Big cargo and freight centres are among the security managers greatest challenges. A blanket security policy that includes the staff of courier companies and rewards your staff for zero-loss operations is the solution.

Protecting cargo and freight centres is a challenging brief – notwithstanding the fact such facilities are physically large and are subject to high traffic levels. A significant part of the problem lies in the fact most cargo theft is perpetrated internally or during carriage of goods. It can’t be questioned that major courier services have tightened up their services significantly where security is concerned, but too much still goes missing. International studies show that at least 85 per cent of losses can be attributed to internal theft with breaches of premises or hijacking of vehicles loaded with high value goods being of far less concern.

While the focus on preventing internal losses is vital, the first place to start building protection is still the perimeter. As well as keeping intruders out, a high barrier will make it very difficult for items to be tossed over fences from the inside. In addition, every cargo or freight centre needs to have electronic perimeter security and it should be located on the inside of the perimeter fence. Part of any good perimeter solution should be open space at least 10m deep on either side of the perimeter barrier. We are not going to look at them here, but process control solutions that track packages are a key part of controlling loss through the freight delivery process – these should be integrated with your security solutions where possible.

Perimeter Defence

Whether you opt for infrared, AIRs beams, microwave, buried fiber optic cable or some other technology as an electronic perimeter defence is going depend on your budget. This electronic perimeter system should be broken into zones – that means short detection runs. Tight zoning of the perimeter system means your video surveillance system can be integrated to form a solution that gives video recordings of each zone should there be a breach of the electronic perimeter. The most economical way to monitor a large perimeter is using high quality PTZ cameras with presets supporting each detection zone.

If there’s a difficult issue with perimeter surveillance, it’s going to be inadequate lighting in mornings and evenings. To get around the problem economically, select day/night PTZ or fixed camera solutions and see if your current low/high pressure sodium luminaries give adequate light. Large freight centres will likely have security officers on site – confirmation of an intrusion rather than exact identification of the intruder will be enough for onsite officers. Illumination of perimeters at night in a way that will allow identification is a tough brief and can usually only be achieved at significant expense but long range IR and visible lighting arrays will give the security team surprising reach.

Improved protection for the perimeter fence itself can be achieved using a fence protection system – there’s a bunch of options here and on large freight centre budget is likely to be the deciding factor so look around. Fibre optic cable is a useful and cost-effective solution but there are many others including e-field, powered fencing, geophone (buried under fence), capacitance, strain, magnetic and plenty more.

If your site is seriously high security or you have a long history of vehicle attacks combined with heavy losses, then you’ll need to attend to the physical security of the fence itself. There are a few options. At the top of the scale is a concrete K-rail barrier with at least half a metre of its structure buried underground and 1.2 metres above ground. Topping this should be the ubiquitous chain link with a wire or barbed tape crown.

Because K-rail is very expensive you may also consider using earth banks to protect the fence line from fast moving vehicles. A bank half a metre high with a facing wall of sleepers will deny entry to almost all vehicles. At 1 metre you’ve got protection from furiously driven 4-wheel drives as well. There’s always a downside and in this case, it will be that you’ve created a blind channel along your entire perimeter. You can fill in the gap with fixed or PTZ cameras mounted on the fence but there’ll be a dollar issue. Thermal cameras are great for perimeter work – give them serious consideration.

Gates need to be tough enough to withstand attacks while at the same time being flexible enough to manage high volume traffic – sliding gates are the answer. When you’re having such gates commissioned, pay close attention to safety issues. There are good local manufacturers of perimeter gates and they should be able to outline the way in which their products protect passers-by as well as securing your property and potential liability exposure. A single entry exit point with a 2-sided gatehouse between entry and exit lanes and a single large sliding gate is a good option.

Gatehouses And Car Parks

Among the best ways to ensure contractors don’t smuggle items out through the gates in vehicles is to employ a manned gatehouse. Long range prox tags and readers or manual activation should open the gates. Your procedures should allow for random searches of vehicles leaving the site and your security staff must adhere to procedures. The sight of vehicles being searched is a powerful deterrent – just make certain your gatehouses are located well inside company property.

