Employees, customers, assets, equipment – businesses have a lot to lose to burglaries or robberies. Property damage costs add up. People can be injured. Today, with a recession looming, inflation rising and the pandemic dragging on, tempers are shorter, needs are more intense and incidents of workplace violence are rising. So, how does a business owner keep their business safe?
“Actually, there’s a lot of things businesses can do,” said Jonathan Alvarez, CEO and co-founder, Protective Force International. “A good start is to do a risk assessment, whether that’s done internally or by hiring somebody, using a risk manager or your own security directors. Do it maybe once a year.”
“Security is a personal topic,” said Jon Perry, president, Sting Alarm. “It means different things to different people depending on what the company does, what they’re trying to protect, the topology of the building or the campus they’re trying to protect. All those things create different challenges.”
In today’s climate, people working in the security industry have to work fast to adapt to changes. They’re not the only ones. Business owners can’t rely on the “this is how we’ve always done it” mindset when it comes to safety and security for their businesses. Risk assessment is only the first step.
Lights, Cameras, Action Detectors
Any conversation about keeping a business safe starts with a discussion about the perimeter, explained Perry. “One hundred feet outside your building, what does it look like? Are there points of entry? Do we have a wall around the campus or building? Is it a standalone building? A multitenant building? All these different questions and subjects come up when talking about how we want to protect someone’s business.”
Obviously, a wall can slow down anyone trying to get inside. The next step in defense is to light things up and record everything. Cameras on exterior walls followed by a video analytic or video monitoring system lets security, internal or external, know when there are individuals or vehicles on the property that maybe shouldn’t be.
Along with lights and cameras, business owners can institute access control measures like having ID cards required for entry or having security officers physically patrolling onsite. Buildings with a lot of glass can use glass break detectors. Those with less glass might use motion detectors, said Perry. Being secure might mean using door contact alarms and license plate readers in the parking lot. It might mean employee training programs, and established policies and procedures.
“We have specific spatial awareness seminars for the community–they’re free–and we do active assailant seminars, which are free as well,” said Alvarez. Businesses need to not just implement policies and procedures and safety measures but practice them.
“Physical security is probably singlehandedly the most important aspect because physical security really stops a majority of your incidents,” said Alvarez. “Having trained, vetted and equipped personnel to react to a situation, having some sort of security element, making yourself a harder target, those are all key buzzwords.”
A soft target is one anyone can walk into. It’s a business that’s open, inviting, may well want foot traffic during the day and hasn’t done much to stop it at night. There are no real barriers to criminal activity.
For the DIY business owner, or a business that can’t afford a security company’s services or isn’t mandated by the state to have it, starting with the perimeter is the first step in keeping safe. Just the fact of cameras can be a deterrent, along with indicating there are license plate readers on the premises. Business owners can fortify the business with good commercial locks and by lighting up the exterior—all DIY steps.
Electronic access control can be instituted in businesses where there’s been turnover. If a disgruntled former employee still has a key, without an alarm system, cameras and access control there’s no way to audit who’s coming and going from the premises. “By adding an access control system you’ll know who swiped in, who swiped out, the time in and time out and, most important, if you do have turnover, you’re able to disable their credentials,” said Perry. The system will even notify administrators that someone with revoked credentials attempted to gain access.
“Going back to the perimeter, sometimes because of the building and the landscaping or the stuff outside the building might get in the way of putting in the cameras, we can also install what’s called beam detectors,” said Perry. “If you’ve got a lot of trees or bushes, beam detectors are good deterrents to identifying objects that are in your perimeter without actually seeing them.”
All the components of the system work together, from preventing entry onto the premises to alerting the business owner if there is entry. The glass break detectors, door contact alarms, microphones and beam detectors work with the cameras. In addition to creating the security system, those components can also create the verification needed to bring police response to a call.
One notable difference between Nevada and the rest of the country is that, in order to have police dispatched to a business because of a security signal, verification is required.
Video verification is the integration of a security alarm system with camera systems. “When the security system is tripped at a specific zone, i.e., front door, contact or motion detector), there is a specific camera which views the area,” said Jesse Decker, president/COO, NextGen Protection Companies, Inc. A camera specific to that zone views the area in real-time, and verifies when the alarm is substantive. A verified alarm allows for faster police response and a better chance of catching the intruders.
Police don’t only respond to crimes that have happened. There are relationships between businesses and police departments.
“There are proactive measures. If we see a crime trend that’s occurring in our community and we feel there needs to be some type of outreach, we might go to that specific type of business. [We might] give some proactive tips of things to do in terms of keeping their businesses safe from whatever type of crime trend it is that we’re seeing,” said Jason Soto, chief of police, Reno Police Department.
Preventative measures are going to be different for every business, said Soto. “There are a lot of different things that play into keeping your business safe,” he said. “Depending on where your business is located, you might have more challenges than if it were in another geographical area in town.”
For those business owners concerned about criminal trends or their geographic location, one way of keeping the business safe is CPTED or Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Essentially CPTED determines how to make a business safer through design.
“Businesses and architects are looking for ways to deter crime using architecture and landscaping,” said Alvarez. Instead of putting out a section of turf in front of the building, inviting a certain element to congregate there, businesses can landscape with drought-friendly rather than people-friendly elements like desert cactuses and sharp rocks.
