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Keep your eyes on your camera

October 11, 2010
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You see the reports in Professional Carwashing & Detailing e-News every week: Carwashes across the nation victimized by vandals, thieves and other criminals. In some instances, the incidents are caught on camera and, with the help of the local police force and legal system, justice is served.

Carwashes have a dangling carrot for criminals — vending machines and change makers. The equipment might not be carrying thousands of dollars, but for today’s desperate crooks it’s just enough to make it worth the effort.

For instance, Bubble Car Wash in Uniontown, PA, was hit up four times and owner Ron Romeo had all four incidents caught on tape. A camera was even able to capture three numbers on one of the criminal’s license plate.

It’s not just robberies — sometimes the random vandal will get caught messing up a carwash for no particular reason, but thankfully, a good ‘ol security system catches the taggers on tape. And cameras aren’t just insurance against delinquents and lawbreakers; they can also be used for insurance reasons. Have a slip and fall complaint? Check it out on tape. Surveillance footage can be your best eye-witness against damage claims, too. Did that car come in with a fender dragging or was it perfectly in tact?

When it’s too few, too late
It makes sense to think that a camera squarely aimed at your most valuable equipment, like the change makers, would be the best logical position. Unfortunately, many criminals will anticipate this placement and cover themselves appropriately when they’re in front of the main target. When it comes to surveillance, more is better. You have a better chance of catching the suspect’s face at all angles with numerous cameras and angles. For instance, Romeo has a total of nine cameras at his carwash.

The biggest mistake carwashes make is when too few cameras are used per site, according to Tom Maynard, the president of DigiCapture, a manufacturer of surveillance systems based in Soddy-Daisy. TN.

“A single camera covering a large area will not be very clear video as would be several cameras zoomed in on certain regions. A video is taken with a limited number of pixels per frame. Pixels are used to draw the objects in the video.” The more pixels that can be used on an object the better the detail.

Maynard also said owners cannot depend on a “zoom” feature to capture a crime. “The biggest myth comes from television. You just cannot take a recorded image and zoom in like they do on the popular television series with conventional cameras,” Maynard explained. “There are some cameras on the market that can do this, to some degree, but most people cannot spend the kind of money to get a system that would come close to what they show on television.” He suggested varying angles and close-ups to secure your carwash guarantee your carwash’s safety.

When quality and quantity matters
Carwash security is a situation in which quality and quantity have to both be considered. According to Maynard, you can get a low-end system, depending on the number of cameras for as little as $1,000, but quality will suffer. “Be aware that the specs on systems may look alike but can be a huge difference in the quality of the recorded image and the way that they operate,” Maynard said.

He also said that sometimes a technical support team might not exist to help with low-end systems. Unless you know how to operate the system, as well as navigate through its quirks, a technical support team is a must.

Baby, I got your number
Some criminals aren’t too smart. They will drive their own cars, registered in their name, to the site of the crime. Some people looking to beat the system and make faulty insurance claims aren’t too smart either. Thankfully, carwash owners are smart and have equipment that can capture their license plates on camera as well as anything that goes down in and around their bays.

Willem Ryan, product marketing manager for Bosch Security Systems, Inc., a company based in Fairport, NY, that offers fire, intrusion, social alarm, CCTV, management and communication systems and components to the carwash industry, said that there are specific license plate capture cameras now available.

“This type of camera is useful if a customer claims his car was damaged while at the carwash. In this scenario, a license plate capture camera would give the owner or operator the opportunity to determine the exact day and time that the car entered the carwash,” he said. “Owners or operators who want to protect their businesses in this way, should look for license plate capture cameras that produce crisp, clear plate images during the day and night, regardless of reflectivity, glare and headlights.”

Ryan said that they can then identify whether or not anything unusual happened at that time that may have damaged the car. This type of technology helps the owner or operator protect the carwash business from litigation surrounding false claims — which ultimately reduces operational costs in the long-term.

Water, water everywhere
One big mistake carwash owners and operators make is that they don’t protect their cameras against water intrusion.

“A carwash can be considered an extreme environment for a surveillance system due to the high amount of water and spray that cameras are exposed to during normal operation. Therefore, it is important that the cameras installed at a carwash site are rated for protection against water ingress,” Ryan said.

The camera, according to Ryan, should have an ingress protection (IP) rating where the second number in the rating — which indicates protection against water — is either a six or seven.

“A six rating ensures the camera is protected from water projected in powerful jets against the camera from any direction. A seven rating ensures ingress of water in a harmful quantity is not possible when the camera is immersed up to one meter.” Ryan added that cameras for carwashes should also be made of a material, such as nylon, that is corrosion-proof, in order to ensure a long life-span within this extreme environment.

“Arch you clever!”
The latest thing that has been designed specifically for carwashes is the inspection arch for getting close up shots of the cars before they go into the tunnel, according to Maynard.

“This helps prevent false damage claims,” Maynard said. “There are always new camera and recorders being release to the market. One of the new recorders is a hybrid unit that can record both the new megapixel high definition cameras as well as the standard surveillance cameras.” Maynard suggests “mixing” the types of cameras to help keep the price more affordable.

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