Security Within the Four Walls

March 1, 2010
A security program can help improve the safety of employees, assets and operations, while reducing operational costs.

Recently, FreightWatch International, an Austin, Texas-based supply chain security firm, reported that truckloads containing $487 million of goods were stolen in the U.S. in 2009, a 67% increase over the $290 million worth of products reported stolen the prior year. Other estimates of the total economic impact of cargo theft in the U.S. reach into the billions. However, theft isn't limited to goods moving across roadways. The warehouse facilities that store and handle these same products are just as susceptible to criminal activity.

It is prudent in these times of heightened risk to review physical and operational security requirements. Having the proper procedures in place, and making sure those procedures have been communicated to employees and customers, can help to mitigate security risks. The following general guidelines will help to ensure that a company's employees, facilities and vehicles are adequately secured.

Perimeter and Building Security

Perimeter security is the first line of defense from intruders in an effective, layered security strategy. While gates, fences and proper lighting will not stop a determined thief, they can act as deterrents and establish a visible legal boundary around a facility. In addition, creating this “line in the sand” allows for enforcement of criminal trespass laws.

The second line of defense is the building exterior and entrances, which must be secured to prevent unauthorized entry. Ensure external doors are constructed of solid materials and equipped with high-security locks. Windows that could provide access to inventory areas should be hardened from the inside with anti-shatter film, metal bars or expanded metal. Dock doors should be equipped with locking mechanisms that allow for these access points to be secured when the facility is closed. Finally, building operators need to regularly inspect all access points to ensure that doors and locks are functioning properly.

Proper signage should direct visitors, employees and deliveries to their assigned entry points. Other building access points, such as dock doors, windows and emergency exits, should remain closed when not in use and secured to prevent unauthorized access.

Within the building, physical barriers and procedural restrictions can be used to control access into restricted or controlled areas. The design of a warehouse facility should include a clear separation of critical and high-value areas. Warehouse managers should consider providing lockers outside of inventory areas for the storage of personal items, and employees should be prohibited from bringing backpacks, lunch containers and purses into controlled inventory areas.

Key control for buildings and vehicles parked at a warehouse facility is one of the most basic but important strategies to prevent theft. The issuance of keys to gates and buildings must be limited to those who have an operational need and must be conducted via a controlled and auditable process.

Facility managers should ensure that vehicle keys are removed from parked and unattended vehicles and that unattended vehicles, including trailers, are properly secured. Perform yard checks during shift changes or at the beginning and end of each day, and immediately investigate missing vehicles. If vehicles are confirmed missing, immediately report the incident to local police. All locations subject to after-hours vehicle drop-off should be equipped with a permanently installed, theft-resistant key drop box. Communicate the importance of proper key control and vehicle security to all drivers.

It is not uncommon for a site's material handling equipment to be used to commit a warehouse theft. The same equipment that is used to move inventory is often used to steal inventory. Managers should secure material handling equipment using the same key control methods used to protect vehicles. If material handling equipment is not being used, the keys should be removed and stored in a designated location. During periods of shutdown, keys should be secured in a lockable cabinet or office.

Security System Basics

Intrusion Detection. The best way to maintain and monitor site security during periods of shutdown is to install an intrusion detection, or burglar alarm, system. However, having a properly designed intrusion detection system is only half of the equation. Site managers must ensure the alarm monitoring vendor has current contact information for personnel designated to respond to alarms. There should be a primary contact and at least two backup personnel designated to respond to alarms.

It is critical that alarm responders conduct an investigation of every alarm. It is not uncommon for thieves to trigger the building's alarm multiple times to observe the effectiveness of the response. What is often brushed off as a false alarm may actually be reconnaissance. It's also important for the system to have cellular backup or line interruption detection to ensure continued communication with the alarm's monitoring vendor in the event an intruder attempts to cut the connection.

Access Control. Badge access systems monitor and control access to a building and critical areas within the facility. Electronic badge access systems make it easier for managers to administer site access without having to assign and control keys. While the implementation of an electronic access control system can be costly, it must be considered against the alternatives of controlling access via security or operations personnel. In addition, electronic access control systems provide a data trail that can aid investigations.

Video Surveillance. This is often the first thing that comes to mind when site managers consider security systems. However, video surveillance systems record and deter theft, but they do not physically prevent it. They are investigative aids but not your first line of defense. When designing a video surveillance system, focus on high-quality images of critical control points. If you try to cover too large of an area with a single camera, it is unlikely you will capture usable images. Despite the common myth promulgated by Hollywood, there is no technology that can magically enhance poor video.

Employee Awareness

Theft is often perpetrated with inside help or through unintentional sharing of critical information to outsiders. Rigorous pre-employment screening will help weed out those most likely to steal merchandise, and awareness training can help prevent unintentional leaking of sensitive information. An effective security plan must include training that covers:

  • Security awareness information and location-specific security rules to employees and carriers;

  • The employees' security roles and responsibilities;

  • Site procedures designed to ensure inventory control and site security;

  • How to recognize and report security incidents, internal conspiracies and suspicious activities;

  • The need to protect information about the site and its inventory and operations.

Engage your employees to be part of the security process. They should be aware of possible surveillance being conducted on the facility's operation. Signs to watch for include:

  • Vehicles parked outside the facility or within view of facility gates and entrances;

  • Individuals with cameras (still or video) or taking notes outside the facility;

  • Unauthorized personnel inside the facility, on the grounds or walking the perimeter;

  • Vehicles (usually mini-vans or SUVs), especially those with two or more occupants, that appear to be following your drivers. It is not uncommon for cargo theft teams to follow their target for hundreds of miles, waiting for an opportunity to hijack a vehicle and its cargo.

Teach employees to immediately report all suspicious activity or thefts to management and law enforcement officials. Criminals can move goods quickly, so immediate reporting is critical.

Security Audits

Security systems require maintenance and the occasional repair, and compliance with security procedures can decline over time if they are not supported by regular inspections and audits. A simple regime of inspections and audits is key to ensuring security is properly managed.

At least quarterly, site personnel should review the results of security inspections and audits and develop a plan to correct deficiencies. Managing security is no more difficult than effectively managing the myriad of other operational processes and procedures.

A well planned and implemented security program helps ensure the screening and hiring of qualified people; improves the safety of employees, assets and operations; streamlines customer service; and reduces costs associated with lost product.

Bill Anderson is group director of corporate security and international safety for Ryder System Inc., a Miami-based provider of global transportation and logistics services.

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