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Crane Hot Line

Cost-Effective Theft Prevention

For heavy construction, specialty trades, crane and heavy equipment rental, specialized transport, mining, manufacturing, and equipment sales, crane and rigging theft can be a serious issue, whether at the job site or rental yard. 

Stealing crane components, rigging, batteries, or catalytic converters can be a relatively low-risk, high-reward opportunity for thieves unless effective security equipment and procedures are in place. Equipment damage plus cut locks, cables, and fencing, can also cost businesses thousands of dollars to repair.

However, deterring larceny can be difficult with an unplanned, piecemeal approach, using systems that are ineffective.

Monitoring SystemVirtual Approach

Fortunately for the crane, rigging, and heavy-haul industries, fully integrating the latest capabilities of physical security and access control systems can significantly cut theft and drive down the cost of deterrence.

This “virtual” approach can dramatically reduce costs by combining video surveillance, access control, and information technology (IT) integration to replace many of the functions of in-person security personnel. 

Virtual systems can be customized to a variety of loss prevention situations, no matter the size of the operation or type of assets that need to be protected. 

Southwest ToyotaLift is a family owned and operated material-handling equipment dealer with four locations in California and Nevada. About a year ago, the dealer bought a new facility to add to its capacity. However, according to Barry Westenhaver, operations manager of the new facility, the site’s location made it susceptible to theft from break-ins.

“We are freeway accessible and have a 600' yard along the freeway with equipment in full view. The yard is next to a neighborhood on the other side where people can climb a wall. The location led to a real problem with break-in theft,” said Westenhaver. He recalls that such incidents happened about every three months at their peak.

Westenhaver said that some opportunistic crimes occurred when people came off the streets during the night to steal car-type batteries. The next morning, the facility’s staff would arrive to find that the fence by the freeway had been cut open, forklifts had been torn apart, and components were missing.

Even more troubling to Westenhaver were sophisticated thieves who planned and staged thefts.

“These thieves knew what they wanted to take, what to use, and how to do it,” he said. “They would use a forklift or truck to break through our fences or armed gates and were on and off our property so quickly that no one had time to respond.”

According to Westenhaver, the police would usually arrive in about 10 min. “But because of the way the theft was staged, we almost never caught anyone. We would see them on camera, but the cameras we had at the time didn’t show enough detail,” he said.

Although the ToyotaLift location kept adding security features in a patchwork fashion, nothing stopped the thefts. Westenhaver even considered using electric fences but decided against them due to the potential liability. 

“We had a security alarm system from a well-known company,” said Westenhaver. “We added security cameras but did not link the cameras. We installed a $50,000 fence along the freeway. Within a week, thieves cut through the fence with a power saw and stole equipment anyway. Regardless of what type of security we used, we had trouble, so we were looking for a new system,” he said.

While evaluating several security systems from various vendors, Westenhaver was contacted by BTI Communications Group, a technology convergence provider serving the loss prevention, logistics, aerospace, and healthcare sectors.

Whereas traditional security systems can inundate staff with mind-numbing nuisance alerts, many of which go ignored, BTI’s fully integrated virtual approach vigorously and promptly protects valuable rental, construction, and material-handling assets without unnecessary staffing, excess security equipment, or complexity.

In terms of video surveillance, that means instantly spotting all anomalies but escalating only those that need attention. It means preventively notifying staff of any movement that needs further attention. 

When building access is included, it can also mean spotting any discrepancies in door or gate access control, based on time of day, location, people involved, and other factors. The system “slices and dices” a host of variables specific to the protected business, then alerts security personnel or managers when it is time to act, and not when it is too late.

“What really caught my attention was that when the new camera technology sensed motion, it notified the security tech who was remotely monitoring the cameras that someone was on site. That let the tech immediately talk with either the police or the offender [via a microphone and loudspeaker],” said Westenhaver. “We saw a real-life video of that in action and were impressed by all the different means to deter theft.”

In the video, according to Westenhaver, the police were notified of a theft in progress at their auto yard. When the police arrived with canine support, the dog caught one suspect while another hid. As police backup arrived, a remote technician monitoring the camera system located the hiding suspect behind a car and alerted police via loudspeakers in the yard, so they caught that thief too.

“Calling out to a suspect over loudspeakers can deter theft before it starts. Or, in the case of a serious break-in that you have on video, calling the police immediately is better,” he says.

Westenhaver said that Southwest ToyotaLift purchased the integrated security camera system, installed it at its new facility, and pays a modest monthly fee to BTI for equipment maintenance and camera monitoring.

Westenhaver prefers this remote monitoring arrangement, rather than the more costly traditional option of paying onsite personnel to monitor security cameras, which the material handling equipment dealer had tried in the past.

“When we pay BTI for remote monitoring, they only focus on our cameras when the devices sense motion, so one person can cost effectively monitor many properties. So, it is not necessary to watch all the cameras all the time [which can waste resources],” he said. 

In another example, burglars were already inside the yard trying to steal equipment. 

“When a BTI security technician called out to the two thieves on the loudspeakers, one dropped his wrenches where he stood, and the two thieves started running. We did not lose any equipment,” said Westenhaver.

He pointed out that the camera system’s motion sensing enables efficient tracking of thieves. 

“Because the cameras sense motion, a remote technician can follow suspects throughout the yard, tracking from one camera to the next,” he said. “The camera focus can also be adjusted to the height of a person to prevent a dog or small animal from triggering a notification.”

“The integrated surveillance technology is a step above anything we have seen. So far, it has resolved our theft and break-in issues where nothing else had worked,” said Westenhaver.

BTI Communications Group is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. It operates five offices in Illinois, southern California, Minnesota, and Arizona, and provides service nationwide.  


Crane Hot Line is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.