Ask the Expert

As U.S. car sales near a 27-year low, dealerships have a higher stake than ever in ensuring the safety of their inventory. Many are enhancing security procedures or developing new measures to prevent theft, deter vandalism and ensure the safety of their employees and inventory.

ISSUE: What are some of the security challenges unique to car dealerships? What solutions are effective in these environments?

SOLUTION: Exterior car lots may be extremely large, with numerous access points. Most lots are designed to draw in customers and encourage them to browse the inventory. Physically, this open plan can be modified to be more secure, but still aesthetically pleasing, by using bollards. These low-tech concrete barriers are highly effective at blocking cars from being driven off the lot, while still allowing easy access for pedestrian traffic. Fencing and gates are other options used to maintain access control.

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Electronically, photoelectric beam motion sensors can create a virtual boundary that, when crossed, results in an automatic broadcast of a prerecorded message warning an intruder that they are under surveillance. Monitored systems with two-way communications can give visitors additional warnings or result in the police being called.

ISSUE: What role can cameras play in a dealership's security plan?

SOLUTION: Video surveillance systems can be used to monitor the entire lot. Cameras can be placed to view building exteriors, maintenance facilities or indoor areas for potential threats. PTZ cameras and special license plate recognition software can add more functionality to a surveillance system, to help identify an individual or vehicle. Advanced PTZ cameras can lock onto individuals and track them as they move around the lot.

Dealerships also can use cameras during business hours to enhance customer service and monitor customers as they walk through the lot. In fact, the sales and marketing advantages of a camera system can increase return on investment. Video motion can alert certain employees, like a receptionist, who can then quickly dispatch a salesperson to the appropriate area, reducing customer waiting time and encouraging sales. Video also can be used to check on customer interest by indicating if a potential buyer stays with one specific model or is just browsing.

Indoor cameras deter another security risk—employee theft. Video surveillance can be installed in maintenance areas to help prevent the theft of tools and equipment. Cameras also can be placed near the key storage cabinet—after all, lost or stolen keys are expensive to replace. Surveillance also can be used in the parts and accessories areas to cut down on shoplifting.

ISSUE: What other steps can a dealership take to minimize theft?

SOLUTION: Another problem encountered by car dealerships is that of vehicle theft during test-drives. It is important to obtain as much information as possible from the customer before handing over the keys—a copy of a driver's license and a credit card are great places to start. And a salesperson should always accompany a customer on each test drive.

In a changing economic environment, there are numerous reports of increases in vehicle theft, shoplifting and vandalism. With sales spiraling downward, dealers need to become extra vigilant to protect their inventory and equipment. An experienced security system integrator should be consulted to determine the most appropriate and cost-effective procedures to put in place.

READER QUESTION: I own a series of retail stores with video security installed. In a recent burglary, the intruders stole the digital recording. Is there technology available that I could use to prevent this from happening again?

SOLUTION: As video surveillance becomes more prominent, so does the criminals' knowledge of the architecture of systems. It is not only important to both design the right placement of cameras and choose the best recording devices, but also to make sure the video recording is protected.

Placement of the head-end recording is critical. Try placing it in areas that are not visible by the public. The main recording device should be secured in a locked cabinet or a lockbox.

Using a DVR will allow for offsite storage of video. Some systems can be set up to automatically download video at preset times or have the ability to stream the video off site. Should an intruder remove the DVR, the updated video data is offsite and still available for authorities to examine.

As always, make sure that you choose a system integrator who has the experience and services to provide the best design and service.

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Security Today.

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