The high-tech way to manage security onsite

17 May 2017 | By Steve Pearson

Steve Pearson outlines the pros and cons of various methods of deterring criminals from entering your construction site.

Steve Pearson

Theft from construction sites is a major problem that isn’t going to go away and needs addressing. Different construction companies adopt a variety of approaches to the problem as shown in the options below, which I’m sure many readers can relate to.

Option 1 - Wait until something happens then respond: Some companies are prepared to take the risk of not putting in place preventative measures until something actually happens.

Yes they may have Harris fencing or Palisade fencing depending upon the size and value of the site, but apart from that they have little else in place to deter or stop theft or vandalism on the site.

Instead they’ll, take it on the chin and replace the items because it’s cheaper than security guards, CCTV or their insurance excess on a claim.

This isn’t a solution and in the short term may seem to be cost effective but in the long term it isn’t. Once the thieves do it once, they’ll do it again and again until either security is put on site, or a CCTV system is installed.

Option 2 - Put up dummy cameras to act as a deterrent: Only a dummy would fall for a dummy camera, and a lot of the career criminals aren’t dummies, they know their trade and are often good at it.

This isn’t a solution. It’s one up from having nothing, but totally ineffective in terms of deterrence and prevention. It may convince those whose idea it was to put them there but it won’t convince anyone else.

Option 3 - Manned guarding of the site: This option has its pros and cons, of which I’d say there are more of the latter than the former. The site may be several hundreds of metres around the perimeter which can’t be covered throughout the night by one guard.

Even several guards couldn’t be everywhere at all times, nor can they prevent organised distractions which allow intruders to enter the site unobserved to carry out criminal activities and theft.

If you were confronted by a gang of men/youths threatening you with violence, would you tackle them or go and lock yourself in your site cabin and ring the police? Pretty much a no-brainer.

Assuming the guard called the police, how long would it take the police to arrive? Where would they go to when they arrived and how long once there would it be before they’d taken a statement from the guard and gone round to the entry point if known to investigate?

The time’s ticking by, all of which would be ample time for the thieves to enter the site, remove items of value and then leave again.

Remvox’s Hawkeye uses intelligent analytics to detect intruders

Manned guards or security personnel as they may prefer to be called, may have their place on a construction site, but predominantly during the day when the site is operational to monitor vehicles/personnel entering and leaving the site to ensure they are authorised and are not removing things from the site that they shouldn’t be.

A recent event springs to mind where a large plant vehicle had gone missing from the site of a major construction company and no one had noticed where and when it had gone. Panic ensued as to the location of the vehicle, which, it turns out, had been put on a low-loader a few days earlier and taken to another site for use. That was despite the site having a security guard there and could have been extremely costly.

Security personnel are not cheap, and on a typical weekly schedule (118 hours) can cost anything between £1,180 per week (£10/hr) and upwards of £1,770 per week (£15/hr). Looking at these figures over a longer period of say 12 months would result in an annual cost of £61,360-£92,040. These figures are based upon the hourly charges assumed, but may vary from region to region and are seen by many as the solution to the problem of thefts, but they aren’t and there are better solutions available.

Option 4 - CCTV cameras around the site: Some construction companies have made wise choices to go down the electronic security route, but have made less than wise choices in terms of which security cameras to use. They have gone for cheap unsuitable systems that are only a step up from the dummy cameras mentioned in option 2.

They may as well be dummy cameras for what little benefit they provide, with images that can’t be seen at night, that are grainy and unusable. Even during daytime, they provide little or no identification.

The problem is that the cameras that are used rely on the fact that it is either the company’s own monitoring stations that view them, or a third party monitoring station is used that never sees them either because they don’t trigger when activated. Consequently, break-ins and theft happen, they may never be reported or even noticed on a busy site.

RemGuard uses video analytics

Systems like these give good CCTV systems a bad reputation and then all get tarred with the same brush of being useless and ineffective. Even some of the better quality systems are not effective because they don’t have “audio intervention” – the most important element of any monitored CCTV system and a requirement of BS 8418 which stipulates that in order to get a Unique Reference Number for a level 1 police response a system must have audio intervention.

