Stopping the Smooth Criminal

Utility Contractor

Implementing Theft Prevention and Equipment Recovery Systems to Protect Your Investment

A shadowy figure creeps across the jobsite. Having already cased the joint, the former employee had copied several equipment keys in preparation for this night. The pickup is idling and the trailer is prepped.

While larger excavators, wheel loaders and graders are a hefty haul, compact equipment such as skid steers, compact excavators, backhoe loaders and tractors are easily loaded and driven off into the night — heading for used equipment resale or a chop shop.

Based on 4,973 theft reports submitted to the National Equipment Registry (NER), which has been compiling a database recording heavy equipment theft and ownership since 2001, skid steers made up 31 percent of equipment stolen from jobsites, followed by tractors at 21 percent, backhoe loaders at 16 percent and generators and compact excavators at 5 and 4 percent, respectively.

“DEWALT conducted a study that surveyed more than 1,500 construction end users and buyers and identified jobsite security as the industry’s number one concern, with more than $1 billion in losses in the United States each year,” says Bill Pugh, director of sales and marketing for DEWALT security business group. “More than 60 percent of professional contractors polled cited tool theft protection as a major concern, while less than 15 percent used an alarm system at their jobsite at the time of the study.”

Using common sense and not leaving the keys in the machines, parking equipment end to end and smaller equipment behind larger equipment and hiring a security guard can only go so far. When it comes to equipment ownership, there are generally two sides to the equipment protection coin — theft prevention and equipment recovery. By guarding your fleet against cunning criminals and being prepared for the worst, you can ensure that you are doing all you can to protect your equipment investment.

Protection is paramount. You lock the doors at night, arm your car alarm and store your valuables in a safety deposit box at the bank and an impenetrable safe at home. So why wouldn’t you want to lockdown your expensive equipment?

Within the realm of theft prevention there are two main lines of defense — an alarm and immobilization. Alarms are the most basic form of equipment protection. It is triggered and alerts the owner anytime the equipment is disturbed and the alarm is armed. Of course, there are still options. For example, MOBILELOCK by DEWALT allows the owner to customize the alarm settings through a secure Web site or phone menu. Installed on the equipment using heavy-duty magnets or screws, the MOBILELOCK alarm can be set to siren or silent mode if the equipment is disturbed. An arming schedule can also be implemented, automatically turning the alarm on and off at certain times each day.

“There are four sensors built into the MOBILELOCK unit: a tamper sensor, a door contact sensor, a vibration sensor and a temperature sensor,” says Pugh. “Each sensor can be programmed individually through a phone or the MOBILELOCK Web site to monitor the mobile asset. If an intruder tries to enter a secured area, disturb a piece of protected equipment or remove the unit from the asset, the alarm activates and a signal is sent over the cellular network.”

While an alarm system will notify you the moment there’s any foul play, you can only do so much when awakened in the middle of the night. That’s why there are theft prevention systems like DPL America’s TITAN equipment monitoring system, which automatically immobilizes the machinery every night, without human intervention during a customer-defined curfew.

“Additionally, the owner may remotely disable the asset from starting if he or she finds that it is stolen,” says Tony Nicoletti, director of North American sales for DPL America. “While the asset is immobilized, the police can be routed to that location. Typically, thieves will abandon the asset if they cannot get it running and move on to an easier target, thus preventing theft altogether.”

The TITAN is covertly installed, completely concealed — not placed on the exterior of the machine — and features an anti-tamper feature that disables the machine from running if the system is found by a potential thief. As if that weren’t enough peace of mind, TITAN also offers several silent theft alarms, which notify the owner immediately via phone if tripped. Alarms are triggered if someone tries to start the machine or move it during the curfew, after work hours or on the weekend. The system also flags any equipment that is in transit during operational hours, which could indicate unauthorized use or theft.

