Video surveillance is a growing trend on Lower Mainland construction sites.
Plummeting camera prices are contributing to this, as is evolving technology that reduces false alarms and the fact that cameras provide a legal record.
“We are intending to get rid of all our foot patrols,” said Mark Yeager, Ventana Construction’s superintendent responsible for security.
“We want to take the human aspect out of it.”
He said three negative scenarios can occur with human patrols: The guard falls asleep, the guard fails to respond to a break-in, or, the guard may be part of a theft.
He said the last straw was an incident, where an alleged service truck crew entered a site in the evening telling the guard they would return first thing in the morning.
The truck arrived, brought the guard morning coffee, went downstairs and cleaned out the trade lockers and received a wave from the guard sipping his coffee as they zipped by with a load of equipment.
“The thieves are getting smarter,” Yeager said.
Ventana isn’t the only company that’s been hit.
In a Supreme Court of B.C. decision (Ledcor Construction Limited v. Polo Security) handed down in 2012, Ledcor tried to sue the security firm for negligence after $60,000 in copper cable went missing from a 10-acre Burnaby site under build out.
The case shows the importance of communications and surveillance, as the justice tossed the case claiming Ledcor chose the number of guards, who were not informed of the wire on site and had no control over it.
“It is possible that the wire was taken by some of the workers,” Justice E.M. Myers reasoned, adding that the guards were told “to stay away from the area, where work was being done.”
Houle Electric sees visual monitoring security systems as a growth business.
“The growth in security is huge,” said Robert Lashin, company president.
Houle’s security division designs and installs visual surveillance from construction sites to hospitals.
“I don’t see that demand stopping - I see it increasing,” he said.
The growth seems to be fuelled by both safety and today’s legal system.
“You have to prove something in court and, if there is a recording, you can provide what happened and when it happened,” Lashin said.
Advanced camera image technology now provides greater detailing and face recognition, while software can distinguish between a person and wildlife on site and not trip an alarm.
Ventana uses the Sonitrol system, one of the new generation of surveillance systems differing from closed-circuit TV, which is simply a recording.
President Joe Wilson said Sonitrol uses a combination of infrared beams, heat sensors, and motion detectors to activate cameras, which then cue the monitoring station that evaluates the threat so police can arrive within two to five minutes.
False alarms are eliminated.
“In the Vancouver Lower Mainland area, we have two to three apprehensions a week,” he said.
The average system costs $1,000 a month plus a $20,000 installation, which compares favourably to a security guard $5,000-$10,000 a month.
The insurance industry is driving video surveillance, Wilson said, and requires monitoring companies certified by the Underwriters Laboratories of Canada.
Sam Alderson, sales manager for Radius Security, said guard safety can be a reason for switching to video.
“There have been cases where the guard was beat up and had to be taken to hospital,” he said.
Radius Securities has its own smart system, Remote Guarding, which employs computer image matching to eliminate false alarms by animals and reports intrusions to a monitoring station.
“We have 100 per cent apprehension rate,” claimed Alderson, who said his company uses their own central monitoring station rather than a third party.
Images can also be sent to construction site managers at home for monitoring.
Despite the proliferation of the technology, issues still occur.
CityHallWatch, a citizen’s group, has been critical of Radius’s camera use at the Westbank/ICON construction site at Granville and S.W. Marine. They ask on its website whether the cameras peer into private apartments.
Not so, said Alderson, as there is the ability to map a site and restrict the camera’s capture area.
George Kwong, owner of Homeward Bound Developments maintains that a canine unit is the better solution. However, there is a drawback.
“Dogs make a mess,” he said, but added that he sees the advantages of the new generation of visual security cameras and programs.
“It’s either a camera or a dog,” he said.
Haebler Construction president Roland Haebler said he has used cameras with mixed results, so he goes with the client’s preference.
“Right now, at all our sites we have warm bodies,” he said.