How to secure your empty office building

By Fordhay |News|Apr 2020

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As businesses all over the world are closing their doors and working from home, offices and commercial properties will be empty for the foreseeable future. This raises alarm bells for a lot of business owners: how can you protect your property when you’re nowhere near it? Securing and protecting your building ensures you’re at a lower risk of break-ins, theft, squatting, arson or internal damage like water and gas leakages. 

For companies that have experienced a security threat before, building security is usually at the top of the priority list. But that may not be the case for a lot of businesses who haven’t experienced the loss it can cause. Without eyes on your property during the day, you may feel uneasy about the condition of your property when you’re not on location. With comprehensive building security in place, not only will your building be safe when it’s empty, your employees will feel safer when they’re back inside.

Inform your insurance

The first thing you need to do when you know that your property is going to be unoccupied for a period of time is to inform your insurer. If something happens during the time your building is unoccupied and they didn’t know about it, they reserve the right to refuse claims. This differs between insurers so chat to them about your cover and its length. Some insurers will give you instructions about measures you have to take when the property is unoccupied to make sure you remain covered. This can include turning off the main electricity, gas and water supplies.

Your responsibility is increased when your property is empty as problems can escalate easier when there’s no one around to spot them. What would be a small damage could create a larger problem for the office, building and even wider community. A crack in your window is often a way for criminals to break into your property whether for theft, squatting or an arson attack. 

Develop a building security strategy

The first step of developing your building security strategy is to carry out a risk assessment on your property. You should go around your office and look at health and safety hazards such as wires, electricals, lighting, heating and air conditioning. Think about the risk they cause and the damage that could occur if unattended. You should also identify your access points. Think how a thief may break in if they were going to enter your property. Look at the doors, windows, front, back and side entrances.

Note the security your property already has. You may have a visitor management system in place that monitors who enters and leaves your property. You may have an access control system with cards, keys or codes that your employees use to access the office. Don’t forget to check the area surrounding your office. Look at alleyways, paths, streets and car parks that can be accessed by the general public. From all the risks identified, you can develop a security strategy that ensures all the elements are covered and how to manage them when you’re not present. You can access help to ensure you’ve covered every element of your strategy.

Know your budget

Before putting any procedures, equipment and systems in place, you must know what your budget is. New security is expensive and can really add up if you don’t have the basics in place already. Make sure you don’t go overboard thinking you need everything and anything. You should only secure the risks identified on your risk assessment that will cause significant damage if unattended to. You should also factor in management and maintenance costs to ensure you can get your systems fixed if they experience performance issues.

Internal security measures

There are a few steps you should take internally before leaving your office for the period of time it will be unoccupied. Taking these steps will ensure that your building isn’t at risk of internal problems that can lead to loss or damage. Firstly, you should remove any packaging and waste from the premises. These are unnecessary items that will keep your office free from potential hazards. You should also empty your external rubbish bins and skips if you have them on site. This will stop animals from eating the waste and criminals from stealing any scraps of metal, plastic or electrical items.

If your insurer hasn’t advised you to do so already, you should stop your electricity, gas and water supplies. This will save you money and lower your energy consumption. It will also prevent build-ups, leaks, bursts or fires that could damage your building and community. If you’re not taking all your devices home with you, make sure you secure them all to the desks or lock them away. If thieves see your building is unoccupied but there are laptops, desktops, tablets and other electrical equipment inside they’re more likely to attempt a break-in. Securing them to the desks or locking them away will ensure they can’t be located or removed from the premises. Don’t forget about business-sensitive information. You should take important documents away with you or secure them in a safe or under lock and key.

When you’re leaving your office and it’s going to be unoccupied, you should shut and lock all the windows and doors. This seems obvious but is an easy mistake to make if you’ve got a lot on your mind. If you assume someone else has already done it, just double check to make sure it’s securely locked. You should alarm the property when it’s locked and unoccupied. You can install an automatic alarm system that’s triggered by motion sensors or light sensors. Some will send alerts directly to the emergency services and some will alert the property owner who then contacts emergency services if there’s a threat. 

You probably already have a visitor management system (VMS) and access control system (ACS) for your property, but if you don’t, you need to get them. The visitor management system should be digital to avoid GDPR data breaches. Your VMS should monitor who is entering, leaving, their names, contact details and the time they were on site. For your ACS, only your employees should have access to the office. Even though you may have regular visitors, their presence still needs to be monitored every time they’re on site. Keys and cards can go missing easily so a code system may work better for you. You could only give access to a few key members of staff rather than your whole workforce. The sense of responsibility will be higher for these people and fewer mistakes will be made. Make sure you have a process in place if your employees lose their codes, keys or cards or if they’re stolen.

External security measures

There are further external security measures you should implement to protect your office space. CCTV and camera surveillance is the obvious choice. Your cameras should cover entrances and exits, windows and doors, alleyways, streets, car parks, pathways and blind spots. Position the cameras at low spots as well as high spots. Typical criminal behaviour is to cover the face and top of the body, but putting low-level cameras can capture angles that may be missed otherwise.

You may have a gate securing your property which will prevent and deter criminals from entering the premises. If you have the means, you may be able to hire a security guard to watch the property. This is usually worth the investment if you have a lot of suppliers, deliveries, visitors and customers entering and leaving the property throughout the day and night. The security guard can ensure there’s nothing malicious and can keep a watchful eye on comings and goings. Another deterrent could be to place warning signs around the premises to ensure criminals know there are consequences.

There are clearly many ways you can guarantee that your office is secure while it’s unoccupied. Informing your insurer is the first step to guarantee you’re protected throughout the period of time your office will be empty. Your building security strategy should cover a risk, health and safety assessment to know exactly what you need and how to manage it. Knowing your budget ensures you’re able to implement the right measures within your means. The internal and external measures you can take will guarantee your office is safe when it’s time to return to the work environment.

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