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The wrong way to get cameras installed. What you can learn from Zack's experience

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

By Al Jacobs, former physical security manager at Babies R Us and Linens n Things

This article is dedicated to the unlucky regional retail loss prevention manager who was suddenly given the full responsibility to install cameras in a new store. For this article, let’s call this manager Zack [all the characters listed here are fictitious]. We all can learn from Zack’s story.

As a sign of the times, most of Zack’s corporate loss prevention support staff was laid off. Each regional loss prevention manager was tasked with installing their own cameras.

What did Zack do first? Not much. Zack should have taken the time to create a comprehensive and formal project plan. There is an old Marine Corps mantra that says “prior planning alleviates confusion…” You will see how this still holds true.

Zack’s corporate seniors gave him full responsibility to hire a vendor to install a new camera system in one of his soon-to-open stores. Zack faced rapidly approaching deadlines. His store's grand opening date gave him three weeks to complete this project. One way he found to “transfer” the risk of missing this deadline was to quickly hire a camera installation vendor and punt the project to him. If anything went wrong, he had a scapegoat. If not, he was a hero.

Zack promptly emailed out a few simple specifications and an indecipherable hand drawn camera plan to four security integrators. Zack knew he should have provided his bidders a highly detailed and scaled computer-crafted camera plan along with specific equipment configuration. Zack rationalized that he could not afford to take the time to do that. He also did not have the foresight to hold a “bidder conference” so that all the vendors he contacted could interactively confirm his job’s requirements. As a result, Zack’s vendors replied with wildly disparate proposals.

Zack’s project clock ticked loudly and he was forced to quickly pick one vendor. He selected the firm with the fastest response, least detailed proposal, cheapest price and a few select but deceptively comprehensive “notes.” Zack did not realize it at the time, but the “notes” were the golden eggs that would eventually permit Zack’s chosen vendor to charge him “extra” fees later on.

With the contract inked, Zack and his approved vendor, Fred from I.M. Cameras, LLC, reviewed the project. Fred detailed his perceived scope of work. He also asked for Zack’s help in coordinating his interaction with Zack’s new store general contractor. In short order, it turned out that Zack ignored Fred’s pleas and the GC remained an aloof wild card.

Zack’s GC had other priorities. He felt no pressure to integrate his plans and schedule with Fred’s. As a result, Fred was not able to meet preliminary installation milestones. It got worse. Electrical outlets, lighting, exit doors, signage and fixtures were moved due to changed fire codes and merchandising plans. Nobody told Fred.
Fred hated being ignored by Zack’s GC. In absolute desperation, Fred called Zack’s boss, an old friend he met at a charity golf outing last year. Predictably, Zack got an irate call from his boss directing him to get Fred on the GC’s schedule or else. Zack called his GC and gave him the riot act.

Finally, the camera installation was on track. However, the delays wasted thousands of labor dollars. These charges ended up in a change order. Fred’s profits increased.

With Fred’s persistence, the job was done before the store’s grand opening. A final inspection walk through was arranged. At the walk through, Zack realized that the camera layout was not perfect. Some cameras needed to be moved. Zack realized Fred did what he could with a plan that Zack never got around to updating despite GC changes. Fred was good but not clairvoyant.

Zack accepted responsibility for the “misalignment” and created a punch list with Fred. Fred turned around and created another expensive change order to finally get Zack’s cameras system squared away. Zack’s budget was blown but the system was all squared away; at least that was what Zack thought at the time.

A parting thought, Fred, like any experienced installer, told Zack to change his camera system’s default password. Zack, in his haste to get the camera system turned over to the new store staff, forgot to change it. The default password, the one that had unrestricted authority to change any settings, was spelled out in the system’s equipment manual and online at the manufacturer’s website for the world to see. This included, at least one of Zack’s future employees.

Weeks later Zack hired a new hard charging loss prevention investigator named Willie to watch the new store. That was a big mistake.

On Willie’s first day, he had a highly caustic run in with the store’s General Manager. That prompted Willie to quit at the end of his shift. As a parting gesture, for his aggravation, he easily found the camera system’s administrative password, surreptitiously changed it and deleted all the other users.

It was Friday evening, a day later, and life sent Zack a catastrophic wake up call. His office phone rang and he found out the new store was just “hit.” It was held up. There was a crazed man with a gun who barged in, brutally pistol whipped two managers and stole all sorts of cash and merchandise. The police and an ambulances were called. Guess what happened next? 

Zack’s told his boss and then tried to remotely log-in to the store’s camera system to see what just happened. He could not connect. He called the store and asked a store supervisor to try it on-site. He had no luck. Panic set in. Zack called Fred and the manufacturer’s technical support help line. Fred was on a cruise taking advantage of his change order windfall. He did not answer his phone. The camera system’s support help line was closed for the weekend. The police would have to work without video. Zack’s boss was fuming.

The story was fabricated or was it? When it comes to camera surveillance systems, spending time up front to create a comprehensive RFP, fairly bidding out the job, verifying the deliverables and then properly following up on all the loose details afterward may seem like overkill. Invariably they prove to be necessary.

To hammer this point home, remember another old Marine Corps expression: “Sometimes it is entirely appropriate to kill a fly with a sledge-hammer!”

About the author:
Al Jacobs is a certified project management professional. He held positions as a physical security manager at Babies R Us and Linens n Things. He also worked for Stanley Convergent Security Solutions and Universal Surveillance Systems. Early in his career he was a Marine Corps communications-electronics officer.

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