The Best Defense

Electric security fencing may be the best offense

Location, location, location truly matters when it comes to choosing perimeter security. Retail businesses, located in city and suburban districts, are able to pick from a wide variety of detection-based perimeter security options that can be very effective: smart cameras, monitored alarm systems, beams, etc. While such systems are often reliant on a law enforcement response, their proximity to residential neighborhoods enables a timelier response from police.

But location provides an additional security challenge for commercial businesses located in industrial areas. Sparsely populated at night and on weekends, law enforcement can often be too far away to intervene before a theft occurs, and the losses can run into the millions.

“Police are shorthanded and furthermore, they have to prioritize life safety issues,” said Keith Lewis, CargoNet expert and for bureau investigator. “So, if it’s Saturday night and raining, and some alarm is going off in a warehouse district, I can pretty much guarantee by the time police get there, you’re going to get a piece of paper documenting the fact you’ve been robbed.”

For these businesses, perimeter security becomes vital. But what kind of security is available that can defend itself, if the police aren’t going to get there in time? One option is guards. The other is an electric security fence.

How an Electric Security Fence Works

Relatively unknown outside a few markets that suffer relentless theft, such as salvage yards and freight companies, an electric security fence offers something alarms and cameras cannot: self-defense from external theft. While models vary a bit, electric security fences are pretty similar to one another. They are:

  • Constructed inside an existing fence or other barrier to prevent accidental contact.
  • 10-foot high and composed of 20 strands of steel wire.
  • Labeled every 10 feet or so with multilingual warning signs.
  • Energized by solar panel, to ensure security is intact during a power outage.
  • “Safe but memorable” in the shock they issue, utilizing pulsed electricity rather than mains.
  • Wired to monitored alarms that sound at any attempt to spread, scale or cut the wires.

With these systems, contacting law enforcement becomes a backup measure, rather than the first response.

Considerations When Contemplating an Electric Security Fence

Budget is always the first consideration. Electric security fencing is priced very much like regular fencing: based on the size of the yard. Unlike regular fencing, installation is rolled into the monthly service fee to ensure there are no start-up costs.

Service is another consideration: these systems are sold as a service, rather than a product, which means all maintenance, monitoring and technical service is rolled into the monthly fee. Providers usually include regular service visits as well as troubleshooting. Renting, rather than owning, the electric security fence has the additional advantage of protecting companies from any liability claims: liability remains with the service provider, rather than the business.

Safety is always a concern, but in the United States, all electric security fences use pulsed electricity, not mains. The shock is akin to static from an electrical appliance: deeply unpleasant, but safe, even if a child or someone with a pacemaker comes in contact. Moreover, as the fences are built inside existing, non-electrified fences, contact requires trespassing.

Another issue tends to be permitting. A number of municipalities do not have a standard for electric security fencing, which can add to the standard lead time of six weeks for installation. To enable the process, electric security fence companies often have a compliance team that addresses the issue with the municipalities on behalf of their clients at no additional cost. On a grander scale, a national electrical standard is about to go to a floor vote in June at the American Society of Testing Materials, which should allow for more rapid adoption on the local level.

But how well does the fence work? We decided to ask some users.

YRC Worldwide

“Thieves were killing us in Birmingham. They were cutting our fence weekly,” said Harold Owen, director of corporate security at YRC Worldwide. “That facility backed up to railroad tracks on a deadend street. I personally sat on that fence line at night trying to catch people. We just couldn’t do it.

In 1999, Owen and Manager of Security Gary Meeks met Bill Mullis, the inventor and founder of the largest electric security fence supplier in the country. Mullis had an interesting backstory: having suffered multiple break-ins at his guard dog business, he’d designed the solar-powered fence for his own protection. Adjoining businesses rapidly took interest, so Mullis patented the fence in 1991, phased the dogs out, and was building a small family business. He did a lone demonstration of how the fence worked and Owen and Meeks instantly thought of that Birmingham location.

“Boy, we put that fence up and it stopped. It was and still is a no brainer,” said Meeks, who is the manager of security at YRC Worldwide. “With our supplier, it doesn’t cost a dime to put an electric security fence up. It goes inside your fence line. If somebody has cut your [exterior] fence and grabs the electric one they’ve already committed a crime. Gary and I have now pushed the electric fence consistently for almost 20 years.”

