10 Steps to Loading Dock Security

Companies in all industries struggle to secure the loading dock, that sensitive spot where goods come in and go out. Follow these best practices and sleep better tonight.

A loading dock security incident can be the stuff of CSO nightmares. Early on the morning of Sept. 2, while most folks were home sleeping off the hot dogs, thieves used bolt cutters to break into an Alltel Communications warehouse and four of its loading docks in Fort Smith, Ark. Sources say they escaped with an estimated $10 million worth of cell phones, not a bad haul for their Labor Day efforts.

Loading dock security basics

The burglary had been extensively planned. Fort Smith police said the thieves apparently seized the opportunity to strike when they knew the warehouse would be closed for several days over the holiday weekend, entering through a hole they cut through the ceiling of the warehouse. They managed to disable the alarm and surveillance systems before helping themselves to four tractor-trailers loaded with cell phones.

Unfortunately, this highly detailed, finely executed attack is typical of today's loading dock thefts, according to Dan Purtell, president of the supply chain security division for First Advantage, a security services firm in Poway, Calif. (Alltel did not respond to requests for an interview.)

"This was a very organized group that did a lot of work before they hit the facility," says Purtell. "These guys spend as much time as they need to do the research necessary to pull off a heist like this." And when warehouses and loading docks get hit these days, the losses tend to be big.

Also see Loading Docks in Multitenant Buildings

But loading dock security is not just about loss prevention. Today, many companies bolster their physical security measures for the loading dock and elsewhere in order to comply with regulations ranging from the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) to the Free and Secure Trade Program (FAST) to vertical industry-specific versions. Many of these regulations are now voluntary and are designed to attract companies with the promise of faster trade clearance in exchange for compliance. Progressive companies are addressing compliance now, so that they will be ready if the regulations ever become mandatory.

In the meantime, they enjoy the perks that go along with compliance while also reaping the benefits of enhanced security. Securing the loading dock is no simple undertaking, however. As with most things, it requires a mix of procedures, training and technology. Experts and CSOs in the trenches recommend that you start with the following best practices:

Take a risk-based approach Air Products, a $10 billion gases and chemicals company, has a consistent security program across its operations in more than 40 countries globally. But some regions are unstable enough to require additional security measures layered on top of the existing program, according to Marc Murphy, global supply chain security lead for Air Products, in Allentown, Pa. "Our approach to security is risk-based, first and foremost. In areas where we have concerns, we make the appropriate choices for security there." According to Purtell, high-risk areas include Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, the U.K., Russia and the Netherlands.

Beef up access control. Regulations like C-TPAT that address loading dock security place access control above all. Badges, gates, cameras, guards, barriers, bollards, turnstiles, biometric devices—Purtell recommends that his clients employ several of these at the least, backed up by well-documented procedures and well-trained personnel. "High-risk areas should have concentric rings of security," he says, starting with access badges, video cameras and gates, and rising to biometric devices such as fingerprint readers or retina scanners for the most insecure areas or where the potential value of loss is high.

Keep the overhead doors locked. Under the heading of access control, don't succumb to the temptation to let overhead loading dock doors stay open during business hours, advises Alan Greggo, associate VP of loss prevention for Luxottica Retail, an eyewear retailer based in Cincinnati. "Access to the key that unlocks those doors should be severely limited, perhaps to just one supervisor. When those people go on break and lunch they will press a button, the camera clicks on and shows who the person is and then lets the person in," says Greggo. That door is also wired to the control room. As much as employees might complain, the key is to not leave those doors open so people go in and out at will. "If you do that, you lose internal and external control. Sometimes people want the ease of flow, in and out, but from a security standpoint, there is not enough control," he says. "Just having a rent-a-guard there does not give enough security. You have to find out who's present and who is overseeing what is being taken in and out of the facility."

Secure your supply chain. It is human nature to concentrate on what is directly in front of you. Many companies therefore work hard to secure the loading docks at their own facilities but don't pay much attention to security measures used by their supply chain partners. "People lose sight of cargo when it leaves their factory and it goes into a black hole called the supply chain. They pay for high security at their factories and contract manufacturing locations," he says. "But unless they put requirements into their supply chain, they won't like the way it's treated and stored. A lot of companies turn a blind eye to it unless they have huge exposure."

