Starting a Construction Security Program

Construction Security

This blog originally appeared on the PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog

Why Construction Security is More Important than Ever

Securing an organization is like playing a game of cat and mouse. There is a constant need to outsmart the attackers. Today, construction companies who care about the livelihood of their future business need to start thinking less about the “if,” and more about preparing for the “when.” However, a more secure company experiences other advantages beyond protection from threats. In construction, a security program is necessary not only for the well-being of your own company but indicates to potential clients and partners that they can work with you worry-free thereby increasing your ability to conduct business in the long-term.

Although the recent digital transformation of the industry has been extremely positive, there’s never been more of a need for companies to up their security with more and more sensitive information online. Not convinced? Just think about the device policy you currently implement in your construction company. Do you have to bring your own device (BYOD) policy for your field workers that allows them to use their personal computers, tablets or mobile phones? Although there are many benefits to a BYOD policy, it could be opening your company up to major security risks. In fact, according to Avanade, more than half of companies experience a security breach due to employee devices. Furthermore, CIO has found that the average cost of a data breach for BYOD environments amounts to more than $150 per device or $1.57 million in losses per company. For enterprise companies, these numbers are much higher due to the amount of sensitive data.

Nonetheless, a good security program is one that equips organizations to stay ahead of the attackers by following a methodical and continuous approach towards risk assessment and management. A solid program needs to constantly assess risks by identifying new risks and also by mitigating existing 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 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 ensures 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

Start with Personnel

The best place to begin tightening up your company’s security is to start with people. To help you ramp up your own security in your construction company, we suggest you hire a dedicated security leader. Furthermore, if the resources are available, enterprise construction companies should consider building a full-time security team to truly manage the wide breadth of security threats. For instance, we have been building our team. My team comprises of people experienced in the areas of security compliance, data residency, product security, infrastructure security, and security architecture. Furthermore, we believe a successful security program involves the whole company. Therefore, we have also built liaisons within product and sales teams to assist with the questionnaires and RFI’s requested by prospective customers.

By having leadership, a specialized team, and full-involvement from other key players in your company as part of your security program, you’ll have the full support to address security concerns before they become real threats.

Implement a Security Process

After hiring the right people to manage security in your company, the next step is to set up clear processes. Well-defined processes make for efficient functioning of policies and controls and contribute to your company’s overall effectiveness to shutdown threats should they arise.

Security processes allow for more consistent and reliable controls, ultimately providing a greater level of protection. Start by thinking about the major areas and ways you first can improve your security. Start to develop processes and policies around the areas where you can easily improve.

Another advantage of building strong processes is to help organizations certify themselves against public standards that speak for the security posture of a company. 

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 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.