Does Sun City need the security of lockboxes?

In a community with a large seniors-only subdivision, a soon-to-open healthcare center, a major hospital, and a rapidly growing reputation as a healthcare location, why does a lockbox personal assistance program that is at least 20 years old go unnoticed?

There are about 50,000 people living in the Huntley Fire Protection District. Its area includes the Village of Huntley, parts of Lake in the Hills, Algonquin, and Hampshire – and unincorporated areas in McHenry and Kane counties.

(Photo by Tony Pratt/Sun Day)

(Photo by Tony Pratt/Sun Day)

There are 45 residences in this district that have the fire district’s “Knox-box” lockboxes on their homes to link them with fire and police security services, local emergency officials say. That’s less than one-half of one percent of the population. At a patio party in Sun City recently, a group of 20 Sun City residents, some of whom have been here for more than 15 years, was asked if they knew about the Huntley program. None had ever heard of it. Sun Day conversations with several other residents brought the same results.

Here are some explanations:

Sun City has a well-established Neighborhood Watch program, with dozens of residents volunteering to protect neighborhoods and work with law enforcement.

It has a Neighbors Helping Neighbors program, promoting extensive opportunities for residents to interact with and support each other.

Sun City also has a neighborhood activities culture, in which residents have opportunities to develop a wide and immediate circle of friends, in a large resort-style environment. Many residents give their garage door code to trusted friends or neighbors, or close-by family members, to monitor homes in the owner’s absence, to assist in an emergency, or remind each other to replace batteries in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms.

Jack Ary, a five-year resident of Neighborhood 35, contacted the Sun Day recently about this subject. He lives four months of each year in Sun City West in Arizona. In that community, about 8,000 out of a total of 17,000 households participate in a lockbox program linked to first responders in the community. Homeowners purchase a lockbox that is attached to the outside of a home. Only the owner and first responders have access to it. The owner places an extra key in the box, and emergency personnel use it to take care of an emergency.

“I’m not trying to sell lockbox programs, but I am curious as to the level of interest in lockboxes here,” he said. “I have a lockbox in Arizona and they save time in an emergency and avoid damage to your doors or windows when first responders have to break in during an emergency. I had an issue here in Huntley once and I called 911. I didn’t have a lockbox and the operator asked me if I could get to the door to let first responders in. I was able to do that, but what if I couldn’t?”

Huntley Fire Marshall Ken Madziarek has a local perspective.

“A lot of people in Huntley don’t feel the need for a lockbox,” he said. “One reason may be that our boxes, manufactured by the Knox Box company, cost from $246 to about $280. I’m also a little surprised, that more people in Sun City do not have them. In our program, fire personnel are the only ones who have the access keys to the boxes. The police do not. Our personnel use a four-digit code that matches the last four digits of the owner’s social security number.

Some people hesitate to leave a key outside their home. We believe our program provides residents and businesses with a lockbox service with good security.”

The main reason people get them, Madziarek said, is for medical emergencies and issues, and to avoid first responders having to break down a door or window to gain entry. People with disabilities also find them helpful, he added.

“We speak about the program to neighborhood groups all over our district, including Sun City, Madziarek said. “We have manned a booth at the Sun City annual expo, and at community events.”

The Huntley Police Department offers vacation watch and premise alert programs. The latter option is for high-risk residents with disabilities, according to Sgt. Michael Klunk, deputy police chief.

Ary showed the Sun Day a news article about the Sun City West program.

“Emergency responders’ access to a home is crucial when the homeowner can’t get to the door or when no one is home,” the Daily News-Sun quotes local emergency officials as saying. “A lockbox on a residence can keep firefighters from having to break down a door during an emergency. The lockbox makes it quicker and easier to get in, and we (emergency personnel) can lock up when we leave.”

Lockboxes cost $50 in Sun City West, according to the newspaper article. The report also acknowledges, however, that the reason more homes in Arizona don’t have lockboxes is that many residents are not familiar with the program, the same situation that exists in Huntley.

Jean Christie is a 17-year resident of Neighborhood 10 and a former neighborhood rep.

“I didn’t know about the Huntley fire district program until the Sun Day told me about it,” she said. We do have a lot of programs here that help and support residents in an emergency. I think the Huntley program needs to be publicized more aggressively.”

“We recently discussed the local lockbox program with the Neighborhood Advisory Council, and there was little or no interest in it,” said Ken Andersen, past Neighborhood Watch President and current candidate for election to the Sun City board of directors.

The bottom line to all this? There are a lot of personal security and assistance options available to Sun Citians. The above report provides information on one of them that appears to be underused.

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