Fighting blight in Schenectady goes high tech

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SCHENECTADY — Leola Sykes is skeptical but plans to take a wait-and-see attitude about the city’s plans to expand its use of solar powered security monitors in vacant properties to make them safer.

“I’m not confident that will work,” she said Monday, standing outside her tidy Eagle Street home a few feet from a pile of rubble where a home next door burned down last week. “How can they handle homeless people who are using drugs who say good morning to me in the morning as they are leaving?”

She recalls trips and phone calls to City Hall as well as conversations with City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo about the vagrants who frequented the vacant building.

On Monday, Schenectady Assistant Fire Chief Don Mareno said the investigation into the fast-moving blaze early Friday morning  was continuing. The building was demolished and all that remained at the site was rubble, a white tarp and excavation machinery. There were no reported injuries.


Mayor Gary McCarthy on Tuesday will unveil the details of the monitor program during a City Hall news conference.

McCarthy toured the city Monday with Nathan Armentrout, a founder and CEO of Louisville-based CASPER Security. That city has been using CASPER for  a few years now.

His company makes the tiny devices that “constantly monitor abandoned properties for events like smoke detector sirens, break-ins and floods.” The website goes on to say that when a potentially dangerous event happens, CASPER “alerts both neighbors and emergency services so situations don’t turn into catastrophes.”


McCarthy said CASPER could be used other places in the Capital Region and upstate and he’s hoping other mayors will join him and get on board with the idea.

“Everybody faces this problem so how do you get something in there that will allow us to monitor vacant, distressed properties and create a level of deterrence,” he said.“This is the only device I’ve found on the market that is cost-effective and allows this type of monitoring in houses that don’t have power.”

While McCarthy declined to discuss the number of CASPER units that the city currently has and how many more they plan to buying,  he wants the devices, which cost about $300 apiece, to become mandatory for all vacant buildings — whether bank- or city-owned or “zombie” properties — in the Electric City.


A video about the deployment of CASPER shows it on windows and mentions it could also be attached to the awning of a residence.


In the 2017 video, Armentrout describes the early version of the device as “a smoke detector detector” that listens for a specific frequency smoke detector signal and then sends it to a Cloud system using a cell modem. That triggers a message to city officials and neighbors, said Armentrout.

Mareno, the assistant fire chief, said  “any device that alerts us quicker is going to be a benefit to us.”

Pat Smith, president of neighborhood association in Mont Pleasant — one the areas in Schenectady where abandoned buildings are a problem — loves the idea.

“There are vacant buildings that are still good and people get in there and steal the copper  and everything else which now makes the building less sellable,” said Smith. “If one of those buildings catches fire, they’re so close, it can do a number on a whole block.”

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