Unwatched construction sites are theft targets.
Shumate Constructors Inc., an Albuquerque, N.M.-based construction contractor, builds educational facilities in the Albuquerque area. In addition to building schools from the ground up, Shumate completes school additions and remodels. Three years ago, the company began having problems keeping thieves out of its construction sites during non-working hours. Unwatched construction sites are hot beds for a variety of thefts — from copper pipes and wire, to hand tools, to heavy-duty machinery.
The loss of machinery, such as front-end loaders, can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sometimes workers will arrive to a site in the morning only to find materials — such as copper pipe — gone along with their tools. The result is the loss of a whole day and sometimes multiple days of work. On top of the lost time, the contractor has to cover the cost of replacing materials, file an insurance claim for each theft and complete additional administrative paperwork.
Between the unexpected claim filing and inability to work, time-sensitive project hours are eaten up. It only takes one or two significant events in the life of a project for a contractor to experience a major loss in profitability and time — especially difficult in today’s economy.
Securing Construction Sites
The common method for attempting to divert criminals at construction sites has been perimeter fencing. Every site has some sort of perimeter barrier to keep people from wandering into a potentially dangerous construction zone. Installing a fence around the perimeter of the project notifies people that they are not supposed to be in an area; however, criminals who are determined to enter the site and steal materials will find a way to get in.
Standing guards can be more effective at preventing security breaches than fences. They often will sit in a car, walk around the site, or place themselves in a small building that acts as the base of operations. However, this solution can be expensive — a guard on-site can cost a minimum of $6,000 to $10,000 per month. Additionally, while having someone physically there can be beneficial, it is nearly impossible to ensure they will always be in the right place at the right time. In a few unfortunate cases, guards have contributed to the theft, allowing other people to come and steal equipment when they turn their back.
A New Approach to Perimeter Security
At a contractor trade show a few years ago, Mark Shumate, president of Shumate Constructors, met Dave Meurer, president of Albuquerque’s Armed Response Team. Meurer introduced Shumate to the idea of a flexible, reliable wireless solution that could continually monitor the entire site without the need to trench around the perimeter.
“Mark [Shumate] was fed up with theft at his construction sites so we started to discuss some prevention ideas,” Meurer says. “I knew this was a great fit for the combined Inovonics transmitter and Optex sensor solution. Shumate was not aware of any reliable solutions that could provide this type of theft prevention.”
Shumate decided to allow the Armed Response Team to implement the joint Inovonics and Optex solution. Inovonics wireless transmitters, embedded in Optex passive infrared sensors, were installed atop four-foot, free-standing steel posts with a base plate. Once installed, a wireless signal was easily achieved. The amount of sensors needed at Shumate’s different construction sites vary — for some sites, it can be as few as a dozen, and others it can be as many as 30 or more.
“The sensors can handle varying weather conditions and wireless connectivity offers less signal drop and more consistent reporting signal than any of the other transmitters we have tried,” Meurer says.
Meurer adds that one of the greatest benefits with a wireless solution is the flexibility to mold to a new location if the site changes. Oftentimes, the site is graded/re-graded; equipment or storage containers are delivered and removed. Additionally, for a period of time during the day, workers may need to move the perimeter posts that hold the sensors out of the way. Any of these factors can change the perimeter and create a need to re-configure the posts to ensure a secure perimeter; however, the wireless connectivity enables users to easily reposition the posts in the proper location at the end of the day.
How the Solution Works
When the perimeter of a Shumate Constructors’ site is breached, a signal is immediately transmitted back to the Armed Response Team’s electronic central monitoring station. Operators pick up the signal and can tell whether it is one sensor or multiple that have been triggered and which part of the perimeter is impacted. The operator immediately reports the activation and provides the address, zones that were breached and the exact location on the perimeter. An Armed Response Team officer is sent to that location to do an initial investigation. If there are subsequent signals that come in from additional sensors, the operator will update the responding officer via two-way-radio.
Upon arrival, if they observe any activity, the security officer will call in back-up law enforcement immediately. If the suspect attempts to leave, the Armed Response Team officer will detain the perpetrator(s) and hold them until law enforcement arrives. “The whole purpose of the system is to know if a criminal is on site before they cause any damage,” Meurer says. “If we can do that, it is very likely that we can get there and apprehend them before they have done anything significant or escaped.”
With any wireless solution, there can be issues with Line-of-Sight (LOS). Often, the initial configuration of a system will work flawlessly because the building has not yet been brought up from the ground and there are not as many obstacles in the way, such as steel structures.
Once the walls begin to go up, however, this can be affected. In order to avoid this issue, the Armed Response Team constantly monitors the site to make sure each sensor is functioning. If there is a LOS issue, the fix often is as simple as adding a repeater. Because the wireless technologies are allowing real-time monitoring, a LOS issue is immediately detected and easily remedied.
Avoiding False Alarms
Construction sites often are prone to stray animals. Without the right kind of sensors, an animal that crosses the site perimeter will trip false alarms. Some wireless systems can also be tripped by tumbleweed or plastic flapping in the wind. The weather also can cause these incidents. The Optex dual beam technology combined with Inovonics wireless sensors is sophisticated enough to eliminate most of these common false alarms. It can recognize if the perimeter breach is producing heat and if it’s the right size to send a signal.
“Without this level of technology, a wireless solution is pointless,” Meurer says. “The system would generate hundreds of signals that are not valid intrusions and then it becomes a ‘cry-wolf’ syndrome.”
After deploying the system, with the exception of very minor events, theft and vandalism were virtually eliminated for Shumate Constructors. The company has used the system for five projects since the first deployment. It plans to continue to use this solution for all future projects.
“The perimeter security solution has been an ideal investment,” Shumate says. “Not only have we saved money by eliminating losses at our construction site, but we’ve saved critical man-power hours, which helps us complete projects on time and contributes to our reputation as the contractor of choice for educational facilities in the Albuquerque area.”