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Security and surveillance may not be the most exciting part of owning and operating a carwash, but it is one of the most important. Running a successful wash means providing your customers and your employees with a safe environment, and protecting your profits from vandals and thieves. The technology in the field of security may have evolved over the years, but the core need to keep your business safe has remained the same.
Richard Morahan, owner of Richard Morahan Associates, said one of the biggest mistakes that wash owners make is improper camera placement. “How many [videos] have you seen of the back of a hoodie?” he said. “Try to cover a stretch where you might get a glimpse of a face avoiding a camera.”
Chief Engineer at Rugged CCTV, Allen Spears, said that another mistake is not having enough cameras for critical views, which are needed to capture quality footage of criminals. He explained that “cameras can’t focus at different distances like the human eye can. It typically takes two cameras for a complete picture of an important image.”
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Spears said that it is particularly important to have views at the cash points. “For example, at cash register stations, one camera needs to be zoomed in to monitor the cash drawer, while another camera with a wide-angle view is used to view the entire areas around the counter, including interactions with customers.” Spears added that audio is a nice component at the cash points because it allows you the benefit of hearing what’s going on at your carwash, which is often overlooked.
A great camera layout will help, but you also need to make sure you have the right cameras, said Spears. “I see this all the time. Those cameras [a customer bought] that have a fixed lens cannot see well beyond about 15 feet away.” Another mistake that wash owners make is purchasing equipment that cannot record in the highest resolution, he said.
Spears emphasized that it is not only important to buy good equipment, but also equipment with proper manuals. “Yes, the video may look pretty good on the screen, but the lack of assistance means that you will probably not be able to configure the system to be viewable over the Internet and from your phone, and even relatively simple tasks like finding and transferring event footage may take hours instead of minutes.”
Decoy cameras can dissuade criminals from breaking into your establishment, but Morahan does not think that the good outweighs the bad. “Ask a personal injury lawyer or law enforcement official what the legal and life-threatening consequences of false cameras are.” Spears said that decoy cameras have a place in carwashes, but only in situations where there are cost or logistical issues that prevent real cameras from being used. “I use them for places that may not justify the cost of a real camera. For instance, a back wall where I want to discourage people loitering or spray paint tagging,” he said.
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Top quality security isn’t the only way to prevent criminals from targeting your wash. The location of your business, and if it can be viewed well from the road, can have a big impact on which wash a criminal targets, according to Morahan. However, not all carwashes can have much control over those factors. That’s where motion-activated lights come into play. Criminals are less likely to rob a business that is well lit, and a light that turns on as potential criminal approaches your business can turn them away, Morahan said.
Another important tool in protecting your wash is secure hardware that will do what it’s supposed to when the time comes, according to Morahan. He said owners sometimes get caught up in the bells and whistles, but should focus on what’s really important. “In the long run, secure hardware is the best deterrent,” said Morahan. “Criminals like to work fast,” and he believes what catches them is reliable equipment and proper cameras and camera placement.
There are however, many recent advances in security technology that carwash owners should know about, according to the experts. One new piece of technology that is capturing people’s attention is recording through the Internet instead of a hard drive. Spears is still skeptical of cloud-based technology: “To record high resolution video in real time over the Internet requires a lot of bandwidth. That gets expensive.” He said that “hard drives, either in the recorder or hidden somewhere onsite, are the best way to record real-time high resolution video.”
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Morahan embraces this new technology. “Go cloud,” he said. “Someday you will want to view [pictures and videos] from your home office.” Spears said that the technology for cloud services is improving, but he believes that there will always be issues with reliability. You will want to research Internet speeds and reliability in your market, before deciding if cloud based services are the right choice for your wash.
Remote view apps are something Morahan believes more washes should be using. These allow you to view the security footage of your carwash cameras from places like your laptop or your smartphone. These apps are a great way of knowing what’s going on at your wash even when you’re not there.
There have been big increases in resolution for all camera types recently, according to Spears.
“IP cameras, HD-SDI HD megapixel technology, and even analog systems, have all raised the bar in resolution and speed,” he said. Spears said that the price of megapixel video security has gone down in recent months. “Now there is only a few hundred dollars difference in [high definition and analog]." Spears said that owners should choose high definition, and that they need to make sure that the system they purchase not only records in HD, but that it records in HD in real time.
Keeping up on the latest advancements in security technology and following the tips that these experts have provided is a great step in improving your wash’s security. Reconfiguring your camera layout may be just the thing to catch a close-up of a criminal next time instead of the back of his or her head. And make sure the “triple threat” is something that you’re followingto deter criminals.