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Builders Construct Better Security

When appliances and other items began disappearing from Pulte Homes construction sites in California, the residential home building company knew it had to do something to protect its investment and its reputation.

The thefts frequently took place just days before the owner took the final walk-through to approve the home and close the deal, making it difficult for Pulte to fix the damage and replace the appliances before the final inspection. That meant customers had to be told of the vandalism, which had the added effect of undermining their feelings of safety in their new home.

An advisory board, composed of various security contractors and other professionals, was established to offer suggestions on securing the sites and to create a security plan. “We wanted to come up with a security plan that far exceeded everyone else’s,” says Craig Rickabaugh, purchasing manager for Pulte Homes.

After some preliminary investigation, the company concluded that thieves were driving into the garage of a completed house, forcing open the home’s entrance, and dragging the appliances across the floor, making off with thousands of dollars in goods and, in some cases, significantly damaging the floor and door jambs of the house.

Because it seemed likely that many of the large thefts took place with the use of a vehicle, the contractor council suggested that Pulte install a camera system that would be able to capture license plate numbers and vehicle traffic. The system also had to be portable to handle the evolving conditions of a construction site.

Pulte builds large communities that are finished in phases. A portable fence surrounds each section under construction. As the phases are completed, the fence is moved. Each construction site has one designated entrance through which all vehicle traffic flows. As the fence is moved, the vehicle entrance is also moved.

Pulte chose to lease a camera tower from Smart Systems Technologies Incorporated. A concrete and reinforced three-bar base anchors the portable tower; a 25-foot pole extends from the base. Four Extreme CCTV cameras and one Extreme REG license-plate-capture camera are mounted to it.

A digital recorder is located in a vault inside the base of the tower and is only accessible by Smart Systems employees. If an incident happens, Pulte calls Smart Systems and an employee will be dispatched to remove the recorder and replace it with another. The removed recorder is taken back to Smart Systems and is analyzed by a forensic expert.

Each recorder can retain up to seven days worth of images. If a claim is not made within those seven days, the recorder will begin recording over the footage.  

The system is maintained and installed by Smart Systems and is rented by Pulte for $825 per site, per month, plus an additional $680 for installation per site, which includes monthly quality checks and moving the tower as the construction phases are completed.

The system has also helped police catch some of the thieves, allowing the company to recoup stolen goods and prevent future incidents. At one site, called Hill Crest, a U-Haul was caught on camera entering the secured area at strange hours. When inventories of the homes were taken, materials and appliances were found missing.

The Smart Systems camera had captured the license plate number of the U-Haul and an overall photograph of the vehicle. The evidence was turned over to police. The investigation revealed that the vehicle had been stolen from Arizona. Within a few days the truck was located, and several thousand dollars worth of Pulte goods were found housed in the suspect’s garage.

The license plate reader can capture information from up to 100 feet away. For that reason, placement of the camera is crucial.

Smart Systems works closely with Pulte to determine the proper location of each camera. But finding the best location has been a process of trial and error.

When Pulte first began using the camera tower, the plate reader was placed to capture the front license plate. After some time monitoring the traffic, it was discovered that not all vehicles had a front plate, even though California law required that each car have both a front and a back license plate. As a result, Smart Systems adjusted the camera to capture the back plate instead.

The system is not designed to monitor the entire construction site; all four cameras and license plate readers are primarily concerned with monitoring the entrance. Pulte hires a security guard to patrol the areas not covered by the cameras.

Installing the camera system and hiring the guards costs approximately $7,000 per month. Rickabaugh says that since the system was installed, the costs associated with replacing damaged or stolen items on each site have gone down by $2,000 to $3,000 a month—a decline of 25 percent. Although the money saved in lost property does not exceed the money expended for security, Rickabaugh says that it pays dividends in customer satisfaction and company reputation.

(For more information: John Curran, Smart System Technologies; phone: 949/367-9375)