YRC Worldwide continued to install dozens of electric security fences in terminals across the country ever since. In fact, under Owen and Meek’s direction, they’ve gone on to be recognized nationally as the top corporate security department in transportation and warehousing for six of the last seven years – a feat they attribute in part to their choice to use this technology.

“We find that typically it’s a third of the cost of the weekend guard. And that’s just a weekend guard,” Meeks said. “An electric security fence gives you 24/7 protection on your perimeter. A guard can never be as omnipresent as a perimeter fence.”

Meeks believes it’s one of the best decisions they ever made. “If somebody is contemplating an electric security fence, I tell them it’s the best move they’ll ever make to protect theirs and their customers’ assets,” he said.

Quality Companies

“We’re in an industrial area. The neighborhood has had one of the worst theft areas in Indianapolis for years,” Meeks said. “Our headquarters alone includes 5 yards, 2,000 trucks and $700 to $800 million in assets, not to mention the employees here on site.”

Jim House, corporate security and facilities manager for Quality Companies should know about crime in Indianapolis: he spent 24 years as a police officer in Indianapolis before moving to corporate security. As director at Quality, he oversees the company’s primary business in truck & trailer leasing and sales, as well as a number of secondary businesses that also involve heavy equipment.

“The biggest theft problem for us historically is the batteries in our trucks. The batteries are easy to get to, and usually when thieves would come in they wouldn’t just take 1 battery deck, it would be 10,” House said. So, if you had 10 trucks affected – some of these trucks carry up to 8 batteries – you have to replace each battery at $150 or $180/a piece. You have to cover the parts, as well as the labor costs and you have down time with the truck. It gets pretty expensive.” House researched electric security fencing as an option when their affiliate company and direct neighbor, Celadon Trucking, was completing their compliance review for C-TPAT certification. (CTPAT is a Homeland Security measure for international trucking companies so their trucks can go across the border without being continually searched.)

“I needed to pass that review, and I needed security for the lots that are separate from our headquarters,” House said. “We can’t always have a guard stationed there – you can burn a budget on contract security when you have multiple locations. I researched electric security fencing and the security directors and managers that I spoke to didn’t have one bad thing to say about it. In the end, I decided it would probably be the best thing for us to do just because of the remote locations that we have.”

House initially had two locations installed with an electric security fence so he could cut back on contract guard resources. Over time, he has continued to install the fences at all their lots in Indianapolis and in Dallas.

The Results

“After we installed this basic piece of technology, it saved us. We’re down to zero losses since install. That makes me happy,” House said. “The signs on the fence are a great deterrent and the monitoring system on the electric fence allows me to direct my guards too: any changes or breaches in the fence I can direct security to the location where I’m getting my alarms and check it out. Our employees have commented on how it feels good to have that advanced security.”

House believes the high sell point is it is safe yet effective.

“Security in general hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. You find what you want to protect, you put your barriers up to protect it and you control who has access to it. The only thing that’s really changed over the years is the technology. If you can enhance your security by using technology, then why wouldn’t you?” House said.

Good Perimeter Security Helps Law Enforcement

Electric security fencing can save commercial and industrial companies money, protect employees, customer assets, and reputations. But in the eyes of law enforcement, commercial and industrial yards that invest in electric security fencing are providing a benefit to the community as a whole. By reducing the volume of alarm calls they have to answer, they can be where they are needed most: helping someone whose life is in danger.

“When I was on the force, I can’t tell you how many times a business owner that had just been robbed turned to me and said, ‘My alarm was going off for hours. Where were you when I needed you?’” Lewis said.

“I always told them the same thing. ‘I was answering 911 calls.’ Alarm calls are the lowest priority calls because the false alarm rates are so high. When I was on the force, we averaged 600,000 false alarms calls per year. Our policy was if the owner of the property failed to show up twice when their alarm was going off, we weren’t answering it either. So if your business is in an industrial district, I’d say you either need to be prepared to show up, even if it is 2 a.m., and the third night in a row, or you need to find another security measure that will defend your property.

“When I was on the force, I can’t tell you how many times a business owner that had just been robbed turned to me and said. My alarm was going off for hours. Where were you when I needed you?” Lewis said. “I always told them the same thing. ‘I was answering 911 calls—people that needed help. That might have been you, or someone in your family, and if you had to make a choice where I showed up, I know which one you would’ve picked.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Security Today.

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