The phone is blaring. You glance at the clock through sleep-filled eyes — 3:00 a.m. and your equipment is on the move. Your alarm system has worked, but the crooks must have gotten through the immobilization somehow. Prevention only goes so far, now you only have one thing on your mind — recovery. Luckily, you installed one of the many recovery systems as an equipment theft fail safe.
There are basically two different tracking systems implemented in equipment recovery, radio frequency (RF) technology and global positioning system (GPS) tracking. LoJack Corp., a pioneer in RF technology with more than 20 years in the stolen vehicle recovery industry, offers a stolen recovery system for equipment that is based on RF technology.

“RF technology is optimized for recovery because it is fully operational even if the equipment is hidden in a steal container, a garage or under dense foliage,” says Kathy Kelleher, national manager, commercial division for LoJack Corp. “Further, RF offers unprecedented precision in last mile tracking, enabling police to pinpoint the vehicle’s exact location. LoJack’s Systems are directly integrated with law enforcement — LoJack’s police tracking computers are installed in police vehicles and aircraft and are used to track down a stolen item. Finally, the systems are covert so thieves typically cannot find or disengage the device.”

If a piece of equipment installed with LoJack is stolen, the owner files a stolen vehicle report with the police to automatically begin the activation process. A silent radio signal is sent directly to the equipment to activate the hidden LoJack transponder. The silent radio frequency signal is picked up by LoJack police tracking computers, enabling them to pinpoint the location and recover the equipment.

Both the aforementioned MOBILELOCK from DEWALT and TITAN from DPL America systems utilize GPS tracking in their recovery systems. Many GPS systems us a terrestrial GPS system, which means that the equipment is tracked through cellular towers as opposed to satellites. Cellular signals can pierce walls and roofs, allowing the equipment to be tracked inside a covered warehouse, but if the equipment leaves the cellular coverage area, it will not be seen by authorities. However, the systems store the location information and send it when it returns to a cellular coverage area.

“The only drawback is that the real time notification requires the asset be in areas of cell coverage, if not then the unit will store and forward the data when it returns to coverage,” Nicoletti explains.

Depending on the system, or systems, you decide on, installation will vary. In the case of DPL America and LoJack, the systems are installed by authorized, certified technicians only — making the systems so covert that not even the owner knows where the secret transponders are located. DEWALT’s MOBILELOCK, however, gives the owner the power to place the security devices.

The units themselves require very little maintenance, but the checks are specific to each system. For example, MOBILELOCK is powered by rechargeable internal batteries that provide power for approximately 30 days before the next recharge. DPL’s system runs off the equipment’s own battery power — which you should be checking regularly in the first place.

Like installation and maintenance, the cost of the system varies greatly by manufacturer. For example, DEWALT’s MOBILELOCK system retails for about $500, with a monitoring service fee of $19.95. DPL’s TITAN system is $649, with a $14.98 monthly fee. On the other end of the spectrum, LoJack’s system will run approximately $795, but there is no monthly fee.

Regardless of the manufacturer, it’s a small price to pay to protect your tens of thousands of dollars of equipment. As an added value, many manufacturers such as DPL and LoJack have partnered with certain insurance companies to provide a premium reduction for those machines equipped with a theft prevention and recovery system.

“When considering an investment in theft protection systems, ask your insurer what type of credits you will get for taking proactive steps to prevent theft,” Nicoletti recommends. “Note that theft accounts for over 50 percent of all equipment losses nationwide, so by preventing theft you are reducing your risk exposure by 50 percent or more.”

For another layer of protection, you can register your equipment with NER, which allows you to make ownership records and equipment details available to law enforcement 24 hours a day and mark your equipment with warning decals. If your equipment is stolen, NER will record the details of the event, send theft alerts to law enforcement, check used equipment sales for your stolen equipment and work with authorities through a 24-hour hotline to identify equipment. For a lifetime registration, the cost is $30 per piece of equipment or an annual fee ranging from $75 to $700, which includes bonuses such as online accounts and the ability to add or remove equipment to the registry.

There is no fool-proof plan to ensure that you will never be the victim of equipment theft. As theft prevention and recovery technology improves, the criminal mind adapts, becoming craftier and more inventive. But with the right plan of action, you’ll have your equipment back in no time.
Jason Morgan is associate editor of Utility Contractor.