Forget the recordings, and other features, if it doesn’t have the ability to give the operators a voice to directly challenge intruders or would-be intruders then it has the potential to be as effective as a chocolate fireguard.

It doesn’t stop an intruder just having the ability to go back and review recorded footage, it doesn’t stop an intruder simply being able to see them and call the police, who may or may not respond depending upon whether or not they’re on another call. Without audio intervention the system is passive, reactive and evidence gathering to be used as a forensic tool by the police after the event has happened, which in most cases is long after.

Full CCTV systems require a cabling infrastructure, power, broadband, and in most cases use “passive infra-red” detectors to trigger and activate the system when there’s an intruder, dog, rabbit, tree on a windy day and pretty much everything else you can think of that will move in front of the detector to give an activation.

This is old technology. They are prone to false alarms, so much so that monitoring stations if they get too many within a period of time from the same sensor will either de-activate the sensor or suspend monitoring of the site. This means that once again the site is not protected and intruders are able to get in undetected.

Option 5 - Rapid Deployment CCTV systems: These type of systems have become more prevalent over recent years. However, as with the options stated above they can vary in quality and effectiveness. Many are simply portable lighting systems that are towable and used primarily for motorway works which have been adapted by taking off the lighting heads and retrofitting them with CCTV cameras.

They were not purpose designed for their application and were merely an adaptation of an existing product which does a job, albeit in some cases not particularly well.

They were not designed as a security solution, hence the design flaws that exist for security applications, such as instability. They have a very small footprint, with quite a high centre of gravity due to the weight of the CCTV cameras, detectors, anti-climb brackets and other associated peripherals that are mounted at the top of the telescopic pole.

They also have a totally insecure tell-tale curly umbilical cable running up the outside. A would-be intruder simply needs to climb a fence run over to the unit and cut the umbilical cable, all carried out within approximately 20 seconds, making the monitoring station blind to what has gone on.

They can’t dial-in to look at the cameras, they can’t review recorded footage if recordings are available as part of the system which several aren’t and they can’t notify the police that there is an intrusion on site as they need to verify it before the police will attend, if at all.

So what’s the solution? you may ask. Video analytics, the cutting-edge analysis of movement of pixels on a screen developed as an advanced version of video motion detection (VMD) is the new kid on the block in terms of effective detection over much longer ranges than can be achieved by passive infra-red detection.

It’s clever, intuitive software algorithms that look for changes in pixel state on an image that can be configured to give settings such as detection zones, line crossing, face detection, (not to be confused with facial recognition which is a different form of analytics) as well as other features.

Configured correctly and used in the right application, video analytics for detection is an extremely powerful and effective tool, that is far superior to passive infra-red detection.

Rapid deployment systems are self-contained usually only requiring a power source to operate and can be set up within a few hours. This allows a site to be operational from day one, especially if the rapid deployment system has the ability to use its own “off-grid” power source until grid power is operational on the site. They are an ideal solution for many site security applications and usually far more versatile and effective than the preceding options outlined.

As previously mentioned they can vary in quality and effectiveness, therefore it’s essential to know what to look for when deciding upon a system to use. Below is a list of my top four features to be wary of when making a comparison of systems prior to committing to rental or purchase options irrespective of how cheap the system is.

These are fundamental design flaws in something that is supposedly a state-of-the art rapid deployment system and not what is required of an effective security solution.

Conclusions and recommendations: None of the above options (1-5) may be the optimum solution for your site security, but certainly Option 5 can be the most effective in terms of cost and efficiency, if the system chosen is suitable for the purpose required of it. It may be that a hybrid combination of Options 3 (manned guarding) and 5 (Rapid deployment CCTV) is the best, where the manned guards and rapid deployment CCTV systems supplement each other.

Whatever the choice the old adage holds true – “you get what you pay for” – so ask yourself the question: can you really not afford to pay for the best solution to your needs?

Not doing so can be counter-productive and a false economy and you’ll only have yourself to blame if you make the wrong decision.

Steve Pearson is the CEO of Remvox Security Solutions.

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