2013 Condominium of the Year: L'Hermitage I

Priorities plus Practice plus People: Excellence at L’Hermitage I

by Kathy Danforth

L’Hermitage I Condominium Association of Ft. Lauderdale has received the honor of being named the 2013 Communities of Excellence Condominium of the Year. Their commitment to excellence and emphasis on their main priorities has won them the Disaster Preparedness Award for smaller communities as well as the distinction of being a finalist, in conjunction with L’Hermitage Community Association, in the Safety and Security division.

The basis for L’Hermitage’s thorough procedures has been the board’s unwavering leadership. “We have an amazing board,” states manager Patricia Quintero. “They make life, safety, and security their number one priority. When we’re looking for solutions, they always strive to do the right thing and improve services in an efficient, cost-effective way.  They are not penny wise, pound foolish.”

Disaster preparation, safety, and security measures are intertwined; and Quintero says, “We could not achieve success without the team effort and dedication of the staff, a great board of directors, management, security contractors, and residents.” While security is manned by a contract service, Quintero observes, “There is no differentiation between property management employees and security personnel; we work together. I personally interview and handpick anyone with the security service who works here because I know the level of commitment required and do not want it to be diminished in any way.  Also, we cross-train all security employees because we do not allow a new, random person to simply fill in.”

Preparation for hurricane season overlaps with preparation for other emergencies and is a staple in the L’Hermitage disaster plan. “We check that we have keys in March, especially for cars on the lower levels that might flood,” Quintero notes. “In April, we send out a hurricane plan booklet, and we go over who will need assistance if they stay, which are at least 22 residents currently.”

“As soon as we know a hurricane or tornado is coming, we contact residents. The resident alert by phone to a cell or landline is our best method of reaching the most people, but we use e-mail, updates on our website, lobby bulletins, the PA system, and individual contact with residents as needed,” Quintero explains.

The hurricane team is a volunteer group of at least 15 employees who are CERT-certified. “Depending on who stays and who evacuates, we have residents who will serve as floor captains and other residents who are medical professionals and will provide assistance,” Quintero states. “Chief engineer Juan Gamboa ensures that the building is bunkered down before a storm and that all systems are up and running after a storm.”

Through drill and actual emergencies, safety and emergency procedures have evolved over the years, with security director Aly Auguste at the helm in developing procedures. A major revision occurred after hurricane procedures were implemented in 2005. Quintero recounts, “Our generator runs for two-and-half to three days, but the business where we normally obtained fuel did not have a generator themselves, so we couldn’t get more oil since they couldn’t pump it out! One of the biggest drawbacks we had, we never would have anticipated. Now, we ensure that all our suppliers have a generator on site.”

Each unit is equipped with the Silent Knight medical/fire/burglar alarm system. “If a resident presses a button, an employee immediately calls in order to determine if the alarm is accidental. If there is no answer, they pull the key to the unit and immediately go to the residence. The lobby attendant simultaneously brings the AED machine,” Quintero reports. AED/CPR training is available for residents as well as staff, and three AED machines are located on the property.

The community has also streamlined the entry procedure for emergency services. “If a resident calls 911 and an ambulance is coming, the gatehouse notifies the building. A supervisor runs to make sure the front door is open, while someone else is pulling an elevator and holding it so emergency personnel has immediate access. Another employee will be in the unit with the resident, and an elevator is held at the floor until they leave. We have 25 floors, so the elevator could take two to three minutes; that’s precious time in an emergency. We work like clockwork with the fire department—it is amazing! I’ve never seen this done anywhere else but here. I wish more people would handle an emergency like this because the time saved really does make a difference and has saved lives.”

All the details from the many events and drills add up to a fine-tuned plan. “One time, we were in a situation requiring gloves, and we found we didn’t have any the right size,” Quintero recalls. This, too, produced more improvements in readiness.

Security for the 10-acre, luxury beachfront property is a 24-hour operation. Admission at the front gate for residents is by the same pass system used by the Florida turnpike and is required for entering the property and the garage. Quintero shares, “We used the system before the SunPass came out, and when they issued SunPasses, we had to change the frequency operating our gate because the SunPass was opening our system!” Visitors are admitted after contact with the resident they are visiting, both at the gate and when they reach the lobby. “We require a driver’s license, and check it against any information from local law agencies regarding sex offenders, Amber alerts, or other issues,” Quintero advises.

Key fobs enable fine-tuned access control throughout the property. “Your fob opens common areas or your floor’s door,” Quintero explains. “The fobs can be tracked for irregular usage and can be programmed for certain hours and also deactivated. It reduces the ability to have illegal rentals, and we can set contractors’ fobs for their hours and days of work. There’s also a nine-tele-entry guard system to press nine and allow a guest on the floor. In addition, intercoms are located throughout the premises so residents can call the front desk and gain access remotely. ”

In addition to controlling access by contractors through programming of key fobs, L’Hermitage closely monitors contractor activity. “We continually have our receiving guard checking floors where they’re doing construction for cleanliness and damage,” Quintero says. “We’re very lucky because we have elevator cameras and that helps us maintain property value. When they say they didn’t cause that $8,000 of damage, we just show the tape. Also, we are one of the first condominiums to have an architectural moratorium. We don’t allow certain levels of construction from December 15–March 15 to alleviate traffic during our busiest season.”

Cameras are located throughout the property, with night vision capability at the perimeter areas. “The cameras are constantly monitored, and I have Internet access to the coverage,” Quintero reports. “We’ve added additional cameras to cover previous blind spots and upgraded to higher resolution.”

“The Deggy checkpoint system is used for our security rounds, so we check the reports not just to see that it’s done, but to ensure that they’re spending the right amount of time inspecting each room,” Quintero explains. “Our security has been impeccable about checking the doors, leaks, and other issues, and they’ve saved us a lot of money and property damage. A security officer saw one drip in the lobby, investigated, and found a whole unit flooded with damage to the gym and two other units as well. It was 12:15 at night, but they had cleanup started and restoration people on the way within 30 minutes. If there’s a problem, they are very hands-on.”

“We were the first condominium in the area to have off-duty Fort Lauderdale police officers for beach patrol,” Quintero notes. “Over ten years ago, the board teamed up with residential homes to the south to arrange security patrols for the beach, and now all the associations do it.” The measures have been effective. Quintero shares, “There have been no thefts or property damage [from intruders] in the last ten years.”

L’Hermitage has put procedures in place over the years to minimize any avoidable security issues. “No employee goes to a unit alone,” Quintero relates, “and only a supervisor can access the keys.  This requires a code, and when the key is returned, it is sorted into a different location.”

“Packages are scanned and bar coded on arrival, and the owner gets an e-mail or phone call informing them that it is available. When it is picked up, their signature is logged into the system. Only a supervisor is permitted to pull a package for delivery, and inventory is done at the end of every shift so the time of any loss or omission in entering information is pinpointed,” Quintero points out. “We sign for certified mail and track that as a package also.” The office also has a procedure for holding and securing mail for residents who are away.

Quintero feels, “You can have everything in place—cameras, call boxes, technology, etc.—but at the end of the day, it depends on how much the people involved care. I have an amazing group of employees who truly care, and that makes all the difference. Most of our staff has been here three years or more.”

The safety, security, and disaster preparedness continue to move forward at L’Hermitage. Though events have ranged from celebrity visits to tragedies, experience has refined their plans. “We’ve had a lot of severe, life-altering scenarios, but the way everyone has risen to the occasion has been phenomenal and enabled us to succeed,” Quintero states. With dedicated people in service and leadership, L’Hermitage I serves as a model of excellence!