If you have built a new car wash in the last few years, you probably spent a lot of hours planning the security measures from every angle and at every critical point where you either expect thefts to happen, or where you wanted to monitor employees and customers more closely. However, at established facilities, it may be time to look at the place with a critical eye to make sure that your facility security measures are well placed and effective, and to see if any of your existing components or systems may have some flaws that you may not be aware of.
Performing a security audit every few years is a good idea, but it does not have to be performed by a professional security expert every time. There will come a time when you will need the experts, especially if you just bought the place, or if you are adding security systems for the first time. However, no one knows your facility better than you, and if you know what to look for, there is no reason why you can’t be just as effective as the professionals at identifying points where your security may be weak or lacking entirely.
As time passes, you may have some areas that are adequately covered, some areas may be lacking, and if you have added new areas or changed up existing areas, you may need to add cameras, locks, or even additional alarm points to protect new equipment or to simply have an additional view of what happens in that area when you are not around.
This is all standard stuff. You have probably done this before. What you need for an effective security audit though, is to not only look for coverage in new or existing areas, but to take a closer look at the components and systems you already have in place.
LIKE A PRO
So the purpose of this article is not to rehash all the glaringly obvious places that you have addressed before, but to look at your existing components and systems the same way a security expert would. They’re going to be looking at things you may not think of. They may identify some weaknesses you may not know you had.
The key to looking at your existing security systems and components as a security professional would, is to know the secrets they know. They have seen how hundreds of businesses get hit, both by employees on the inside and by thieves on the outside.
Any security audit worth its salt looks at two elements:
• Is the system performing up to the standards you will need when something happens
• What can be done to improve things
So when security professionals visit your facility, they will be taking a closer look at the systems you have in place, to see if there are any vulnerabilities that may have been overlooked. Here are what the pros look for when it comes to your existing devices and systems:
Door Locks and Padlocks
The pros will certainly ask who has keys to doors and locks. When was the last time you took a key inventory? Do the keys you give out have “Do Not Duplicate” written on them? Is it time to replace the lock with a new one because of unexpected key control problems, unauthorized key copying, or because of suspicions concerning an employee that has recently left your employment?
Are the shackles of any padlocks exposed enough to make it easy for thieves to use bolt cutters on them? Are they case hardened shackles designed to prevent that from happening?
What about the brand and models of the locks you are using? Why could that be important? Because the pros know a dirty little secret common to many padlocks. There are a whole slew of locks that are commonly sold at hardware stores that may only have 25 or so different keysets for a particular model. Worse still, your local hardware store may only stock enough locks to have a few different keysets. Thieves know this, and they have been known to buy locks from the local store as well. As few as three or four lock purchases could potentially give them the keys to quite a few businesses in the area. Thieves have even been known to buy a single lock, then stack all the locks with the same key code at the front of the shelf, then see who buys them and follow the buyers back to their business or home.
Good quality, industrial-grade locks are not usually found at the local hardware store. Instead, consult a local locksmith or a retailer that specializes in locks for car wash facilities.
Is your existing alarm system professionally monitored, or does it simply sound a siren or activate a strobe light? These days, people are accustomed to alarms going off periodically, and even the closest neighbors will usually ignore them. Make sure your alarm system is professionally monitored, or at the very least, will call your cell phone, and/or your manager. Also, find out when the last time your alarm system itself — and also any monitored doors or areas — have been tested. Alarm professionals will tell you that it is common to find as many as 40 percent of commercial alarm systems to not be working properly and/or not protecting the businesses adequately for various reasons.
Security devices such as door switches and motion detectors are prone to being damaged during the normal course of your operations. Shelving, boxes, and new equipment are often placed or stacked in front of motion detectors, blocking or limiting their vision, and many areas are under-protected or not protected at all due to physical premises changes such as expansions and the addition or removal of walls, windows, and/or doors. A complete system inspection and test is the best way to ensure proper operation when you need it.
Other capabilities to check include:
• Does your alarm system rely solely on a phone line to alert you or the authorities of a break-in?
• Does your system also have cellular call-out ability or other similar back-up option?
• Can your alarm system simply be unplugged to defeat it, or does it have a battery back-up system connected to it?
• Are all zones currently turned on, or has a zone been turned off either by accident or on purpose?
Also, if your alarm system is wireless, or has some wireless components, the experts will check the make and model to make sure that your system is not easy to defeat. Many low-quality wireless alarm systems — and even wireless security cameras — can be defeated by simply jamming the signals. Thieves can buy a jammer that will defeat most wireless systems. These inexpensive systems are no larger than a pack of cigarettes and can effectively render many wireless alarm and video systems useless in seconds with a broad spectrum of electromagnetic interference (EMI). These devices block encrypted signals as well. Even if you have a system that interrogates each wireless sensor, it can take as long as 5 minutes or more for that to happen, and many systems don’t sound the alarm right away when a sensor is discovered missing. You may only get an alert when this happens.
While you may already have security cameras, and they may be in the right places, what weaknesses may have been overlooked? For example, are the views from your cameras partially hampered or degraded in some way? Does the camera need to be zoomed in more so that it has a better view of what may be happening? Is the camera lens capable of increasing the zoom? Is it in proper focus? Has the glass or dome in front of the camera lens been scaled over with chemicals or obscured by spider webs and needs to be replaced? Is the camera looking at a bright light at night and preventing a good picture? Can the camera be reached with a broom or stick? Can it be defeated by whacking it hard enough to turn it away? Can thieves cover it with a towel? Are any cables visible so that they can be cut? Is the camera immune to these types of attacks?
What about the recording device? Is it easy to find? Is it easy to simply unplug? Is there a battery back-up system connected to your system? Does it sound a loud alarm if it is unplugged or loses power?
Security camera systems are much more subjective than other types of security systems, and should be checked and tested more often. For example, it is surprising how many operators have learned to compensate for under performing cameras or recorders over time. Without even realizing it, you find yourself looking at an alternate camera to more clearly see an event, or simply waiting until someone gets closer to the camera to see if they can be recognized.
Even common — and easily fixed — electrical problems, such as unstable images caused by poor equipment grounding, can be ignored in much the same way that a kid can ignore the dirt on their glasses. We tend to look through these problems. So the key here is to not only look at system functionality, but to also take a very close look at performance.
Now that you know some of the things that the pros know, it is a lot easier to look at your facility and your systems from a different perspective.
With more than 20 years of experience in the car wash business, Allen Spears currently owns four car washes in Texas. He is also the chief engineer at CarWashCameras.com (a division of Rugged CCTV) and has designed surveillance systems for more than 4,000 car washes during his career.