One trend that’s been around for years is theft of copper wire out of unsecured construction sites or AC/HVAC units. “In vacant suites or buildings, thieves will go after the copper in the electrical panels,” said Decker. “The other issue we are getting a lot of calls on is the homeless. They are encroaching on buildings in industrial parks in areas they weren’t traditionally known to enter. They tend to look for vacant spaces to live in and sadly often end up vandalizing buildings.” CPTED can help discourage homeless individuals from setting up tents in front of businesses by creating the sort of unwelcoming landscaping of rocks and cactus.
Elements of the business itself need to be taken into consideration. Bars and restaurants that have poker machines or slots need to limit the amount of cash they have on hand after hours, and maybe place machines farther from the door, out of reach of fast in-and-out smash and grab. Limit the amount of cash or product on hand and businesses limit the amount of loss they may realize, said Soto.
Mind the Gap
Some common gaps in security are basically simple, and simple to overlook.
“Sometimes it comes down to communications with your teams, with your employees, with your business,” said Soto. Sometimes people own a business but aren’t acutely aware of policies and procedures in place. One day there’s a commercial burglary with high dollar loss that could have been avoided simply by having a policy in place stating what dollar amount triggers what actions on the part of staff.
“Sometimes it really is the environment,” said Soto. Maybe the building is dark at night, there are no cameras or lighting and it’s just ripe for somebody to consider it an easy target. Sometimes gaps in security aren’t noticed until after something happens.
Ins and Outs of Threats
Threat assessment varies by industry or business. A construction site that’s a big, dark, unfenced, empty area at night is more apt to face equipment theft and property being vandalized. A jewelry store might face a daytime robbery, a nighttime burglary, or fall victim to the smash and grab trend hitting cities nationwide.
“It truly depends on the industry and the business,” said Alvarez. “[Every industry] has its own separate, specific threats, but I think in general its escalating to violence. Society and everything in general is just being a little bit more violent lately than normal, so people have less patience and are more prone to acting out for any inconvenience.”
The best technology to enhance physical security of businesses in general is a combination of alarm systems, security cameras and access control.
Technology is upping the game for specific industries. Casinos are limiting points of entry and posting security officers at entrances, equipped with ID scanners. That stops anyone from entering who can’t gamble because they don’t have ID. It also means if something happens with that individual, they’ve already been scanned and flagged by the system, and caught on camera. That matters, because casinos are using facial recognition—once scanned, individuals can be found again on camera. Security systems now use 4K video surveillance cameras that record 12 megapixel images and allow officers to speak to individuals through the cameras.
Other industries are mandated to have security 24/7, like dispensaries. “Ultimately the product they have is what people want,” said Alvarez. “The state mandates them to have armed security officers at all sites.”
“On top of a physical security presence in guards and using the technology available to them, [dispensaries] are unique in that they cannot bank as a traditional business,” said Decker. Because federal law still considers cannabis illegal, federally protected banks have been unable and unwilling to work with dispensaries. That’s changing as the industry grows, and some banks and credit unions are willing to work with dispensaries, which are nevertheless responsible for protecting their cash.
Dispensaries may actually be more at risk from internal theft, and proprietary information being leaked. The result is dispensaries are locked down 24/7 with cameras in place, mantrap hallways for access control and policies in place to comply with mandated safety and theft protection.
Businesses also need to keep employees safe. Soto suggests implementing policies to protect employees, like providing escort to vehicles after hours, or allowing everyone time to scope out the premises before leaving the building.
Keeping customers and employees safe might come down to knowing if an employee is having martial problems and the spouse might become an issue, said Soto. Security means, “Making sure as business owners we take care of our employees and our customers.”
Keeping employees safe is one thing. For many employers, keeping the business safe from employees is another.
“A lot of the time when we’re talking with customers, it’s not their customers they’re worried about,” said Perry. “They’re worried about protecting their inventory from their employees.” Inventory, cash, liquor. Protecting the business from employees is more likely than defending against a man with a gun coming in to rob the business. Perry said many requests from customers involve restricting employee access to certain areas or getting notified when those areas are accessed.
One of the biggest changes over the last five years or so is the quality of cameras available. Video analytics allows a business’ cameras to be leveraged to identify objects, so business owners have awareness of what’s going on in their businesses when they’re not there. If there’s a person in a restricted area or in the building after hours, automatic notifications can be sent. In Perry’s office, the system notifies him by phone if anyone enters his office and sends a photo. To cut down on noise, notifications are only sent if his phone is more than a quarter mile from his business.
“Education is key for businesses because if you’re not in the security industry and you don’t live, breathe and feel passionate about it, then you’re not keeping up with the trends, and that’s true for every industry,” said Alvarez. “This is something that has to be thought of nowadays and into the future moving forward, the safety and security of my customers, my employees, and my assets. Because we invest a lot in our businesses. Some people put up their houses. People cash out their 401Ks and invest so much into what they love and are passionate about, but always forget about security until something happens. So, we need to be more progressive about safety as business owners. That’s the main takeaway: Be progressive, be forward thinking about safety and security of your business, your employees, and your assets.”