Target: Warehouse. How to protect supply chain lynchpins

Warehouse security - QSG

Written exclusively for SecurityNewsDesk by Iain Cumner, Sector Lead Finance and Commercial at Quadrant Security Group

The recent fire at the ASOS warehouse in Barnsley, a suspected case of arson that resulted in the online fashion retailer’s business coming to a standstill, put the issue of warehouse security in the spotlight.

There are many different aspects to logistics security, including the hot topic of cargo theft, but warehouses are particularly challenging security environments. In fact, with their high-value contents and central importance in the supply chain, they potentially are as attractive to thieves or saboteurs as banks. Yet, they often are nowhere near as effectively secured.

The huge size and extensive perimeter of warehouses, as well as their location – often on the edges of commercial estates, bordering on open countryside or unpopulated areas – make them particularly vulnerable. And if, like in the case of ASOS, a warehouse or distribution centre is the lynchpin of the entire business, securing sites against any type of intrusion is of paramount importance.

In many ways, the warehouse security challenge doesn’t differ much from high-security dark sites in remote locations, such as nuclear facilities. It’s these high-sec environments that we can look to for effective warehouse security designs. Combined with the logistics industry’s natural inclination towards early adoption of technology this harbours great potential for warehouse managers to up the ante in security, while getting a fast return on investment through efficiency savings and reduced use of guarding.

My warehouse, my fortress

External security is probably still by far the most low-tech aspect of warehouse operations, with standard intruder systems or manned guarding commonly used to secure sites. However, these traditional approaches are not always effective when securing large perimeters at remote locations, especially during dark hours.

Manned guarding is an expensive measure – approximately £100k annually per 24/7 guard. For large perimeters, several guards are needed to patrol effectively and even then the mesh is not sufficiently fine to guarantee 100% detection of intruders.

Traditional intruder alarm systems are only ever as good as the verification process behind them, potentially generating a high number of false alarm and expensive call-outs – without completely eliminating the risk of intrusion. That’s why companies have started using systems that intelligently integrate CCTV, analytics and perimeter systems, cutting down on guarding requirements while protecting the full perimeter at all times. There are two main ways of doing this. The first is a protection system around the perimeter that triggers CCTV, allowing operatives on site or at a central security operations centre (SOC) to assess the situation and take action.

The other option is to use a CCTV system in combination with video analytics. The analytics software is able to “interpret” CCTV images and distinguish, for example, between animal and human form, only raising an alarm when there is a genuine intrusion. Perfect for remote sites, where verification of a potential breach would be difficult or could put guards at risk.

Both types of system have the crucial advantage that they automatically log everything, creating an auditable record that can be integrated with other systems and signals.

Stock shrinkage and inside jobs

A lot is technically possible today and thanks to the forward-thinking mentality prevalent in the logistics sector, there is a plethora of electronic systems that can be tapped into and enhanced – not least inside the warehouse.

While spectacular “outside jobs” are making the headlines, most warehouse managers will be more worried about stock shrinkage caused inside the warehouse. Be it the smartphone that “fell off the pallet” or more organised attempts at diverting goods, these losses add up and can be expensive to investigate. Here too, intelligent integration can be a solution with immediate paybacks. For example, CCTV images that monitor conveyor belts can be integrated with product barcode or RFID systems.

If a product has gone missing, CCTV footage can be searched just by typing in the product barcode, bringing up “last seen” images from across the warehouse that show what happened to the item. This can drastically reduce time spent investigating and handling insurance claims.

Conclusion

Warehouses are places like no other – highly complex, sophisticated and efficient, and central to the supply chain.

Warehouse managers can learn from the most challenging high-security environments and use strategic and intelligent integration of modern security systems to boost warehouse performance and protect valuable assets.

Iain CumnerIain Cumner is Sector Lead Finance and Commercial at Quadrant Security Group, a leading provider of end-to-end security solutions for specialist environments.

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