In Response to “Condo Dwellers Lacking Basic Services"

Posted on Thursday July 04, 2013


In Response to “Condo Dwellers Lacking Basic Services”

The Calgary Herald has covered the backlash from residents unable to return to their homes in the Erlton community that were recently ravaged by flooding from the river.  The article from the Herald  reports that many condominium owners are blaming their property management companies for the delay in being able to return to their homes.

As a customer service oriented organization who has worked in the building management industry for years, we were flabbergasted by the lack of investigative journalism that went into this article.  All of the information for the article is derived from the words of condominium owners and contains no comment from the property managers involved.  As an industry insider, we understand that there are a great number of factors contributing to the restoration delays.

Firstly, there are hundreds of buildings in the city that are currently in need of electricians, cleaners, contractors, and other tradespeople.  A company of our size installs a handful of brand new fire panels per month.  With the demands of this natural disaster we are estimating that we will need to completely remove and replace the fire alarm panels including dozens of devices for over ten buildings.  Even with all of our resources directed at achieving this feat, we will still be hard pressed to complete it in a timely fashion.

Furthermore, the nature of the industry also prohibits us from hiring casual labour.  In order to be involved with a fire alarm panel installation we need journeyman electricians, certified fire alarm technicians, and qualified engineers.  None of these groups of people are highly unemployed in Calgary and it would be unethical to invite others to move here only to be laid off in a few months once the work has subsided.

Secondly, there are only a handful of manufacturers that make the parts necessary to interface with a building’s existing fire alarm system.  Many of these parts are proprietary and cannot be substituted for alternatives.  We are at the mercy of the suppliers of our industry to meet our sudden demand increase.  This is the same for every other system within a building.  There are only so many parts in stock anywhere in the world and the demand from Calgary is straining these levels all over North America.

Another important factor that the article fails to mention is that a building of this size must have a functional, monitored fire alarm in order to receive occupancy or it must maintain Fire Watch at all times.  Fire Watch is used whenever a fire alarm system is not fully functional, but the building is occupied.  It requires that a person or persons to patrol the building 24 hours a day to manually notify the fire department of an emergency.  In addition this person may notify occupants by activating a fire alarm manually if there is enough of the system functional when the emergency occurs.  A Fire Watch service is provided at a typical cost of $15,000 or more per month.

Before condominium residents begin attacking their management companies to expedite the work, they need to understand that every contractor hired is absolutely stretched to their capacity trying to complete the work awarded to them.  Our organization is in the business of life safety and consequently we take our work very seriously.  We cannot afford to jeopardize the quality of our deliverables for the sake of speed.

The property management companies are dealing with hundreds of buildings, dozens of contractors, and ultimately trying to restore each community to its original habitability, while not bankrupting the condominium corporation.  This is an incredible balancing act, that we strongly doubt any disaster planning could have made easier.

The Herald has an intrinsic duty to educate our citizens on this issue from more than just the perspective of frustrated condominium owners.  This article was a missed opportunity to educate our citizens on why the restoration process will be so difficult regardless of the unwavering effort of all the contractors, city officials, and property managers involved.  Instead this article was a glorified witch hunt, desperately searching for a single party to shoulder the blame.  On the eve of this city’s signature outdoor event we suggest that the Herald could instead look a little closer to discover the true spirit of Calgarians as they quietly and conscientiously struggle to help each other recover from this disaster.

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