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Securing your equipment - part 3 - Advice-06c

Loop Alarm Systems

Most people are familiar with the type of alarm systems used in retail outlets to protect goods on display. Similar systems are available for protecting equipment in the office environment, and can be used to trigger a local alarm and/or an alarm at a remote monitoring station. This type of installation can be cost effective, however skilled installation is normally required and as a general guideline it would probably be uneconomic to install such a system to protect a few pieces of equipment (i.e. under 15-20 units). As such systems rely on power supplies and hard wired connections, some room or equipment layouts do not lend themselves to the economic installation of this form of security.

Alarms installed in or on equipment

These normally take the form of movement detectors and will typically incorporate either some form of "Trembler" sensor or alternatively a "Mercury Switch". Typically these alarms will be powered either by a rechargeable battery (which itself is trickle charged via the equipment power source) or via a stand alone battery. Stand alone battery (alkaline or lithium) driven models offer the advantage of allowing the alarm circuitry to be fully isolated from the equipment electronics (even where a power monitoring feature is incorporated). Internally fitted units may require professional installation, and could possibly invalidate the equipment manufacturers warranty. Externally mounted units will not normally require professional installation, neither should they impact on warranties, they are however obviously more easily deactivated by any would be thief than internally mounted units.

Such units vary wildly in terms of manufacturing & component quality. As an example, most mercury switch sensor units use a standard commercial mercury switch whilst top quality units will probably employ a higher specification (e.g.military grade) switch.

Property Marking Systems

Marking your property with your company name, Post code, etc, may discourage the opportunist thief and will certainly assist the Police to return your stolen goods should they be recovered. Property marking systems fall into two main groups; "Permanent" or "Temporary" marking systems, although for commercial organisations, Permanent marking is preferable.

Temporary marking systems include U/V marking pens which leave an almost invisible mark which shows up when an ultra violet lamp is shone on it. U/V marking fades quickly when exposed to natural or artificial light and equipment will probably need to be re-marked every 6-12 months. Indelible ink markers offer a slightly more permanent mark although this can be removed with time and patience. Stick on labels can again with time and patience be removed and unless used in conjunction with some form of etching or engraving system should be considered as temporary marking.

Property Marking Systems (continued)

Permanent marking systems rely on a mark being permanently etched, branded or engraved into the equipment casing (e.g. on a fax machine). This can be achieved chemically, by use of a hot branding method, or by physically engraving or inscribing. Many such systems exist and all can be effective when suited to the surface to be marked. The engraving / inscribing method is probably the most versatile and can be used on virtually all types of surface, typically by using some form of mark through stencil in conjunction with either a diamond tipped scriber or a small hand held electric engraver.

Chemical marking systems can also be effective although they normally require the user to mix up a marking compound (several different compound types may be required to mark different surfaces) into paste which is then applied typically through a customised stencil onto the surface to be marked. Hot branding is effective when used on a suitable surface (e.g. plastic), however to date the high cost of the branding equipment has tended to make this impractical as a DIY option. The low cost involved in marking your property makes it a worthwhile investment, however for maximum benefit it should be implemented in conjunction with other security measures. 

Tagging systems

Again a familiar feature in the high street, tagging systems are used to protect a wide range of goods in the retail environment from compact discs to leather coats. Typically tags are enclosed within the packaging of, or are securely attached to products on display and normally an alarm is triggered at the sensor station (located at the exit) should someone try to leave a shop with goods where the tag has neither been deactivated or removed. Such systems consist of two major components; the tagging device and the sensor unit, and generally utilise magnetic or radio frequency technology for their operation. Tagging devices will either be in a permanently "Active" state, or may be "Passive" until activated by coming within range of a sensor unit. Retail style tagging systems do not typically lend themselves easily or cost effectively to securing operational equipment in the normal office environment.

Other forms of tagging systems include small data storage tags which can be concealed inside equipment casings and which can typically store up to 1 megabyte of data and a uniquely identifiable registration code thus enabling stolen equipment which is subsequently recovered to be returned to its rightful owner.

Although conceptually good, these systems rely on the use of special reader/sensor equipment which may not always be readily available, (especially as currently each system typically requires its own specific reader device to decode its tags).

These systems also typically rely on access to some form of computerised central database where details of registration or ownership are recorded, and there is currently some concern about the implications of Data Protection legislation in respect of passing out information extracted from databases (even to the Police).

Software tagging and access control systems are available for Personal Computer equipment. Such systems typically prevent any operation of the computer or access to data stored on the hard disk unit until a unique password is entered. A unique registration number and ownership database contact number is typically displayed on the screen each time the computer is switched on, thus in the event that a stolen unit is recovered, the rightful owner can be traced. 

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