PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog
cost of construction security and cybersecurity

Why You Can No Longer Afford to Ignore Construction Security: Data, Cloud, and the Future of Cybersecurity

4 Ways to Improve Your Construction Security and Your Bottom Line

If you live near Memphis Tennessee this summer, you may have turned on your television to hear a shocking news story of authorities busting a 10-year construction theft operation which resulted in millions of dollars worth of construction equipment and materials being stolen. That’s right. Construction security investigators uncovered a theft ring which had been operating completely undetected for more than 10 years. They used surveillance equipment to trace the thieves back to a home where they found “10 vehicles, $745,000 in roofing shingles, $88,000 in rolled roofing, $12,000 in roofing nails, $14,000 in aluminum drip rails and rolled trim, and $13,000 in stolen lawn equipment” and more.

While this story may sound shocking, the truth is that it’s run-of-the-mill in the construction industry. Over the years, industry-wide theft has become an expensive and growing issue in construction security as thieves get savvier in their tactics and more construction sites crop up around the world. In fact, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, more than $1 billion in construction equipment and materials are stolen annually. Additionally, construction theft can add an additional 2% to the total cost of the project. As a percentage, that might seem small on its own, but factor in 2% to a $1 billion megaproject and now you’re talking about $20 million in costs due to poor security. Beyond the upfront cost of theft, the hassle and time it takes to report issues and replace equipment can push a project’s schedule back immensely.

While many construction companies take precaution when it comes to traditional construction security of the jobsite, few companies realize that virtual theft poses just as much if not greater threat and haven’t taken adequate cybersecurity precautions to protect their data from an attack or breach. In fact, cyberattacks are generally on the rise since 2016 and over 100 companies have reported cybercrimes. The construction industry is no different. With BIM, Integrated Project Delivery and cloud-based mobile collaboration software—any practice which allows workers to share files—construction companies are at increased risk. Construction firms possess a variety of information that could be targeted by hackers, including intellectual property, proprietary assets, architectural drawings and specifications as well as corporate banking and financial accounts. Just ask the folks at Turner Construction, one of the largest construction companies in America with a 10-billion annual construction volume. Turner was the victim of a massive phishing attack last March, which compromised data for all of its 5200 employees.  

If you don’t want your company to fall prey to a theft ring or a hacker, it’s critical to invest in proper construction security. Physical and virtual construction security for your jobsite shouldn’t be just an afterthought, but a priority. Although gearing up with the right security may be a significant cost in the short-term, the long-term benefits in budget, time and not to mention headache-saving far outweigh the upfront purchase.

But securing your jobsite, especially for large and complicated projects, isn’t easy. So where should you begin? For starters, you should make construction site security an important part of your risk management strategy. From there, you should review the 4 recommendations we provide below to help you protect your jobsite and your bottom line. While the list we provide below isn’t comprehensive, it can help your company prepare for some of the most common construction security risks.

Create a Security Plan Ahead of Construction

Besides from hiring your own personal superhero, a proactive way to fight crime is through prevention—and a construction security plan is the best way to start to counter crime on your job site. Just as you wouldn’t want to start construction without a plan in place, securing your job site should follow a similar path. A solid security plan is a well-developed and written policy that specifies and outlines all the security measures (and at all stages) that affect your project. In addition to defining general security measures for your project, a comprehensive plan incorporates local and regional crime information as well as identifies high-risk targets on site. Creating a written policy, well in advance of construction, ensures you are aren’t missing any critical processes or materials needed to completely protect your site.

One important part of a security plan is to start to assign supervisory security responsibilities. By holding trusted staff accountable for various project security points or activities, and empowering them to take action if things go wrong, the less chance incidents will occur or action can be taken immediately if it does. Beyond those clearly assigned security duties, brief and train all of your workers on the security plan and provide other critical staff access to information on specific surveillance and physical security measures (e.g. locks, safes, surveillance company phone numbers). Although it’s not recommended to give too many people access to your important security information, make sure you have backups in case anything goes wrong.

Even after construction begins, review your security plan regularly. A regular review system insures plans remain effective and revisions can be taken if something wasn’t previously addressed or completely covered. As construction evolves on your site, your plan should no doubt do the same and scheduled reviews will keep construction security up to speed.

While a comprehensive security plan will be unique depending on the project, consider including at least the following:

  • Assessment of security risks
  • Specifications on physical security measures including perimeter fencing, gates and locks
  • Clarifications on site and vehicle access
  • List of critical assets
  • Procedures for securing assets, materials and machinery
  • Identification of responsible personnel
  • Security incident reporting process
  • Contact information for handling security and surveillance systems

Properly Secure Assets and Equipment

Due to their inherent size and weight, construction equipment and machinery often give workers a false sense of security. Large and sturdy machines don’t always translate to safe and protected. For instance, if you think site excavators are safe to leave with minimal security on job sites because of their monstrosity and complicated manual operations needed to maneuver, you’re wrong, and this false perception could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Believe it or not, it’s much easier than you think to move and hide valuable construction equipment if it’s not adequately secured. In fact, by some estimates less than 25% of stolen construction equipment is recovered each year, making the pursuit to salvage pretty much fruitless.

