In a world where jet-setting billionaires drop $20 million on a pied-a-terre, there is much in these homes to protect.
And those in the security business are happy to oblige.
As people became more conscious of protecting themselves after Sept. 11, 2001, the home security market boomed, according to industry reports by Parks Associates, a Texas-based market research company. Just under a quarter of Americans now own an electronic home security system, and that number is expected to rise 8% through 2008.
The upward trend is also attributable to increased affordability in technology. Where once it took a fortune to protect property, now, for around $5,000, you can monitor 20 video cameras in your Manhattan home–via PDA–from a beach in Cote d’Azur.
“We’re experiencing rapid growth across the residential platform,” says Tim McKinney, director of custom home services for ADT Security Services in North America. “Especially with video systems–as they come down in pricing and applications grow.”
In the most affluent markets home security is a major selling point. One Hyde Park, luxury London homes set to be the most expensive in the world at $165 million each, boast top-of-the-line security features to court executives, royalty and oligarchs.
The site’s developers would not speak to specific details, but according to media reports, the development’s four penthouses have specially purified air, bulletproof glass windows, panic rooms, iris recognition scanners and license plate recognition software as part of a system designed by former SAS officers, the British version of U.S. Special Forces’ Delta Force.
Military counsel isn’t always available, however, so if you can’t wait until One Hyde Park’s 2010 completion date, there are plenty of employable home security devices.
Due in part to the 2002 blockbuster film Panic Room, fortified safe rooms are the most well-known, high-end security feature, industry experts say. But while a steel-enforced cube is a good place to sit out a home invasion, the system on its own can be faulty. If there aren’t adequate barriers in the rest of the house, there may not be enough time to get your entire family rounded up and into the safe room.
Instead, an overarching system is often the best call, as all the various components are integrated.
Los Angeles-based firm Strategically Armored & Fortified Environments, designs systems for chief executives, celebrities and political figures. The more elaborate systems start at $1 million and are tactically similar to a medieval castle, defending the citadel with outward layers of security from a central core. On top of the usual cameras and motion detectors, fortified polycarbonate and ballistic steel building materials and options for rooms safe from biological weapons attack make a property virtually impenetrable.
Details about the fine points of security systems and specific features on high security homes are difficult to flesh out as too much public information limits a security systems deterrent effect.
“It is like a puzzle, the [security] developers mix the cards and the criminals try to find the solution,” says Attila Kertesz of Adaptive Recognition Hungary, which develops license plate recognition software for commercial and residential sites across Europe, North America and Asia. “High-tech security has to improve at a faster rate than faking improves.”
Personal safety aside, some see home security as a business decision. For top companies, especially those whose interests are heavily determined by maverick executives like Oracle‘s Larry Ellison, protecting the boss protects the greater interests of the company. Last year, Oracle spent $1.8 million, according to company filings, to protect Ellison on the road, in the office and at his sprawling mansions in Malibu and Woodside, Calif.
“Because of the individuals’ exposure and visibility by virtue of their position, the corporation needs to pay for their security,” says Alan Guarino, president of Cornell International, an executive search company. “The same way a construction company would pay for a welder’s goggles.”
Next Page: Being Safe Also Depends On Location
Proximity can go a long way as well. No matter how high-tech a system, or sophisticated the designer, law enforcement response time means everything. For some celebrities this might mean putting their home next door to a police station. Sean Penn and Robin Wright-Penn’s Ross, Calif., home is so near the town’s police force that parts of their yard are closer to the precinct than to the main house.
Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan knows something about security. As the secretary-general of the Saudi National Security Council, he has a world class security system covering all 95 acres of his $135 million Hala Ranch in Colorado. This includes a garage filled with armored SUVs and a full-time security staff and cameras, which track every inch of the property. On top of that? As a backup, the luxurious estate has a sightline to NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Video is the cornerstone of any home security system as cameras are the first line of defense, often throwing the entire system and security personnel into action. Not counting the cost of installation and maintenance, affordable systems are available.
For $4,800, a 16-camera system from Automated Video Systems records 240 frames per second and includes night vision and motion detectors. Best of all, remote viewing software allows a homeowner to monitor all the cameras’ views in real time from a PC, laptop or PDA anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.
Indeed, increased Internet connectivity is currently driving growth in this area of the market. Five years ago most companies were still using phone lines to transmit video. Increased and less expensive bandwidth means more sophisticated information can be transmitted and at a quicker rate.
“Any type of critical condition that occurs in the home we can monitor and then relay on to the owner or appropriate authorities,” says McKinney. “Broadband connectivity has really opened up the market.”