Focus on trucks. In the Alltel robbery mentioned above, the thieves stole trucks locally and brought them to the warehouse to load up with loot. In this instance, the warehouse and loading docks were the locus of the loss. But First Advantage data collected from customers indicates that 85 percent of financial loss now occurs at the trucking stage, as opposed to warehousing. "A few years ago, warehousing accounted for 40 percent of losses, now it's 10 percent or 12 percent," says Purtell. It pays to concentrate more on the truck features as well as on driver training. Drivers should be restricted to a waiting room and bathroom, he adds, and have no access to the count area. "Drivers should be restricted and controlled in the dock. They should not have access to a shipping/receiving area. That driver could take a couple of boxes from the prestaged cargo area in the next bay and put them on one of their palettes. Or make plans for a future attack," says Purtell.

Get the timing right. Spartan Stores, a chain of grocery stores based in Grand Rapids, Mich., restricts the hours during which it receives truckloads. "We have policies on what time loads can come in," says Tim Bartkowiak, Spartan's director of security and loss prevention. "We don't want them there too early," when the contents might be more vulnerable. During the appointed hours, a vendor-receiver checks in each truckload as it arrives, opening the doors only as necessary and only to those with express clearance.

Build in security from the get-go. As a large enterprise, Air Products has manufacturing operations, warehouses and distribution centers worldwide—building new facilities is just part of doing business. Along with the rest of the security team, Murphy has learned that it is a lot easier and more cost-effective to build in loading dock security from a facility's inception as opposed to retrofitting it later. "Our operations had some trouble where they would build a facility, get it up and running and then realize they didn't have the gates, alarms and cameras. Then they would have to go back and install them," he says. Now, these things are built into the design. "Everything is already in place and ready to go for when they're needed, even if that is sometime down the road," says Murphy. The company's engineering and business teams are pleased with the savings they realize by incorporating these security measures early on, he reports.

Make sure security and safety work together. Safety is paramount in the chemical industry, which has collectively spent more than $3 billion to shore up security at its facilities since 9/11. Air Products maintains an excellent safety record. "As an engineering and manufacturing company, we focus on safety. We have consistent practices and training that we use worldwide," says Murphy. Both security and safety operate across all businesses and organizations at the corporate level with clear senior executive support, which makes it sustain consistency, he adds. (See Safety and Security: The Intersection for an in-depth look at how security and safety interrelate.)

Protect against other types of potential losses. Much of loading dock security concerns loss prevention. Much, but not all. For Geoff Craighead, who specializes in high-rise building security, the threat of workplace violence arising from a lapse in security is real. "You might have a problem with a former employee or a domestic partner who is disgruntled," says Craighead, VP of high-rise and real estate services for Securitas in Los Angeles. "If they can gain access to a tenant floor through the loading dock area, that is a potential problem. It's not only a property issue. It's a people issue." This type of threat, unlike loss of goods generally, can be very opportunistic. "They're up in the building, and security doesn't even know they're there. Guards should always be present at the loading dock to restrict access to the building when the doors are open," he advises. Anyone entering should have a legitimate purpose and be monitored to ensure that he or she goes to the right floor.

Keep an eye toward compliance. Along with the chemical space, the food industry is among the verticals contending with DHS regulations, including those concerning mandated track and traceability for food ingredients. Contaminants and tampering could be introduced at the loading dock, so it's critical to secure the area. Though these programs are voluntary at present, Bartkowiak wants to be ready should they become compulsory. "We're looking at being able to maintain traceability in an efficient manner," he says. "I've heard some companies are requiring their carriers to supply documentation for recall, traceability and food protection, and their loads now have to be sealed." While Bartkowiak figures out what steps Spartan needs to take to be prepared, he worries about the additional cost of these measures. "We're waiting to see how that's going to come down."

To Murphy, active executive support and sponsorship from the highest levels is the most important to success. At Air Products, that means security and operations work closely together. "We're not siloed. We work across the board. Our security standards reside within various business areas of our corporate and operations groups. That has been very beneficial for us," he says. "The security team also runs our emergency response and plays a critical role in the crisis management function for the corporation. We have a 24/7 security operations center. That really allowed us to work with all different facets of the business." ##

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