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A $55 million painting gets stolen and you're still arguing security is too expensive?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The lack of security in museums continues to astound me. If I were in the security consulting or integration business, I would be quick to start adding museum security to the sectors that I focused on because there seems to be some serious need out there. And, frankly, it seems like a pretty easy sell. How hard is it to show an impressive ROI for an organization that houses millions (if not billions) of dollars worth of valuable goods?

I just read this article that thieves walked into an Egyptian museum and walked out with Vincent van Gogh's still life “Poppy Flowers.”

None of the alarms meant to protect the artwork in the museum sounded. Only seven of 43 security cameras were working. Just 10 people visited the museum that day and guards were scarce enough that the thieves were able to drag a couch underneath the painting to stand on while cutting the $55 million painting from its frame in broad daylight.

It's not like they scaled the wall, cut a hole in the roof and entered through an air duct, Mission Impossible style. No. They walked in during business hours, moved a couch underneath the painting and just cut out the painting. Not exactly genius stuff. How is it possible that no one saw that? And this is a museum that houses $1.2 billion worth of art (or actually $55 million less than that now).

And even after this heist and the obvious failings of the museum to protect its assets, people are still arguing against security:

Julian Radcliffe, founder of The Art Loss Register, which maintains a database of stolen artwork, says properly protecting artwork is no simple task. It requires costly technological safeguards, such as burglar alarms and camera surveillance, and guards in every room.

“It's a very expensive and complex operation to keep security at a high level,” he says. “That does not excuse the bad security but it's not cheap and easy.”

Well, no, it's not really all that complex. Apparently this museum already has existing cameras (43 to be exact, only seven of which are actually working!), so some sort of infrastructure must already be there. And how complex is it to hire guards to stand in a room and make sure no one pushes a couch up against the wall so they can rip a painting out of its frame?

Hmm, I'm sure you security consultants and integrators can work your magic and make this not sound soooo complex. And is it cheap? Well, no, I wouldn't say cheap, but it's a whole lot cheaper than losing a $55 million painting, right? Actually, what I think they call that is a good investment.

Museum shocked by theft, but shouldn't be

Thursday, August 5, 2010

When the purpose of your organization is to preserve and display rare (and thus valuable) objects, one would assume security is a major priority. Well, apparently that's not true for all museums. The Otago Museum in New Zealand has discovered the importance of security the hard way when a thief walked in the museum, grabbed a fossilized dinosaur egg, and walked out, reported the Otago Daily Times.

The egg, which was valued at $1,700, was located just a meter inside the main entrance.

"He walked straight up to it, looked to see no-one was watching, put it in his bag and walked out," Museum property services co-ordinator Joel Oldridge.

Yet, the paper reported that museum officials said they did not consider this an opportunistic crime. Seems pretty opportunistic to me - the guy just had to grab it and walk out the door, he didn't even have to navigate the museum.

While the building had video cameras, there didn't seem to be any kind of sensors around the display. And, what about having a guard posted at the door? That seems pretty sensible to me. I'm sure there are officers posted throughout the museum, but yet they leave the main entrance unguarded? Doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Art heist blamed on faulty security system

Friday, May 21, 2010

After touring the Dallas Museum of Art a few weeks back, I had an opportunity to see firsthand how important it is to have multiple layers of security. Obviously museums house millions of dollars worth of artwork, so security is not something to be taken lightly.

Unfortunately, the Paris' Art Deco-style Museum of Modern Art has found out the hard way how critical security is in protecting valuable art. The museum recently suffered what is being deemed one of the largest art heists after five famous pieces were stolen on May 20.

A masked figure was able to saw off a padlock, break a window, avoid three guards and steal five paintings worth more than $100 million. While the thief was caught on camera, apparently the museum's security system was not functioning and did not sound an alarm that an intruder had entered the building. Apparently, the alarm system had been broken since March 30, according to this article in the Los Angeles Times.

"The director of the museum should be fired right away," said Ton Cremers, a museum security consultant and former head of security at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. "It's unthinkable that your security system not be fully working for two months. It's like inviting the thieves in."

The worse part is that the museum spent $19 million on a security upgrade from 2004 to 2006.

But apparently security wasn't exactly known for being tight at the museum. Here's my favorite part of the article:

Thursday night, after the TV cameras had left, a few skateboarders were back, practicing jumps on what everyone calls "the dome," a U-shaped stone square between the Museum of Modern Art and the adjacent Tokyo Palace contemporary art museum.

"It doesn't shock me that they got in there," said skateboarder Kevin Keubeuze, 16, a regular at the site. "It's not a place that's super watched-over."

On many nights, people bring beers and might practice juggling or circus acts, he said. From "the dome," they can look at paintings inside the Museum of Modern Art through large windows.

However, the museum has high hopes that the pieces will eventually be recovered. Cremers said about half the paintings stolen from museums are recovered, but it takes an average of seven years. The thieves in such cases, he said, "are usually ordinary criminals who also steal cars" and "have no idea what to do with the art."

And because it's so hard to sell such well-known artwork, chances are they'll resurface, or at least that's what the museum is banking on:

Pierre Cornette de Saint Cyr, president of the Tokyo Palace museum, told LCI French television just outside the cordoned-off museum that "no collector in the world is stupid enough to put his money in a painting he can neither show to other collectors nor resell without going to prison."

"So Messieurs les Thieves, you are imbeciles!" he said. "Bring back the paintings, please."

His logic might be faulty, but at least he's polite.

Stadium security and sports fans: Time to be jealous

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

So here I am at the Portland Jetport for the fourth time in the last five weeks. I've been doing some crazy traveling lately, but this trip is something I've been anticipating for months now. As part of ASIS International Seminar & Exhibits, scheduled for Oct. 12 -15, I get to participate in a media preview event where they basically take us media all around the host city, showing us some of the cool things the city has to offer. It's one of the few perks of the profession and I must say, I do enjoy it.

As I'm sure many of you are aware, ASIS will be held in Dallas, Texas this year. I've been to Dallas a lot since beginning my security career (largely because it was the former home of TechSec Solutions), but to be honest I've never loved the city. However, I'm hoping this trip will be different. As part of the media junket, ASIS folks have scheduled some seriously awesome security tours. The one I'm looking forward to most is the behind-the-scenes security tour of the new Cowboys Stadium. Now, I'm not a huge sports fan and have no affiliation with the Cowboys, but I've heard a lot about their new stadium and I'm guessing they have some pretty sophisticated security technology in place. I also got permission to interview an executive for sdnTVnews, so be on the look out for that video.

In addition, we also get a tour of the Children's Medical Center. I've heard over and over that healthcare is one of my most up and coming verticals in terms of security insatllations (and even ISC Solutions has chosen healthcare to be one of four verticals to focus its upcoming conference).

Here are some of the other tours on our itinerary:
Dallas Fusion Center (I haven't had my fusion center fix in a while)
Dallas Museum of Art
AT&T Performing Arts District
Fort Worth City Center
Frito Lay (food security - that's a new and exciting topic for me)

Needless to say, I'm excited for this trip and it's hard to believe we're going to pack all that in over the course of only two-and-a-half days. To stay on top of my travels, be sure to follow me on Twitter: @Leischen and check my blogs periodically (my goal is at least a post a day). Also, next week's Newswire is sure to be full of great security stuff (per usual, of course).