CCTV and alarms seem to be the standard go-to for residential security these days. However, after a very insightful chat with John from Westminster Security, it’s clear their effectiveness is very limited and can in some cases, compromise security.
Having served in the Royal Military Police Close Protection Unit, John is an approachable straight talker with a keen eye for detail and a large network of security specialists. He founded Westminster Security to address the needs of high net worth and high-profile clients. Based in London, Westminster Security provides services across the world as required by clients.
In reality, it is clear that anyone who feels the need to have an alarm and/or CCTV may want to have a closer look at how to deter rather than just detect a security breach. John shares some key pointers with us for those considering or reviewing home security.
CCTV and alarm limitations
“CCTV cameras don’t scare off criminals anymore, it just lets them know there might be something in the house worth stealing. They’re good for capturing evidence but they’re not preventative. The same goes for security lights, they just help the criminal see where they’re going.
Likewise, with a security alarm who pays attention to them? If it goes off at 3 am and you’re in the house what are you going to do? The monitoring service response is based on an AI algorithm that eventually reaches a human who might be on a tea break. Or if there’s a storm and lots of alarms are triggering, CCTV operators get inundated and may dismiss them all en-masse. Meanwhile, a burglar can break through a door or window with the noise masked by the sound of the alarm.
Cameras and alarms give a false sense of security and criminals know that. People think their property is secure until we do a survey and they quickly realise it’s not.
“With lockdown easing, people are going back to work and so are burglars. Some are coming from overseas on a £20 flight, they target big properties for a few days then fly or drive home.
Some burglars do reconnaissance beforehand, looking at floorplans and points of entry to get in undetected. The threats are sophisticated and ever-changing, so security measures need to follow suit to keep ahead of the threat.
Three lines of defence
“The first step is to detect people at the perimeter of the property, then windows and doors, then inside. If the first two lines of defence are secured properly it’s almost impossible to get inside.
1. How easy is it to get to the front door?
Properly securing the perimeter can be beyond the means of some homeowners, so people can easily get into the grounds. Even if you have a perimeter fence, experienced burglars can get in. In this case, the second line of defence is critical.
2. How easy is it to get inside?
Front door, back door, windows – on each floor. Single glazing is much easier to break through than double glazing, but the best is security glass, which is incredibly difficult, near impossible to breach. That’s what we fit to our client’s homes, it’s especially worthwhile if your perimeter isn’t secured and you don’t have a 24/7 manned guarding presence.
Camera doorbells are good – they capture visitors head-on and close up so you can see who you’re opening the door to, whereas CCTV usually just captures the top of someone’s head.
3. Final line of defence
If someone does get inside the property, you can have a ‘silent alarm’ which warns you someone is there without warning the intruder.
Safe rooms are the final line of defence, generally, these are an en-suite bathroom to the main bedroom so it’s quick and easy to reach. A safe room is a secure capsule inside the house with a steel door, walls, flooring, and ceiling. The design is discreet so unless you knew it was a safe room you wouldn’t be able to tell.
With a safe room in an en-suite, we also recommend a security door to the bedroom. This way, if you do end up in the safe room you don’t have someone on the other side of the door from you making threats and scaring you and the children.
Safe rooms ideally have a provisions cupboard with a backup phone, chargers, medication, food and drink. All these things limit the stress if you do need to use the room until the police arrive.
Staff vetting, training, and monitoring
“Don’t talk about what security you have and make sure no-one else does either.”
Staff can be the weakest link – do they talk about your house, what’s in it and when you’re away? Staff sometimes get chatty down the pub and who knows who’s listening in. If the cleaner has keys, they can be followed home and the keys taken. Loose lips sink ships!
Use recognised agencies that specialise in staffing high-value homes and run rigorous background checks. We offer staff training so they know how to avoid becoming a threat and to feedback information that could be useful – they’re the eyes and ears on the ground. Staff should be regularly monitored – if a cleaner is caught stealing a couple of J-cloths what else are they up to? If a risk is detected, it needs to be immediately addressed.
This carries forward to contractors who install security, it’s important to choose the right people who won’t risk your security by talking about it. We use non-disclosure agreements for all contractors, right down to cleaning staff. We brief them on etiquette and security, no pictures are to be taken, nothing is discussed that shouldn’t be discussed, all information about the house stays in the house.
If you do have on-site security staff, make sure they’re up to the job. Hiring a £10 an hour security guard is a risk in itself as they won’t be experienced, professional, or discreet. We see this a lot after a security survey, homeowners go with a cheap option, and inevitably it goes wrong.
“Some of our clients’ houses are empty at various times of the year, in which case we recommend a physical presence. For some, a physical presence of at least two security staff members is a given at all times. Where this isn’t viable for our clients, we recommend enhanced security at times when the property is more vulnerable. This should be looked at as part of an overall security plan.
“Our first step is to carry out a thorough security survey to identify weaknesses and advise on solutions. We then work with trusted contractors to implement the right layers, systems, and methods to improve security. We also advise on complementary services such as security patrols, close protection officers, and security chauffeurs.
By the very nature of what we do, we build trusted relationships with our clients so we’re always there for advice and security reviews as their family needs change or perhaps they move house.”
Westminster Security Ltd