Easy ways to improve external security
Criminals are always looking for easy targets. They will take advantage of any opportunity that makes a business look weak or vulnerable.
Burned out lights hide their lurking.
Unlocked doors invite them inside.
Young employees with deposit bags leaving late at night grab their attention.
Because criminals are always watching to see how they can hurt a business, operators need to continually look for ways to keep their business secure, from the outside in.
“The easiest way is to go outside and look at your building,” says Scott Anthony, owner of Punxsy Pizza in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, adding that his restaurant uses motion lights in the back, and his outside lights are on timers, set to go on from dawn to dusk. “As an operator, you don’t notice if one to two light bulbs have burned out if you’re working inside all day. Lighting is one of the most important things. Light covers, protective shades will affect visibility.”
“Operators should invest in better lighting. The new LED lights are pretty bright with 180 degrees of motion detection,” Anthony says.
Steve Albrecht, a security consultant in San Diego, California, advises operators to make sure exterior building lighting and parking lot lighting is satisfactory.
“Often the sodium street lights installed by municipalities are not bright or clear enough to get accurate descriptions of cars or people. Install bright lights around the perimeter of the building to illuminate main entry and rear doors,” Albrecht says.
- Always keep a clear line of visibility. “Windows should be clean and easy to see out of — some windows have so much signage,” Anthony says. “Having an address is important in an emergency situation, especially with chains. Keep outside landscaping neat and trim; someone can hide behind it if landscaping becomes overgrown.”
- Invest in a second or third pair of eyes. “Have a working alarm system,” says Monica Burton, editor of the MySecuritySign blog. “Install a video surveillance system and outdoor lighting. Video cameras and lights may deter thieves. Plus, if a robbery or other incident were to take place, video surveillance will be a huge asset to the police in solving those crimes.” Anthony recommends installing security cameras at points of entry of the store, and peepholes in a solid back door is a good idea to increase safety for employees taking trash out or running deliveries.
“Check your lock,” Burton says. “Your lock should be ANSI grade 1 and include a deadbolt. A sturdy lock is key, but if that lock is not attached to a sturdy door, it won’t be nearly as effective as it could be.”
- Pick up the trash. “We have our staff sweep the sidewalks, gutters and street parking spots for the entire block,” says Ryan Goldhammer,
co-owner of Noble Pie Parlor in Reno, Nevada. “Once other business owners started to notice that we were cleaning up in front of their stores, they started to pitch in and do their own part.”
- Removing snow and ice will send the right message to customers and increase their safety and protect operators from liabilities.
“Cleaning sidewalks from ice and snow all relate to the image your place projects,” Anthony says. “Sometimes you can project an image that attracts the wrong crowd that can lead to trouble down the road.”
- Posting no loitering signs and designating smoking areas are
additional ways to increase customer safety, Anthony adds. “You don’t want skateboarders hanging outside — that can be dangerous or intimidating to customers. People grouped outside the door smoking can be a safety and
liability issue,” he says.
- Slow down a criminals’ escape route. “Most robbers want easy access to cash and fast getaways. Consider installing speed bumps if people use the parking lot to cut across intersections or otherwise race through them,” Albrecht says.
Beyond the basics, outline policies for employees to follow.
“Policies in place are important and should be in line with the community. All doors locked when counting money. Back door always locked. Take trash out in twos — the buddy system is a good one,” Anthony says. “Employees should be trained on what to do in case of a robbery or if jumped in back. I don’t let employees take money to the bank at night. I don’t want more danger on them. We have a strong safe inside; there is nothing valuable on them when they leave here.”
Albrecht advises operators to ask all employees to pay attention to people on foot or in cars who hang out in the parking lots who don’t patronize the restaurant.
“Many robbers case the places they hit one to four hours before, wearing the same clothing as they will wear to rob, minus a mask, hat, sunglasses or bandana,” Albrecht says. “Tell employees to write down the plates of cars that come by the lot often but don’t come inside. Have them do this from inside the business, without drawing attention as they do it. Tell employees to call the police immediately after being robbed, not their parents, their friends, their family, their boyfriend or girlfriend or the store manager.”
Keeping connected with the community can increase operators’ security efforts.
“The best way to improve those external elements around you is to get involved,” Goldhammer says. “Learn who your code enforcement officers are. Get to know them personally. Get involved with boards and committees that promote safe and clean environments for your city or neighborhood. Take personal pride in your streets, sidewalks and parking lots.”
Pay attention to detail to improve external security.
“Safety is often the by-product of awareness and preparation. Taking the time to assess the most realistic problems you are likely to face and then employing practical solutions to reduce those risks will always be the most effective course of action,” says Spencer Coursen, president of Coursen Security Group (CSG), in Austin, Texas. “If the lights are out, replace them. If the parking lot space paint is all but gone, repaint them. If the locks are loose, fix them. The attention to detail you pay to preventing problems will be substantially less than the cost of reacting to problems.”
DeAnn Owns is a freelance journalist living in Beaver Creek, Ohio. She specializes in features and human interest stories.