It’s also smart to keep car parking facilities outside the high security perimeter of the facility and well away from the warehouse and loading dock. You can do this while still ensuring the safety of personnel and the protection of their vehicles. Staff should park in the car park then proceed via a manned turnstile (for clock-in) before heading to work. And there should be no need for staff to leave the facility and go to their cars mid-shift. This may sound draconian but if the facility is experiencing losses then it’s vital this primary avenue of stock removal be eliminated from the site.

Depending upon the nature of the site and the level of losses it may also be worthwhile denying the carrying of bags through the turnstile or at least instituting a bag search policy for all personnel. Such measures may run foul of unions and the best way of getting round this is to ensure that senior management, including the managing director, all pass through the same screening process when passing on and off the site. In this way talk of discrimination against staff becomes unjustified.

Access Control Considerations

In any freight or cargo terminal, the access control system is the most effective tool available for management of people and stock. Staff need to be kept within their own work areas, vehicles arriving at and leaving loading docks must be logged and containers or pallets of stock need to be tagged and their progress monitored. Depending on requirements, an access control system can keep tabs on almost every person or pallet of freight on a premises – it’s the single boxes you’ll need to be careful of.

Given the nature of the freight/cargo environment, prox readers are a good choice for external doors and internal doors in the dock and warehouse areas. Long range prox is ideal for management of contractor or company vans and trucks arriving at or leaving the site. It’s not going to be the easiest task in the world, but security managers should try to include contractor carriers in their access control systems. In terms of set up this is relatively easy to do. The hard part will be selling the idea to management and having them include shared security levels and procedures as part of a contract. Fact is, high security for you own vehicles is rubbished if contractors can drive on and off the site with relative impunity. If you have an expensive access control system in place, use it.

While prox is the benchmark solution for industrial sites, the high security bond cage may require a higher level of protection – that means biometrics. You’ll need to decide on the basis of site grubbiness, which biometric solution works for you. A messy site is going to make optical fingerprint reading a challenge unless procedure calls for the read window to be wiped clean before each read. What security managers should do is have suppliers install a reader in the environment for a test period and see what works. This may be face recognition or hand geometry.

The same access system that’s being used to control doors can also be employed to allow egress to items like computers or confidential files using a proximity tag. Staff without authorization to leave the site with a tagged item will be denied exit and the event logged for scrutiny by the security manager. And part of the access control system should be a capable visitor registration system. Such a system should integrate seamlessly into your access solution and provide a range of features that allow you to ensure visitors only go where they’re authorized to go for a set period. Alarm events should be generated if visitors attempt to move outside the designated area or overstay their time.

Securing The Dock

The dock is the area of greatest vulnerability. It’s good policy when setting up the dock area to paint a red line on the cement beyond which only employees of the company may go. At the same time this line should indicate the point beyond which stock never goes unless signed for by a driver. No stray stock should “accidentally” be loaded on the wrong truck at your dock.

While freight management systems have reduced the incidence, significant in-transit losses still occur. Such losses are especially hard on high value electrical items but there are many high value items that are smaller, or more easily passed on. How security managers get around such problems will be a matter for them to decide but there’s no doubt that greater than acceptable losses should lead to the immediate cancellation of a carrying contract. The threat of business loss will see management of courier outfits taking a much more proactive role in the integrity of their business and that’s just what you want to see.

At your own site, use video surveillance to monitor the operations of the dock and make its presence obvious. Ensure only supervisors sign off on loads before trucks leave the dock and if security staff monitoring cameras think they see an aberration, hold a vehicle up and get supervisors in to check the load. Staff on an industrial site aren’t going to like having security officers policing their work so consider training supervisors in relevant security procedure and reward them and their shift teams for zero loss operations.

Depending on the nature of your operation, truck drivers will require as a bare minimum toilet facilities and a tearoom. Keep these facilities on the outside of the red line and in view of management or supervisory staff using glass walls. If toilet facilities are on the wrong side of the red line and can’t be relocated you can institute an escort policy or secure doors and storage on your side of the line. Both these solutions will be a poor compromise. A portable loo, a big coffee table and comfy chairs in a quiet, visible corner of the warehouse offers better security.

