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Security and beyond

October 11, 2010
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Every year brings new and varied security challenges to full and flex-serve facilities. In the past, most facilities rarely changed product offerings or processes, but in today’s market environment change seems to be a necessary strategy for survival.

As operators make changes in response to labor availability, competition, new services, new equipment or revised layouts that crowd the available space, security and surveillance issues become more important and more challenging.

Between night and day
In the old days most facilities only thought of security and surveillance as a nighttime issue. However, as times have changed and technology has evolved, managers and owners have adopted new uses for surveillance equipment that mainly revolve around their daytime operations. Safety and security is still the most important aspect of any surveillance system, but operators have discovered that a good surveillance system with well-placed camera locations can pay dividends in many other ways as well.

There is simply no better way to monitor every aspect of your property and people than having an army of high resolution eyes that never blink. Using those eyes to make your customers feel protected is another nice benefit, and if they perceive that their vehicle will be protected as well, they will be more apt to trust your facility.

New customers especially will notice and appreciate that you have taken steps to create a “safe zone” to insure their safety when they exit the vehicle. They typically want cameras to be plainly visible and cover the area adequately. They want to see uniformed employees present before they get out.

They also assume that you will monitor their vehicle at every point as employees and machines interact with it. Believe me, the first question any attorney will ask you in the event of a serious incident is whether you have cameras recording the areas involved, and how many there are. They know that if you say no, they can press any claim that suits them, and there will probably not be any physical evidence to refute it.

There will always be claims that the vehicle was damaged or items were stolen from it while it was in your care. These issues can be dealt with and usually overcome. However, if a customer feels unsafe personally, they won’t be back.

What to monitor
Having coverage at every position and operation is good protection and peace of mind for all parties involved. Monitoring the entire customer trail is a sound practice, and can be done a little more discreetly than the easily noticed cameras at the greeting area (see sidebar, “Greeting area cameras,” below).

As for the customer trail, the two most common claims at a carwash are:
  • Someone stole something out of my vehicle; or

  • You damaged my vehicle while it was in your care.
A high quality surveillance system can help to resolve employee theft claims if you have good coverage in the right areas. When managers, and ultimately the customers, review the footage and can see the employee at all times, it helps to explain what may have happened and when.

Having a couple of cameras down lower to see inside the vehicle at work areas may spot an employee lingering around the ashtray for an unusually long period or stuffing something in their pockets when they get out. More often, the cameras will clear that employee by showing that they simply did their job professionally and did not do anything suspicious. This usually leads the customer to look elsewhere for the misplaced item and creates doubt that your facility was to blame. Just the simple fact that you are diligently monitoring these areas says volumes to a customer that you are running a professional site and that your employees are held to high standards.

The second type of claim — vehicle damage — can be quickly proven or ruled out by employing a vehicle inspection system to search for pre-existing vehicle damage, while comparing the condition of each vehicle as it enters and leaves your tunnel. Good coverage at this stage can completely bypass screaming matches and angry tirades by quickly revealing what the circumstances were, or what actually happened or didn’t happen while the vehicle was being prepped, washed and dried.

Vehicle inspection systems
When you employ a vehicle inspection system, it is extremely important to place inspection cameras at the entrance and exit.

Several years ago, when vehicle inspection systems were first used and patented, some operators placed inspection system cameras at the entrance, but not at the exit. What happened was that they ended up having no way to prove damage that was not evident on the entrance camera footage, happened at the carwash or somewhere else, perhaps after leaving the wash. When the customer came back the next day claiming carwash damage, the manager knew that no machine in the tunnel could inflict the type of damage he saw on the vehicle, but he couldn’t prove that it didn’t happen in the tunnel. Having no exit camera comparison ultimately resulted in numerous paid claims during the first year.

It’s just as important to place “process observation” cameras throughout the tunnel to discover problems such as equipment collisions, or, as is usually the case, to show that no damage was inflicted during the wash process. A good vehicle inspection system uses all three parts — entrance, exit and observation cameras — to effectively combat unfair and fraudulent damage claims.

Some vehicle inspection systems also offer a license plate capture system to record and list the identity of every vehicle entering the tunnel. This type of system opens up new and innovative possibilities for tracking and identification, such as tying a frequency card to one particular vehicle while denying others, reconciling the register tallies with the actual cars that were washed and what services they received, and to ensure that the car that comes back for a rewash is actually the one that was eligible.

This type of system is growing in popularity and continues to evolve in the industry as owners and managers use it to reduce their losses while increasing their revenue. Look for more uses for this type of technology to emerge in the next few years.

Survive and thrive
As you can see, security systems have evolved into a valuable tool for several business initiatives, including:
  • Combating losses from every angle;

  • Increasing revenue;

  • Elevating safety compliance;

  • Alleviating customer concerns;

  • Increasing efficiency;

  • Deterring crimes; and

  • Tracking revenue.
Operating without these systems is literally like flying blind because there is no way that you can have an army of people doing the security and revenue related jobs that video surveillance can do unfailingly and constantly. As times get tougher, security and revenue confirmation become more important than ever.

If you don’t currently have any type of security system, check into it because prices for good quality equipment have dropped dramatically in the past couple of years and price is no longer such a barrier to entry. Protection and security is finally affordable and this is the best time to arm yourself with these necessary tools.


Allen Spears has been in the carwash business for more than 17 years. He currently owns four washes in Texas, is chief engineer atCarWashCameras.com(a division of Rugged CCTV) for the past 15 years, and has designed systems for over 2,200 carwashes during his career. Contact Allen atallensp@carwashcameras.comor 1-866-301-CCTV.

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