Physical Defenses Remain The First Line Of Protection Against Burglary

According to FBI crime statistics, burglary accounts for three-quarters of all the crimes committed against both person and property in the United States. Thirty-four percent of those crimes involve invasions of commercial business properties: storefronts, office buildings and warehouses. Although most burglaries are committed against private residences, commercial targets are the most lucrative choices for thieves, attracting the ordinary street thug and the serious professional burglar alike. 

Most of the revenue stream for the commercial security systems industry flows from business owners for good reason: commercial properties offer the biggest payday for a criminal attempt. However, it is not enough to install a security system because burglars, especially professional thieves, will always seek out vulnerabilities in a building by which entry can be gained and the security system circumvented or disabled. The ancient Chinese master strategist Sun-Tzu (544-496 BCE), in his still widely read and quoted book The Art Of War, outlined basic principles of attack, defense, and preparation. These principles describe not only the successful conduct of warfare but many aspects of success or failure in modern day society. The observations from the book also apply to the challenges of security and theft deterrence. After all, crime and its prevention is very much like a war in several aspects and the principles are just as applicable. 

The criminal seeks easy targets which can be attacked with little to no effort for great gain. Meanwhile, society and law enforcement seek to defeat crime by means of manpower and elaborate strategems for both attack and defense. “The Victorious General makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The defeated general makes but few calculations in his temple. Thus, many calculations lead to victory, few calculations lead to defeat; with no calculations, certain defeat!” Master Sun’s observation here applies particularly to security planning. 

The first step to successful calculation, or anti-theft defense, is to identify the key points of attack burglars seek out in a potential target. The first object any potential thief desires is ease of entry through a door or window that has not been properly secured or with an ineffective locking mechanism which can easily be jimmied. But even at night, with few witnesses, burglars are reluctant to be seen outside trying to force open a lock. To obviate against this hazard, a burglar will seek a point of cover from which to operate. Ideally, he will find a door in a section of the building adjacent to a blind alley, or around a sharp corner, which will take him immediately out of public view. Entry points located in back of the building, or where there are screening obstructions, are just as desirable for the would-be perpetrator. If no access is available at street-level, the next choice is an upper level window. Such a window may not have a proper latch, or is covered by bars or a screen which can be easily pried loose. More often, a burglar will head straight to the roof. Up there, he cannot be seen from the ground while trying to gain entry where more vulnerable points may be located. 

The careless property owner may not have adequate locks for the fire exit or a skylight. There are also the intakes for the building’s HVAC system. These connect directly to ductwork large enough for a man of average build to crawl through to penetrate the building. Access to the roof can be gained either by way of the fire escape ladder or a fence which is high enough to reach a point where climbing to the roof is possible. So, to review what we have just read: burglars will attack those points of the building offering maximum vulnerability and ease of forcible entry. And they will attack buildings with inadequate physical or electronic security which can be circumvented or suppressed within seconds. In other words, as Master Sun would say, “You succeed in your attacks only if you attack places which are undefended”. 

This essentially is the story of every successful break-in anywhere. Burglars will not target a building which would entail heavy work to get into. Their way is always to “avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak”. The installation of commercial security systems such as alarms, entry coders, video cameras, bright lights, motion sensors and other such devices offers a vital second-level protection of the inside. However, the best deterrent against the criminal remains heavy physical defenses. Deadbolt locks, especially ones requiring two keys to operate, are sufficient to stop most attempted break-ins cold. 

Bars present another formidable barrier, but far better than bars or screens are roll-away storm shutters which also completely seal off doorways and windows. Set into the framing, these shutters and their locks are also far more difficult to dislodge than bars or steel screens. Shutters may also be connected to the alarm system as part of an integrated defense. Rooftop HVAC intakes can be secured by the installation of burglar bars spaced close enough to make entry impossible and, once set into the roof curb, cannot be removed. As for external fences, the traditional protection of barbed wire is sufficient to discourage most would-be burglars from attempting to surmount them. 

Finally, protecting the wiring box for the building’s security system prevents attempts at disconnection from the outside. Modern professional security installers already take this into account, of course. Older building alarms may still be quite vulnerable to his form of attack and should be retrofitted. And if the district in which the commercial building is located or even the entire city suffers an electrical blackout, robust physical defenses still keep the property well protected even if the electronic defenses are put out of action. “The highest form of warfare is to balk the enemy’s plans” as Master Sun said. By making a building a difficult target from the outside, no would-be burglar will even attempt to penetrate to the inside.