How Safe is Your Safe? (Part 3)

By Ric Blum

Alarms – if you can turn it on, someone else can turn it off
When I first started in the pawn business, alarms consisted of door contacts, foil tape, safe contacts and wire lacing. If you had an “incident,” you didn’t know until you came in to open the next day. Store owners would leave an emergency contact name and phone number taped to the inside of the glass on the front door in case someone heard the alarm or noticed something out of the ordinary,
I guess this may have been why so many business owners used to live above their businesses in days gone by.
Along with advances in alarms and surveillance technologies, there have also been changes in communication technology.
We’ve gone from telegraph, to land line telephones, to pagers, to cellular phones and even satellite phones. It is now possible to stay in touch with anyone, anywhere in the world.
This changes things considerably from the days when if no one was home to receive a message or call from the alarm company, your alarm went unattended.
I now get a call from my alarm monitoring service at home, on my cellular telephone, by text message and even the “Pawn-Signal” (loosely based on the original “Bat-Signal” used by the Gotham City Police Department as a method of summoning Batman in the event of a serious crisis) momentarily after an alarm is sounded.
With my smartphone I can get immediate access to my in-store video surveillance system, wherever I am in the country.
Do I yearn for the old days and simpler times? No.
I’ve touched on safes a few times in my “Tips for Pawnbrokers” column over the years while all along gathering notes, data and information for this article.
It was even suggested by a few that it should not be written. I guess it is one of those things where you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Where Are Your Keys?

Let’s look at some security basics.
Don’t leave your store keys in your coat pocket, on a shelf or sitting in a drawer inside your business.
Don’t leave them in your car, either. This will afford someone the opportunity to make an impression of your keys.
Keep your business keys separate from your personal keys. Never give your keys to anyone. If your car goes in for service, remove your car key from your key ring.
Don’t give the service people your house keys, either. They already know your address. You don’t need to invite an unwanted guest into your house.
You should also have a procedure in place whereby your alarm company will call a key person if the store alarm has not been activated by a certain time.
For example, if you close at 6 p.m. and you normally leave by 6:30 p.m., if your alarm has not been activated by, say, 6:45 p.m., your alarm company should start to make some phone calls. Besides a possible distress situation, it is always possible someone forgot to turn on the alarm before leaving.
The same logic should be followed if your alarm is deactivated at some unusual time — other than typical opening hours. A key contact would be notified by the monitoring station for authorization.
We are not going to deal with home invasion, kidnapping or hostage situations. While these are possible serious threats to pawnbrokers and jewelers, they are beyond the scope of this article.
However, in these plausible scenarios, you might be wise to have a second set of access codes for your alarm system that would alert the monitoring station to a distress situation.

Don’t Advertise Your Absence

When you own or manage a specialty business with a high security risk, holiday weekends, vacations, conventions, trade shows and out-of-town family events are nobody’s business except your own.
Don’t put your personal plans on Facebook, Twitter or in the newspaper classifieds.
Did your wife tell the shampoo girl (whose new boyfriend was recently released from prison) that the whole family was going to the opposite coast for a family wedding next weekend so she won’t be able to make her standing salon appointment? And that you just hope your employees can handle things while you are gone, unlike the last time?
This would be the time for the boyfriend to put together his team to test your security system for the next big haul.
He may be watching you. That false alarm you had last week — it was him. He was in with his girl to look at large diamonds, too. (He wanted to see where you went to get them and how long it took.)
He watches you open and set up in the morning and close in the evening.
He also saw how you activate your alarm and know your security procedures (actually, your lack of security procedures).
He knows where you live, how long it takes you to get to your store and which way you travel. You are a creature of habit.
No, he’s not crazy. He’s a professional.
Your employees should also be instructed to never tell anyone you are away (out of town).

Alarm Basics

The purpose of having a security system (burglar or intrusion alarm) is two-fold: one, to act as a deterrent to those wishing to gain entry to your property, and two, to detect any such entry.
Your security system should immediately notify your alarm company (I’m taking the liberty of assuming everyone has a monitored alarm system), which should then notify you and the police, not necessarily in that order.
Keep in mind that no alarm system is 100 percent burglar proof. Given sufficient opportunity, time and skill, any alarm system can be compromised.
Security consultants say a disrupted alarm is the leading method to indicate a burglary.
If there is a loss of communication between the alarm system and its monitoring station, your control panel is useless.
A security system should consist of four basic features:
1. Perimeter protection
2. Motion detection / Audio or Video Verification
3. Alarm signal transmission
4. Safe(s) or a vault with additional alarm protection

Protecting the Perimeter

The perimeter of your store room or building will be the first thing tested in the event of a burglary.
Front doors, back doors, glass windows, ceilings, floors, roofs and even walls are susceptible to attack.
Commercial duty, high-security deadbolt locks should be installed on all doors (if one lock is good, two is better), not to mention that the doors and frames themselves should be strong enough to withstand some abuse.
For simple and economical additional protection, make sure all your external door locks are replaced with new, modern, high-security bump-proof models.
Burglary-resistant glass should be installed inside all doors and display windows. Additional protection may be in the form of metal grills installed on the inside of all display windows and doors or steel roll-up doors on the outside.
Although there may be some exceptions, generally, if burglars come through the front door or display windows, they are going to be in and out quickly — before the police can respond.
A basic burglar alarm with a bell or siren is usually adequate for perimeter protection.
All doors and openings will have contacts switches installed, windows will be protected by glass break (acoustic or seismic) detectors and other openings such as wall mounted air-conditioners or rooftop HVAC units and skylights should have burglar bars installed in or around them.
A slightly more advanced alarm system will transmit the alarm signal to a monitoring station and may not have an audible alarm. This type of system allows the police to catch the burglars in the process since they won’t know they have tripped the alarm and may not be in such a hurry to leave.

