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Business Operations

Someone to watch over you

March 08, 2011
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A November 2010 Gallup Poll found that two-thirds of those living in the United States believe there has been an increase in crime since the previous year. Actual crime statistics are not as staggering, but that doesn’t mean you can rest easy. In fact, many of your carwash customers are probably second-guessing a visit to your business during off-hours or at night – that translates into a major loss in business for your location.

It also means you have to work extra hard to make your customers feel safe and secure. Visitors to your site want to know that your carwash is being safely monitored and with today’s high tech, easy-to-use surveillance equipment, there is no reason not to have a system in place.

It’s also advantageous for carwash owners to have a system that can not only detect and deter criminal activity, but also thwart internal theft, as well.

What’s new with today’s equipment
According to Todd Springfield, field application engineer and trainer for Bosch Security Systems, Inc., carwash owners should look for reasonably priced, high quality cameras and recorders that they can view from their home, office or any location via the Internet.

“They should seek out equipment that makes it easy to search and archive video for the authorities,” Springfield advised. “They should also select equipment that can operate in higher temperature areas.”

Allen Spears, a carwash owner and chief engineer at (a division of Rugged CCTV), said the latest crop of security cameras and recorders feature even higher resolutions.

“Image analytics’ are also getting smarter,” Spears explained. “Newer systems cannot only detect motion, but also tell when something is missing or has been stolen, if someone occupies a bay for an extended period, or even if someone has left something in a bay or elsewhere on your property.”

A glimpse of the future
Spears said operators can expect systems to advance even further in the near future and will have the ability to distinguish between vehicles and people amongst other things. Sergio Collazo, director of sales & marketing for Toshiba Surveillance and IP Video Products, a division of Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc., said his company is producing equipment that is rugged enough to withstand any weather condition, despite their delicate internal electronics.

“Look for cameras that are IP (Internet protocol)-66 rated as weatherproof, as well as those that are tamper- and vandal-resistant,” Collazo suggested. “Another important feature is the incorporation of IP LED’s in the camera that allows the capturing of excellent quality video in near complete darkness.”

Close, yet so far away
Many in-bay automatic and self-serve carwashes have the unique position of being unattended for most of the day and also open 24 hours a day. Today’s surveillance equipment can help owners watch their washes with a close eye, without having to go to the carwash. IP network equipment, including the cameras and NVRs (network video recorders) can allow the owner to view live video 24/7/365 remotely on any Internet-ready device, including PCs, laptops, Smartphones and tablets such as the Apple iPad, according to Collazo.

“It can allow camera movements (pan, tilt, zoom) to be made remotely with recording functions,” he stated. “Emails are automatically sent to the owner that alerts them if, for example, an alarm has gone off at the carwash.”

Spears, who is also a carwash owner, said he gets alerts delivered directly to his cell phone when his changer goes out of service, or when his auto cashier has a problem, or even when someone opens his equipment room door.

If a crime has already occurred, then being able to see the details, whether they be of a thief, their clothing or license plate, is vital.

“The most important camera function is identification at the entry and exit to identify the vehicle, license plate and driver,” according to Springfield. “Megapixel cameras, license plate capture and/or exceptionally high frame rates can assist in these matters. In other areas, such as change and vending locations, identification is also necessary.”

Thwarting the seasoned thieves
Watch any spy or heist movie and it seems as if just about any kind of lock can easily be broken and any building can be broken into. Seasoned thieves know all of the tricks, right? That’s not necessarily so, according to industry experts.

According to Collazo, even the most seasoned thief has little training in network technology. “Most still believe they can simply cut a coaxial wire, break a camera, or grab a VCR tape out of a recorder to prevent detection,” he scoffed. “With IP video, however, the NVR can be kept offsite or ‘cloud computing’ can be used,” he said.

Cameras are oftentimes wireless, he added, and therefore, there is no tape to remove and destroy. “Everything is digital,” Collazo explained. “Cameras are also more powerful and easier to hide from detection. A megapixel dome camera can be installed far out of reach of criminals, yet still capture great close-ups.”

Spears advised operators to lock up the recorder in a lock box, hide it well, or put an old VCR or DVR out on a table by a monitor as bait. “Thieves,” he said, “have learned that your recorder can convict them. If they think they have the recorder, they will not only take their time, but will get careless about wearing a mask or hiding their face.”

Springfield also suggested using the good ‘ol decoy method. “We know where thieves enter and what they’re after,” he pointed out. Simply follow these four tips to keep thieves from attacking your system:

1. Place your video and intrusion system components where thieves enter and near the equipment/items they are after;

2. Light your location like it is daytime 24 hours per day;

3. Ensure some cameras are noticeable while others are hidden; and

4. Display signs indicating the area is under surveillance.

When it’s one of your own employees
No one wants to think that an employee they hired and seem to have a good relationship with, could ever be dishonorable. However, unfortunately, business owners also have to protect their money and equipment from their own employees.

Collazo said theft by employees can range from giving free washes to friends to helping out in a break-in by using insider knowledge. “New software systems can be deployed that integrates transaction details onto video in real-time that allows the owner to see exactly what was sold and what went into the cash register,” he said.

Spears suggested the “more is better” prevention method. “My advice is to put at least one camera on every place that cash is accepted, handled or counted, and to make sure the camera is a dome or other type of camera that cannot be turned another direction easily,” he said.

Like a magician, if an employee knows they are being watched, they can try and use sleight of hand tricks. It is important to record video in real-time at 30+ frames per second to show the ‘sleight of hand’ tricks that can occur,” advised Springfield. “And,” he added, “it’s important to conduct audits.

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