Safe as houses: how the super-rich make their homes super-secure

Sep 12, 2016, 11:27 AM

If you had to choose a country in which to be kidnapped — which is, granted, an unlikely eventuality — consider Ecuador. The average rate for freeing a kidnap hostage there is roughly $10,000; potential embarrassment or personal injury can be avoided with a quick phone call to the captors, who will probably be a group of local workers looking to supplement their income, says Fred Finan of security company 3e International.

Moreover — and this may provide some reassurance or it may not — the local criminal fraternity are unlikely to leave you awestruck by their ingenuity. The biggest inconvenience arising from a spate of thefts at a valuable Ecuadorean livestock farm recently is that the burglars keep cutting the broadband connection believing it to be the alarm. The break ins, the farmer suspects, are being carried out by his own employees probably with the help of the police (they clearly need it). His current strategy is to leave a few thousand dollars to ensure they leave happy and without incident — like mince pies at the foot of the chimney for a criminal Santa Claus.

This quaintly intuitive approach to personal security would attract few adherents in today’s most desirable global postcodes where, spurred by the latest technology, breaking and entering is fast becoming mission impossible.

In London, wining and dining prospective Russian homebuyers now includes fielding questions from their room-sized bodyguards on the identity of the neighbours or the ease of emergency helicopter evacuation, says Trevor Abrahmson, managing director of Glentree International. The Saudi Arabian royals served by Knight Frank’s Alasdair Pritchard have got more jumpy since the war in Yemen and the growing risks posed by Isis, he says. Middle Eastern royals won’t even look at an English country estate if it has a footpath running through the grounds.

The whizz bangs start at a property’s front door. For the most discerning, fingerprint-activated locks are a must, says Heyrick Bond-Gunning, chief executive of S-RM, a top-end security company. Programmable staff keys can limit when, and for how long, staff can gain access, as well as controlling where in the house they can roam.

To keep both animate and inanimate house contents safe, vinyl polymer coatings make windows blast-resistant, to deter the traditional smash-and-grab raid. Fast-acting security shutters can block off key rooms, creating secure areas in the event of a break in. However, the best retreat in an emergency is a safe room. Typically, owners choose the main bedroom, reinforcing it with a steel door and strengthened walls; if the home hasn’t got one already, buyers will commonly fit one before they move in, says Abrahmson. Prize collectibles are painted with a unique DNA solution, meaning they can be identified anywhere; a stolen asset register alerts dealers, auction houses and police in the event of a theft. If you still hanker for a good old-fashioned safe, make sure it has two codes: one for normal use, the other for when you’re being forced to open it, simultaneously alerting the police or your security team.

Helping to secure the perimeters is a new wave of artificial intelligence. Complex machine-learning technology makes sense of the visual data gleaned from infrared, thermal imaging and conventional video cameras. The resultant recognition algorithms are able to distinguish the movement patterns of errant animals, say, from human snoopers, leaving the fox and badger populations surrounding prize real estate in the UK to resume their night-time business unmolested by malfunctioning technology.