestibule offered a warm, dry spot for protesters seeking quick refuge – especially when the building’s doorman wasn’t on duty.

While protesters still had to buzz a tenant on the building’s voice intercom system to gain entry into the lobby and elevator banks, these situations represented at the least a nuisance and more importantly a possible security problem for residents. 

The Sands co-op board and the building’s management company, ABC Realty, 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 use an outdoor unit to buzz a tenant who could then see and hear the person before remotely unlocking the door to the vestibule. Inside the visitor would again summon the tenant using an identical video intercom before gaining lobby access.

The board asked for bids for a system that would include the two entry units, a voice intercom for the doorman’s desk and video intercoms in each of the 111 apartments. Academy Mailbox Co., New York City’s largest installer of mailbox and intercom systems, won the bid to complete the job.

Matthew Arnold, president of the 66-year-old company, said he based his bid on intercom systems from Aiphone, the world’s leading provider of communications systems. The outdoor and vestibule units are stainless steel panels including a color camera with a 170-degree view, a microphone and a digital keypad to page apartments. LEDs built into the units help identify visitors at night.

The units in the residents’ apartments allows them to speak with the visitor and zoom and tilt the front door camera to get a good view of visitors. By pressing a button on the intercom, the resident unlocks the door into the vestibule.The Aiphone unit allows the door release timer to be set from only a few to as many as 20 seconds. According to Arnold,  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 a building to try to piggyback on an approved visitor,” he said.

Arnold stressed that one key to keeping the project affordable for building residents was his ability to reuse the cable from the previous 30-year-old voice intercom. He said the existing cable was copper in a PVC sheath that should last for decades to come.  “If we had to run new cable throughout the building the cost of the project would have nearly doubled and it would have added weeks to the completion time.”

The project began in late summer of 2014 and took less than three weeks to complete.

Ralph Davis, ABC Realty’s assistant vice president, said the co-op board had recently refinanced the underlying mortgage on the building and used the savings to pay for the new intercom system without adding new assessments to the residents.

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

“Also, it’s a paramount responsibility of both the board and our company to enhance the security of the building for the benefit of its residents,” Davis said.  “The system we chose was one that worked even better than we anticipated.”

Co-op board member and resident Tom Uhl agreed that the system has met expectations.

“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.”

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

Academy’s vice president, Dan Arnold, praised a very cooperative building superintendent with helping to make the installation proceed smoothly.

“He was vital to getting this installation completed in an orderly and timely manner,” he said. ‘The residents trust him and the majority have provided him with a key to their apartments. That allowed us to get into each unit – along with the super – even if no was home. That saved a lot of time in scheduling installations.”

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. Also, Academy provided each tenant with a printed sheet explaining how to use the system.

Next up at the Sands is a basic access control system Academy will install 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 unknowingly involved in world politics.

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