Locking Down a Highly Visible Jobsite

Editor's Note: Rick's column this month is in response to a recent act of vandalism in Independence, Mo. According to various news sources, vandals caused more than an estimated $1 million in damage to equipment at the Bass Pro Shops construction site. A trailer was overturned, and earth-moving equipment was wrecked or smashed at the 127-acre work site. The vandals apparently tried to drive some of the equipment off a dam at the east end of the site. About a dozen pieces of equipment were damaged and two pieces were completely destroyed. The equipment included scissor lifts, telehandlers, cranes, and excavators, as well as other pieces of machinery.

No suspects are in custody.

"We have no idea who did it or why someone would want to cause this kind of wanton destruction," one of the developers said. "Hopefully, the contractors can get replacement equipment quickly. It will create delays, but we have a relatively flexible time frame to complete the project."

Bass Pro is an estimated $171 million project that includes a 160,000-square-foot store, a hotel, shops and restaurants, a city park, two miles of walking trails, a 15-acre lake, and a 60-foot waterfall.

Several contractors are working on the project, and most were unaffected by the vandalism. A reward up to $25,000 is available to anyone with information. Police and construction officials announced the bounty. Up to $15,000 is being offered between the developer, Independence police and the Tips Hotline. The Heavy Construction Association is offering $10,000.

With the Bass Pro complex only 30 minutes from my office, I was immediately drawn to this piece of news. The estimated damages, as well as the high price-tag for the entire construction project, drew me away from my desk and I made the drive to Independence to see what kind of damages had occurred. I met up with fellow Lift and Access Editor Katie Parrish, and we drove by the site, getting as close as we could to the damaged vehicles.

A tipped crane was the biggest piece of machinery that was vandalized, which actually had slid down an embankment. Several other machines were tipped over as well, although they did not look like they had been tipped while driving. Although this is speculation, it's my theory that the vandals used a telehandler to tip the equipment over, as it was the only damaged equipment not tipped. Instead, it had been rammed into a rock wall, forcing the rear two wheels into the air. The site was a mess, and, although the contractors believe there will be no delays, the companies that the equipment belonged to will be stuck with broken down machinery for a while.

From my view, I was left wondering why the contractor did not have a more secure job site. Not only is the site highly visible from the Interstate, it is also a very high-profile project in the region. With such a prominent construction project going on, there should've been more security. Rick Raef expands on those ideas, in his article below. • Cody Bye

Construction vandalism while not new is challenging contractors in various ways. First, the cost of machinery and insurance isn't what it was many years ago. As a result, it doesn't take a lot of damage to reach the $1 million mark. That's why it is something that contractors big and small have to pay more attention to then they did in the past. The second challenge contractors are faced with is social. We have had a cultural change in the United States and contractors must be aware that there are those bad individuals who would come onto an unsecure job site and wreak havoc on the equipment that is out there.

The real beginning point to deal with construction vandalism and theft is to accept and understand that life isn't like it used to be in 1963 when we would leave keys in the equipment and the front gate unlocked. The construction industry in the United States lost nearly $1 billion in 2001 because of the theft of equipment and tools, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, and a survey conducted by the Associated General Contractors showed that the average contractor loses more than $13,000 a year due to theft and vandalism. According to Jon McDowall, who wrote a column for Rental Management, it has been estimated that 90% of thefts and vandalism occur on job sites with little security and where equipment is not guarded over the weekends.

As such, contractors who don't realize the need for defensive action will at some point receive a wake up call to the tune of a million dollars or more for damages. Today's contractors have to think well outside the box of conventional loss control measures in order to ensure they triumph over today's enemy. That means the use of 24-hour guards, motion detectors, GPS and computer based alarm systems, and on occasion, the use of undercover law enforcement and sting operations • even though such measures would have been completely unthinkable only a few years ago.

Our common weakness as contractors is that we still hold true to our belief in the core values of hard work, integrity, perseverance, trust, honesty and do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We contribute to our communities, help our neighbors and put others first. This is something we should always be proud of and something we should never stop doing. But we have to recognize that things have changed. This isn't 1963 anymore. And while none of us want to live in a world where we have to post armed guards at every corner, in our present day construction world, the fact is there comes a time when we have to take a stand and fight back with everything at our disposal. That reality is now part of our everyday construction life. We also have to realize that the enemy could be the kids across the street, someone on the company payroll, an angry subcontractor employee or even a project owner in financial trouble.

It's not enough anymore to take routine and traditional measures to protect what is ours and the projects we are building. Contractors big and small have to assume the worst, take the necessary steps to protect against a different enemy and adjust to what has now become the new normal.

 

Category: 
About the Author: 

Rick Raef

Rick Raef is a heavy construction safety consultant for Willis Group Holdings, San Francisco, a global insurance broker. Raef has been with Willis since 1996, during which time he developed a crisis management program called "Character-Based Crisis Management: A Contractor's Survival Guide." He is currently the editor of WCSN-The Willis Construction Safety Network, an electronic safety bulletin distributed to contractors in the United States and Australia. You can contact Rick Raef at raef_ri@willis.com.