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Tuesday 31 October, 2006

Keeping Your Business Safe and Secure

Most businesses fall victim to crime at one time or another, resulting not only in financial loss but in a host of potential problems including difficulties with insurance and reduced confidence among customers and staff.   Alex Carmichael, Technical and Membership Services Director at the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) looks at some key principles - and new developments - that can help to tackle the threat.

Basics first.  A good starting point in planning or reviewing security is to consider basic physical protection such as boundary fences and building exteriors.  A well maintained boundary can offer good protection for large sites, particularly when used in combination with alarms and lights.  Most types of fences and gates can be fitted with sensors capable of detecting cutting or climbing, whilst ignoring vibrations caused by weather or passing traffic.  Electric fences installed by a reputable supplier to appropriate standards can provide an added deterrent by delivering a painful but otherwise harmless shock to intruders   Sensor-activated internal lighting that switches on when movement is detected inside the perimeter can also be employed to good effect, enhancing security without incurring high energy costs.

Security needs to be applied in ‘layers,’ so that any intruder who gets past one layer is faced with another obstacle to overcome.  The next layer involves securing the exterior of buildings.  All external doors should be of solid construction, set in strong frames and securely fixed to the walls.  Five-lever mortise locks should be used in conjunction with strong hinges and hinge bolts.  Security-rated locks with removable keys should be used on all accessible windows.  Valuable property inside buildings can be further protected using a variety of commercially available products such as safes, fireproof cabinets and secure stores that can be erected to form a ‘room within a room.’  Remember, however, that almost any physical barrier can be forced, given the time and the will, so security at this level should be regarded as a means of delaying, rather than preventing, determined or skilled thieves. 

It is also imperative to mark your property such as computers, printers etc using a professional property marking system. Property marking can be overt or covert and details of your company can be logged on a secure database. In crime prevention terms, property marking provides proof of ownership, identifies stolen or counterfeit goods and provides evidence admissible in a court of law to help convict those responsible for theft or handling stolen goods.

People matter.  Although an excellent deterrent, many smaller companies cannot afford to employ permanent security officers.  A more viable alternative may be to arrange a system of random visits by mobile security patrols to disrupt patterns of criminal behaviour before they become established.  Patrols have proven extremely effective against vandalism, one of the commonest problems facing many firms.  There is clear statistical evidence that if left unchecked vandalism leads to far more serious acts such as burglary and arson, so patrols are a sensible and cost-effective precaution in many cases.  Cost-sharing arrangements can often be arranged with other local businesses.  Security officers provide flexible and versatile protection, able to adapt at short notice to changing conditions, but the assurance of diligent, professional management is essential, such as through the selection of BSIA member companies.

The role of technology.  Electronic security supports physical measures by impeding unauthorised movement and enabling the detection of intruders.  Regardless of physical protection, few, if any, modern businesses could be safely advised against installing an intruder alarm.  Monitored alarms are designed to detect intrusions and relay information via a communications network to a 24/7 alarm receiving centre (ARC), which can then notify the local police.  An annual maintenance and monitoring contract, provided by security installers, is mandatory for monitored intruder alarms.  Audio-visual verification capabilities such as alarms linked to cameras or microphones now enable ARC operators to see or hear intruders, eliminating many false alarms.  A professionally installed, maintained and monitored intruder alarm provides good protection against undetected burglary, which means that any offenders who are not deterred by its presence have only a limited time in which to steal or cause damage before someone responds. 

Criminals operate in different ways and at different times, so security during working hours is important too.  Electronic access control systems can help by limiting entry to and movement within business premises.  They are effective not only in preventing trespass but also in impeding the circulation of  people like ‘walk-in’ thieves who cause a major problem for many businesses by posing as equipment repair personnel and other legitimate callers.  Modern systems incorporate advanced features which allow individual programming, giving different levels of access according to people’s jobs, cancelling lost security cards and deleting former employees.  ‘Windows’ can be built in to allow people like cleaning staff to enter only at certain times.  Transaction recording facilities enable systems to be used for dual applications, such as time-and-attendance and emergency roll-call purposes in case of fire.  Access control is a valuable precaution against intrusion during working hours, with significant added potential in protecting both physical and intellectual property from internal theft.

Security camera systems are increasingly used to protect businesses both from external and internal risks.  Closed-circuit television (CCTV) has proven extremely effective in reducing vandalism and protecting specific locations such as gates, loading bays, cashiers’ offices and building entrances. More recently, the advent of digital CCTV and video-over-IP protocols has revolutionised the capability of visual security, not least by the impact of mass production of products. Ethernet transmission and remote monitoring in driving down both capital and revenue costs.  Detector-activated and remotely monitored CCTV is now subject to a clear set of standards -  BS 8418 - which governs the situation where cameras and detectors can be placed in and around buildings and at site perimeters and linked via LAN, WAN or Internet to a Remote Video Response Centre (RVRC) tens or even hundreds of miles away.  In the RVRC, trained operators provide 24/7 event-driven monitoring of the area in real time, observing - and recording - what is happening if a fence or building alarm is activated.  Depending on the circumstance, the operators can issue verbal warnings to intruders via on-site speakers or alert the emergency services and keyholders.

And finally.  An understanding of the threat and a willingness to employ a systematic approach to crime prevention are essential elements of a safe, secure business environment.  BSIA security consultancy members can offer independent advice on all aspects of business security including risk assessment and recommended security measures, specifically tailored to your business. There may be many competing priorities in the business world, but crime has been known to stop all business activity permanently. As such, it should be on the agenda for all of Birmingham's businesses.

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