Unfortunately, owners and operators of car washes see it all when it comes to theft, vandalism, and the myriad shady things that happen at their facilities. When you factor in all of the various ancillary businesses that are commonly found bundled with or around car washes, the number of criminals that will target your properties start stacking up quickly, especially if they see that your property or your businesses look like an easy target.
Vandalism can be both intentional (think a can of spray paint or a baseball bat) and accidental (think yanking down a hose wrapped around a mirror). Then there is theft and criminal conduct such as drug deals, drunk and disorderlies, shootings, gang violence, etc. It is imperative that you have all of the necessary elements of defense in place to thwart attempts to steal or destroy. The first step to this, is a quality, high-definition camera system to not only deter these types of events, but to prosecute any crimes that occur on your property. Once you successfully prosecute the criminals, word gets around quickly that this owner is not playing around.
Good lighting, high-quality locks, alarms, and signage (that the property has cameras and alarms that are remotely monitored 24/7, regular police patrols, neighborhood-watch participation, etc.) are all needed to push criminals to an easier target. Ultimately you want eyes on your property all the time with the ability for you and/or your managers to remotely access the cameras at any time from all of your smart devices, and to get e-mail alerts for any afterhours events.
Can security cameras actually deter crime? Absolutely. It won’t stop all of it but it can sure deter a big part of it. A lot of criminals look for easy targets. Dark businesses they can slink around at that are un-manned facilities with no cameras are ideal. Why work harder than they have to? So don’t make it easy for them. And this goes for employee theft as well. One main reason for putting up cameras is to stop things from happening to begin with. Preventing crime and vandalism saves you time and money. Signage can help immensely. It puts the bad people on notice that they’re being watched and it lets your good customers know you have things in place to protect the property and watch out for them and their belongings while they are there.
Technology has advanced quickly, and now it is possible to use POS integration with your video, WiFi for monitoring anywhere onsite, and uplink to the Internet for real-time monitoring from anywhere in the world. Face it, almost everyone has some kind of smart device on them at all times. Phones, tablets, laptops or all of the above. We are all addicted to instant gratification and being plugged into the world around us. Surveillance has advanced in leaps and bounds in the last few years with the addition of remote access and smart device apps that give you direct, real-time access into your cameras. So anytime, day or night, you can log into your secure system and look at live and recorded footage for all of your cameras. You can do this for multiple sites as well. And you can integrate with the high-speed access you already have onsite for credit card transactions. No other equipment is needed and then you have full access to your system from home, from another facility/job, or even on vacation. This can also help with issues at the wash, such as your staff needing help diagnosing a problem, or even a busted hose in the middle of the night causing water to pour out of the equipment room door. And cameras are addictive. Once you have access to them all the time, you’ll never want to be without them.
Remote access should be a standard feature on any kind of system you choose, and is usually standard these days, but make sure. Recorders should need only one Internet connection to upload all of your camera feeds. Super easy and one of the most important features of any system available today should be remote access.
Video surveillance running 24/7 can produce a large task for managers and owners to monitor. This is where the settings on your recorder can really help make finding footage of events much easier than it used to be. The first thing you will want to do, is to set your recorder to motion-based recording. This makes it much easier to search through events in just a few minutes, especially at night and after hours, where there should not be anyone on the property.
You can also set motion-based events to go into “alarm” mode and to send out an e-mail with a photo image showing what is causing the system to alarm. To avoid being bombarded with tons of alarm e-mails, you should limit that setting to areas where there should not be any motion at all during the hours that you are closed (such as the equipment room, storage rooms, retail areas, offices with a safe, etc.).
Combine security camera monitoring with other important security components and practices, such as lighting in key areas, identifying lines of sight when planning your facilities, high quality locks, and don’t forget fencing and gates
Lighting is key for any property as a deterrent, as well as a factor in getting you the best video footage. Remember, white light is much better than relying on Infrared lighting from cameras. Light equals quality video, whether that be ambient lighting in the area, sunlight, or if nothing else is available, even infrared LEDs in a camera itself. Keep this in mind when you’re thinking about where to mount cameras. Remove blind spots as much as you can, overgrown vegetation is something to think about as well. It can obstruct camera views and create hiding places for all sorts of things you don’t want happening on your property.
If nothing else sticks in your mind remember this: When it comes to camera equipment, you get what you pay for! I can’t stress this enough, especially for car washes. There is no one-size-fits-all option. Washes are harsh environments due to moisture and chemicals always being present. So, if you’re going to invest in a system, you want something that is high quality and something that is going to be easy to install and that will last for years. 2K and 4K high-resolution cameras are abundantly available, and have come down in price dramatically over the past few years.
No matter what you choose, make sure and go with a manufacturer who can tech support your questions. This is worth its weight in gold because you want to buy and install one system. Not one system now and another in six months when you get so fed up with the first one not working. You don’t have to break the bank but make sure you’re getting the equipment that will fit your needs. Also, be sure to get a recorder with enough spare channels to be able to add additional cameras easily as you see the need, without having to buy another recorder. You will need additional cameras in the future, so plan for it up front.
Sometimes crime is not so much your problem, but customers trying to get one over on you. For example, if you have in-bay automatics or a conveyorized express type of facility, you will get quite a few vehicle damage claims. Sometimes these claims are just an attempt to get you to repair any dent or ding they happen to notice. Some customers honestly think damage had to have happened at your facility, when, commonly, it’s probably pre-existing damage. Put a stop to bogus claims with inspection cameras at the entry and exit, and a few cameras in the tunnel or bay really helps as well.
If you are building a new facility or even expanding or modernizing an older site, spend some time planning out safety and security. Find the best contractors for any security related products. Take a closer look at potential blind spots and areas where landscaping may be a hindrance to seeing areas that people can hide or conceal themselves. Make sure your dumpster site is fenced and does not offer concealment. Make a parking space for the manager that is the shortest distance from the exit door. Simply look over your plan or site to see areas that may need changes, or even an extra camera to cover an area where there may be some sight line challenges.
Don’t wait to learn from the criminals what not to do. Protect your property, equipment, employees, and customers. Then inform your insurance agent about the improvements and safeguards you have put into place. You should get some type of discount.
Jennifer and Allen Spears are the owners of CarWashCameras.com, with almost 30 years’ experience working with car washes to protect lives and property. They welcome comments and questions and can be reached at (866) 301-2288 or firstname.lastname@example.org.