Video Surveillance Systems

In the past, the use of CCTV in freight centres was made useful only if security staff monitored cameras all the time, or if all cameras were recorded and tapes viewed in the event of losses. Trouble was no one wanted to sit through weeks of videotape showing the tedium of the working day in all its excruciating detail. For a long time the result of painful searches was that unless a theft was seen live, little was done to track down small losses.

IP surveillance systems have changed all that. Now supervisors can check dock schedules and call up events that occurred between the time a vehicle arrived at and left the dock. In addition, security staff or management can paint detection zones around high value pallets, access control points, the bond store, or any other area of vulnerability. Video can also be used to confirm or reject injuries in the event of liability claims.

While unions are likely to reject video surveillance of the work environment in some cases, the benefits to investigations, safety, efficient operations and process control are so great that it’s worth pushing it through on the basis of OH&S alone. The company should institute a vigorous policy of dumping video footage after a short period of time. Use of digital recording to allow viewing in the event of loss or injury should be the system’s focus rather than watching to see if staff are working hard.

If digital recorders/servers are being used, pay special attention to frame rates. One frame a second isn’t enough for OH&S applications no matter how frugal you need to be – 15 or higher is best if you want to be safe. If video shows a worker in one frame standing on the dock and the next having disappeared, yet fails to show a deliberate jump, the company will be found liable and the surveillance system will have failed. It’s worth spending a few thousand dollars more on a RAID 5 package to get room for the recording frame rate you need.

If you’re not sure about the necessary frame rate then walk test some “thefts” on the dock or stage “injuries” to be sure the frame rate is giving you everything you need. There’s no point installing tens of thousands worth of video surveillance that’s useless because the image you needed is missing thanks to scrimping on storage. Because the surveillance system you’re installing needs to offer meaningful footage on all inputs all day, you also need to pay special attention to the global frame rate. IP cameras with H.265 and smart features that limit bitrate when nothing is going on are to be preferred.

Internally a combination of fixed and PTZ cameras is ideal, particularly if a number of preset alarm points are to be covered in the same area. Fixed cameras with wide angle lenses should cover the dock area from a number of different angles. The fields of view should be established while trucks are parked in the dock. Consider use of day/night cameras in dock and warehouse installations. They’re much better able to cope with shadows thrown by large vehicles and towering warehouse storage racks.

Installation of these cameras is likely to be a battle. For a start, remember to keep cable away from power cables and plant equipment. Given the fact you’ll be running cable up and along roof beams, this might be more difficult than you imagine. If the contact is for only a few metres, you may get away with a running coax close to power. It can take a shared run up to 50 metres to distort a video signal significantly. And bear in mind that resentful workers may try to disable cameras or support equipment during or after installation, so design the system so cameras have fields of view that cover each other and where possible, cover the cable runs that serve them. Where possible, install cameras high so that movement of pallets won’t create blind spots in your coverage.


Defending big freight centres is never going to be easy. With a combination of the right equipment, the right procedures, capable security staff and support from workers, it’s possible to offer complete protection. Where you can, ensure that contract carriers are incorporated into your access control system and encourage contractors to undertake the same pre-hiring screening procedures that you’ve adopted.

Never allow union resistance to video surveillance systems to halt the installation of a CCTV system and go for a solution with analytics, including VMD and flexible search functions that can be matched with the dock log should stock go missing. And always over-spec your video storage. Demand at least 15 frames a second across all inputs – more if alarm preset recording is employed. That means a higher global frame rate or an increase in frame rate in the presence of movement.

High security prox is an ideal card reader solution and smart prox supporting biometrics will allow the appropriate level of protection for the bond store and other high security access points. Take care to adopt a biometric solution that can handle dust, dirt, vibration and vandalism. Face recognition is low touch and unaffected by dirty hands – the best systems can handle masks.

We’ve not gone deep into management systems here, but these are vitally important. You want situational awareness across all relevant sub systems, easy learning, remote management, mapping showing icons with embedded video and a bunch more. On a big site the ongoing cost of VMS licensing will be a consideration.

Lastly, try to keep cars and bags away from the freight centre. Institute bag and vehicle searches and write these procedures into the employment agreement – refusal to allow a search should lead to dismissal. A firm and consistent approach to security that rewards staff for their honesty and their protective attitude towards the assets of the company and its customers should be the goal of the thoughtful security manager.