Physical Safety Barriers: Low Tech Can Be Highly Effective

Atlanta-area cellular retailer: 28 storefront break-ins in the first two years of business at that location. The city would not allow security shutters as typically installed by this retailer. Physical security barriers were added after the retailer discussed leaving the location with that city. Zero burglary attempts in last six years to that same store since adding shutters on the interior of the storefront.

Chicago cellular retailer: 4 storefront break-ins in first four months of this branch opening. That cellular retailer installed rolling security shutters eight years ago and has not incurred a single attempted break-in to that storefront since.

Physical security barriers such as bars, rolling shutters, side folding grilles, and scissor gates add time to a would-be intruder’s smash and grab. The visual deterrent alone of these products is proven to reduce burglary attempts. The average smash and grab is under three minutes in duration. A burglar knows that if they break the glass and the alarm goes off, the stopwatch begins. Defeating internally mounted bars, gates, or shutters will make that three-minute deadline nearly impossible.

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Case Study: National Pharmacy Chain, Houston TX

  • 2013: National pharmacy chain store incurred several break-ins through unprotected storefronts in Houston-area locations
  • Installed security rolling shutters at eighteen storefronts in the Houston market immediately following the break-ins.
  • 2018: Chain has reported one attempted break in at these roll-shutter protected storefronts since the 2013 shutter installations, with no losses reported.

Cost vs. Aesthetics

Steel bars are the least expensive barrier, but they often do not maintain the desired retail shopping environment.

Next in line by price are scissor gates and side folding grilles. Both could be considered medium-level security. Scissor gates can be climbed over or pried upwards for access. Side folding gates are pinned to the floor and could be levered out. Nevertheless, both are barriers that will add some time to an intruder’s effort.

Security window film offers nearly zero changes to the aesthetic, but since it isn’t seen, burglars will still attempt (and often succeed) to break the glass.

Rolling security shutters disappear into a top housing or can be mounted above a drop ceiling. The shutter curtains often have an end-retention screw at the end of each slat, captured into a channel in the side rails to prevent prying or pushing the curtain out of the side rails. While rolling shutters are typically at the higher end of the physical security barrier lineup, they offer significant protection and less aesthetic disruption.

Product Ratings and Security Levels

In the United Kingdom, there are Loss Prevention Standards (LPS) “to evaluate the resistance to unauthorized access offered by various physical security products.” The LPS 1175 continues,”The standard specifies eight grades of security according to the tools and time likely to be used by a criminal. Specifiers can therefore select products/systems that provide the levels of security matching their needs.”

Similarly, most of continental Europe uses a DIN 1627 standard for grilles and shutters for burglar resistance. Similar to the LP standards, they both outline a set of tools that may be used, and the amount of time allowed to attempt to bypass the security barrier product. DIN offers five classes instead of LPS with eight, but the test methodology is similar.

A level-one test uses manual hand tools such as a screwdriver, hammer, and pliers. A level two adds a pipe wrench, hacksaw, and wedges. Level three includes a crowbar and hand drill. Level four includes cordless drills, an axe and chisels. Level five allows additional power saws and an angle grinder.

Further, the levels increase the amount of time allowed by the testers. The test concludes when time is exceeded or a test block (sized 16 in. x 10 in.) can be passed through the shutter or gate.

Since there is no standardized and accepted security level testing in North America, it is difficult for a loss prevention professional to verify and understand which physical security barrier products are best for their retail locations. Companies like QMI Security Solutions, however, have voluntarily conducted the European tests. The QMI products pass a level two or three, depending on the product and the LP tests.

“Many products look similar, but some types of shutters are defeated with one hit with a sledgehammer, while others take 100 hits before a small hole is breached,” said Steve Miller, VP of sales at QMI. “We wish there was standardization and certification in our security industry. We also have hurricane shutters, and at least there, we have Florida Building Commission testing and certifications to separate the different manufacturers and products.” In order to pass higher LP and DIN levels, the materials used become thicker and heavier, increasing the costs as well. A level five shutter will typically cost three to five times a level two shutter, as the materials needed to achieve the higher security levels are significant.

Level five and above in the UK are typically only needed for sensitive government and military applications. Levels one through three are typical for retailers.

Choosing the Right Protection Solution

Finding the right manufacturing partner is as important as the right product. Delivery times are critical. Proper service/installation in the geographical areas of your retail locations will be important. Good communications about a company’s deadlines are needed. Knowing the product is packaged such that it does not show up damaged the day before your grand opening is important, too.

Retailers also need to find a product that fits your budget and your aesthetic environment. Then determining how the barriers will operate and ensuring they will all meet code (there can’t be a standard motorized shutter across an exit door due to egress). A loss prevention person needs a physical security barrier manufacturer that listens to what is needed to protect the assets and offers solutions to exceed those requirements.

When the retail design changes, the security product may need to also change. A side-folding grille can have a curved track to protect a curvilinear, open design. An external motor with a special egress release may need to cover a newly designed entrance. A good partner will grow along with you and your retailer’s security concerns.

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