Detecting Movement

Under ideal circumstances, your perimeter alarm system should detect an unauthorized entry through conventional means of entry. But burglars are smarter these days. They watch the same TV shows and see the same movies you do. They also learn from their peers who have broken into a business once or twice.
They look for the weakest point or use unconventional means of entry through your perimeter. This may be a common wall between your store and an adjacent store room which may be vacant or without an alarm system. Or maybe your roof. There are a number of security devices that offer protection from this type of entry.
A few months ago, a local pawnshop was broken into one night. The burglars broke out a number of cinder blocks from a rear exterior wall to make their entry. The alarm system did not detect them until they were well into the store; they were gone with a quantity of firearms before anyone arrived.

Photoelectric Detectors
A photoelectric detector has a transmitter and a receiver that projects an invisible beam of light from point A to point B. When the bean is interrupted, your alarm system translates it as if a circuit is broken and then goes into “alarm” mode. These detectors may be stacked in a grid-like barrier to prevent an intruder from stepping over or crawling under the light beam.
This type of system may only be used in areas where there is a direct ‘line of sight’ from the transmitter to the receiver. Secluded areas or long hallways may be possibilities.

Motion Sensors
A motion sensor does exactly what its name implies; it detects motion or movement in a given area. When something moves in an area where there should be absolutely no movement, an alarm is activated.
There are three basic types of motion detectors: infrared, microwave and ultrasonic. Motion sensors may be hard-wired directly to your control panel or may communicate wirelessly.

Passive Infrared Detectors
Passive infrared detectors are common in many business environments. They measure background radiation by emitting a field of infrared beams and sensing interruptions or changes in temperature in this field, such as a person crossing the protected field.

Microwave Detectors
Microwave detectors are similar to infrared detectors in that they also send out a signal and measure a response. If an intruder passes through the protected area, the change in signal response activates the alarm system.
To reduce the possibility of false alarms, detectors that incorporate both PIR and microwave detection were developed. These are known as Dual Tec motion sensors and combine the best of both worlds in motion detection. Before an alarm is sounded, both types of detection methods must be activated.

Ultrasonic Detectors
Ultrasonic detectors also emit and receive a signal that fills the protected area. In this case, it is a high frequency sound wave that is inaudible to human ears. If there is a change in the ultrasonic signal frequency due to movement, an alarm signal is activated.
Ultrasonic detection is considered old and obsolete and is not the first choice of protection today, but still may be used in older alarm installations.
Areas where protection is needed most would include the area around your safe or vault (and inside your vault), your alarm control box, your video surveillance system and any major corridor where an intruder would have to pass.
Having all your security and surveillance systems installed in a locked closet may seem like a logical thing to do, unless someone accesses the closet from above and disables everything.

Audio / Sound Detectors
Sound detectors use a series of microphones strategically place throughout your building. Having a microphone on all external walls and strategic internal points will allow a monitoring station to hear anything that is out of the norm — like someone breaking through a wall or the roof.
One of the advantages of a sound activated alarm system is that you may catch the burglars before they actually get in your store, resulting is far less damage to your property and hopefully no loss of merchandise.
This is based on the assumption that your alarm is silent. Loud bells and sirens let the burglar know that he has been detected and he will flee. A silent alarm, in theory, will allow for apprehension of the burglar and hopefully get him off the street for a while.
For an extra measure of security, install additional alarm equipment such as motion detection or PIR detectors (or all of the above) above suspended ceilings and in crawl spaces.

Shock / Vibration / Seismic Sensors
The use of shock, vibration or seismic sensors is often an addition to other means of intruder protection designed to protect a specific threat, like a safe. These sensors monitor only for vibrations caused by various types of burglary activities such as breaking, drilling or impact.
Smoke and Heat Detection
Smoke and heat detectors are a basic fire prevention system built into your existing alarm system. Besides affording protection from the obvious, they may also allow for early detection of someone using a torch or other burning tool on your safe. Hidden smoke detectors in crawl spaces, above drop ceilings and in attics will add another layer of protection, but if these detectors are all tied into a defeated security system, all efforts are in vain.
No one system or detection method is best. Ideally, you should have multiple methods of intruder detection from your alarm system. And, if you want true protection, you might be wise to have redundant alarms — two separate alarm systems from two different providers, located in two different secure locations in your store (not above a drop ceiling). Then again, even the best alarms have been compromised.

Ric Blum is a vice-president of Ohio Loan Co. in Dayton, Ohio. He has served as president of the Ohio Pawnbrokers Association, secretary/treasurer of the National Pawnbrokers Association and as a member of the board of directors and the board of governors of the National Pawnbrokers Association. Please feel free to e-mail your comments to or mail them to Ric Blum, Ohio Loan Co., 3028 Salem Ave., Dayton, OH

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