In his latest blog for Infologue.com, Stuart Lodge, Chief Executive of Lodge Service, discusses alarm response. Stuart writes: “At the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit between April 2 and 5, it is reported that thieves used heavy cutting equipment to get into the vault and broke into some 70 safe deposit boxes, stealing an estimated £60 million to £200 million worth of gems and cash.
“As a major security incident, what lessons can we learn from it?
“The methods the thieves allegedly used were not new and appear to be quite ‘low-tech’: methods that one would expect could be effectively countered with the range of security technologies and know-how available today.
“There are reports that the thieves were inspired by the ‘Hole in the Ground Gang’ who carried out similar robberies as far back as the 1980s in Los Angeles. The gang struck at three vaults in 1986 and 1987 and were never caught.
“It is unlikely that the full details of the incident at Hatton Garden will ever be made public. However the fact that such an event could happen should be a reminder of the need for a tried and tested security plan to safeguard premises with high-value contents at all times; a plan that identifies the risks and protects comprehensively the points of vulnerability.
“It is important to carry out regular reviews of the security protection, the risks and vulnerabilities of the site: particularly to check that the agreed process for alarm signalling, response and escalation is workable, understood and rigorously followed by relevant staff. Failure to do this, all too often, is a point of weakness in security systems.
“This requires a Plan B, to deal with the ‘what if’ scenarios when they arise: if there is a technical failure in one area of security, or people fail to communicate or carry out assigned tasks.
“There has been speculation in the media that an alarm was tripped and Police notified, but that they did not attend the incident
“Generally, where the Police repeatedly receive false activations at a site, under the ACPO Policy they may decide to no longer attend the premises concerned. The site is normally made aware of this situation. However any alarmed event can drop down the police priority list dependent on the nature and seriousness of other events occurring in the vicinity, resources available, and other factors.
“Where sites are monitored by an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) they will, as part of the contingency plan, have a list of people or organisations to contact immediately, with an agreed order of priority or precedence.
“This may include an authorised key holder – the owner or a nominated employee of the company – and the Police, or a local alarm response company, which would normally have access to keys or is a nominated key-holder.
“Criminals are well aware of the fact that there may be a range of different responders to alarms. They may set off alarms deliberately to gauge response times and then plan their criminal activities accordingly.
“Where employees are used as responders, the issue of their security and safety is paramount: if they encounter criminals in the process of attending the site they might be seriously injured or worse. On occasions responders have been deliberately forced to open up a site with their own set of keys.
“If the technology at the premises is sited correctly and is positioned to confirm an intrusion, the monitoring station should receive a confirmed alarm signal; then contact the people or organisations listed, in priority, in the agreed contingency plan.
“But if they fail to respond, what is Plan B?
“If the monitoring station contacts the Police with notification of a confirmed alarm – and the police indicate that they will not attend or are delayed in responding – then the monitoring station should contact the next person or organisation listed in the response plan.
“The station would also need to inform the responder of the nature of the alarm as this could pose increased risks if intruders are on site when they arrive.
“If neither the Police nor the listed key-holders are able to respond, then the monitoring centre should immediately inform the property owner or user, or other nominated contact.
“Clearly, whoever is nominated to attend the location – whether it is the Police or key-holder – it is essential that they go inside to check that security is not breached – and confirm that there is no unauthorised individual inside.
“Criminals may enter premises from above or below a premises to avoid detection. So you cannot assume that because the front gate or door is intact that this is proof that a crime has not been committed.
“So an internal inspection of the premises is essential.
“A further option is for a professional alarm response team to attend in support of the key holder. Increasingly our clients are choosing this service in support of their own key-holding arrangements, to ensure the safety and security of attending staff.
“Because in most instances a company’s staff lack even the most basic training in dealing with security incidents: owners are at risk of prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter Act should the situation escalate through the use of violence, which is not unheard of in these situations.
“There are several other good reasons for using an alarm response team.
“Firstly, this addresses the issue of the availability of the company’s nominated key holder, who may be unable to respond promptly – average intrusion time on-site can be remarkably short, but cause disproportionate damage and disruption.
“Secondly, the response team can carry out a thorough inspection of the building. Where the company’s own key-holder is in attendance, the response team can support and guard him or her when gaining access. This is clearly important if the site is remote, or the incident is late at night or over the weekend, which is often the case with commercial break-ins.
“Clearly CCTV should be installed at all points of potential entry, based on the initial risk analysis, including lift shafts, cellars and roofs that give access to the protected space.
“Internally, there may be some high-security areas that cannot be monitored by CCTV or physically checked – such as within a vault, where safety deposit boxes are located, for reasons of confidentiality.
“However, there is a range of systems available to protect private areas, using movement detectors within the space as well as trembler devices in the walls and ceilings. So any attempt to break in by force can and should be detected.
“Any incident can be validated with confirmation technology: so that when more than one alarm is triggered – perhaps by activation of a trembler and then a movement detector in an adjoining area – this confirms that someone has broken in and is moving through the building.
“Confirmation technology increases the probability of detection and minimises the risk of a false alarm. Many insurance companies and the Police too now usually require this protection for high-value sites.
“But no matter how good the security plan, or the sophistication of the technology, the effectiveness of the system ultimately depends on the people that operate it. Key to this is:-
“The threat of high-value theft will not go away. As an industry, we have to be ready to deal with it.”
Opinions expressed by contributors and commentators do not necessarily reflect the views of Infologue.com or Interconnective Limited.