To begin to protect equipment, materials and machinery, start with a detailed inventory with a systemized way to track input and output. Similarly to identifying supervisory responsibilities in the security plan, assign relevant staff ownership of tracking the equipment and machinery needed for their teams or job roles. Of course, manual tracking is much better than not tracking at all, but note that construction inventory management software provides more accurate and efficient tracking for your project.

To actually physically securing expensive assets, invest in high-quality locks and secure storage areas for materials and equipment. If you are responsible for manually operated machinery and vehicles, go beyond standard lock and key safeguards and install mechanisms like kill switches to disable ignitions or GPS tracking. Experienced burglars won’t have many obstacles breaking in and starting up vehicles, so any extra efforts you can put in place to stop thieves in their tracks will at least make recovery more of a reality.

Going the extra mile to track and protect your most expensive and moveable items, will help keep things where they are supposed to be, including your project’s momentum.

Monitor and Control Your Site with Surveillance

Truth be told, people will act differently when they know they are being watched, so use this to your advantage when upping your construction security. If your job site has the appearance of being monitored, the less chance you’ll have break-ins and theft. Precautions like a 24/7 security guard can discourage criminals from even thinking about entering the premises. Furthermore, make sure job sites are well-lighted, even after hours, to reduce the probability that thieves will use the cover of darkness to their advantage.

Video surveillance can also act as a big brother presence to deter thieves. Other than being able to monitor sites around the clock and catch criminals in the act, highly visible security cameras have been proven to prevent crime. Install cameras in not only plain sight but make sure they are high enough where they can’t be tampered with. Moreover, prominent signage clearly stating that the site is under surveillance is an additional measure you can take to let thieves know they are being watched. And if you needed more reasons why you should invest in security cameras on site, one unexpected benefit of the devices is that they can actually be used to reduce insurance costs on a project. So, besides a reduction in theft, more can be attributed to your bottom line from new cost savings.

Control also plays an important role in construction security and surveillance. For instance, if you have an open job site with many different points of entry and exit, unwelcomed visitors have the opportunity to snoop around because there’s no to little access control. Construction sites are already bustling with tons of workers and it can be difficult to determine who and who does not belong. Therefore, limiting access points, including vehicle access, to only one or two official areas will make it easier to monitor. Even a large and sturdy perimeter fence can go a long way to be the literal gatekeeper from keeping thieves from easily accessing your site.

With surveillance monitors and control in place, you’ll decrease the odds of being a stolen from to begin with as well as increase the chances of catching ambitious thieves in the act.

Use Cloud Based Construction Software

With so much needed just to keep physical construction security under control, digital and document security can be overlooked. The fact is, today’s cybersecurity threats are increasing and despite the fact that the construction industry hasn’t been hit by them majorly yet, the threat is real. Given the hundreds, if not thousands, of documents it takes to just complete one construction project if something gets lost, or in the wrong hands, it could sideline a portion or all of your project.

In actuality, paper documents are simply not secure. The risk of loss or damage is too high that it’s not a suitable way to manage the documentation of a project, especially a large-scale or high-risk one. Nonetheless, some construction companies are wary about making the shift from paper to digital, especially in light of recent cyber security attacks. Regardless of their fears, the best way to maintain security over your construction documents is to migrate them to cloud-based software. Although digital has the perception of being less secure, when construction cloud-based software is implemented on a project, it’s tenfold safer than both paper and plain digital-based. According to James Benham, CEO of JBKnowledge and former security consultant, “We have an irrational fear of cloud-based systems. Keeping data out of the cloud is false security. If it’s digital, I can get it.”

Cloud-based software also helps to keep your project documents secure internally. Digital file controls allow you to give access to certain documents to only the most relevant people on your project. This helps to reduce the risk of files getting into the wrong hands, as well as limits project confusion because everyone only sees what’s relevant to their job.  

With construction documents secure in the cloud, projects are safe from cyber threats and your team can work more efficiently to meet aggressive schedules.

Don’t Let Poor Construction Security Affect Your Bottom Line

Just because you don’t see any shady characters lurking around your job site, it doesn’t mean that the dangers of theft don’t exist. What you can do, however, is to prevent criminals from entering your job site to begin with or make your equipment and documents nearly impossible to steal. Falling short on construction security measures not only leaves your site open for burglary but opens your entire project to risk and potentially massive setbacks. With security an essential part of your risk management strategy, the better your chances of maintaining budgets and schedules that positively impacts your bottom line.

Lynn Langmade

Lynn Langmade is currently the Director of Content Marketing at PlanGrid, where she develops content strategy, manages the editorial calendar, and oversees content production workflow. Lynn is also the managing editor of PlanGrid’s corporate blog and social media channels.

As an early adopter of social media, Lynn has over 45 thousand followers on social media. In 2014, Lynn was the recipient of the Marketo “Revvie” Award in the Socializer category. She has a PhD in English and over 15 years B2B high-tech marketing experience.

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