GUEST ARTICLE: The rise of smart security in construction

  • 5 Jan 2024

Alexis Potter, Managing Director at BauWatch UK, looks at the rise of smart security in construction in this guest article…

“The UK construction industry is navigating one of its toughest periods in a decade, marked by a surge in insolvencies, persistent cost inflation, and delays in major projects. According to the government’s Insolvency Service, more than 4,200 construction operators have become insolvent in the 12 months to June, a 16.5% increase from the previous year.

This is due to a myriad of factors including rising material costs, planning delays and skills shortages. However, the trend is being exacerbated by increasingly sophisticated criminal activity. Thieves are also becoming increasingly high-tech in their efforts using technology like jammers that hamper security measures and drones to scope sites, putting valuable equipment and materials at greater risk. It’s a grave situation that needs to be addressed immediately.

How grave? A recent survey by NFU Mutual found that almost 90% of construction contractors and tradespeople have been victims of theft, costing the industry around £800 million annually. It begs to reason that firms need to take security seriously and be on the lookout for criminal activity to protect assets and workers, particularly during darker winter months.

New Build

In response to these challenges, businesses are drawing on advanced imaging technologies, such as computer vision (CV) and drones, as pivotal tools to help stem the flow of criminal activity. The integration of these technologies is redefining how construction firms operate, enabling proactive interventions and seamless collaboration.

Imaging technology of the future

The good news is that anti-theft measures have come a long way. Construction site security teams need no longer rely solely on guards, as an increasing blend of technology is now available. Construction teams can deploy anything from geo-fencing that can set virtual site boundaries, to biometric access control that can identify registered workers to combat more sophisticated types of crime.

Thanks to the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in particular, imaging technology that can recognise and identify threats or employees is becoming more widespread, integrating state-of-the-art recognition capabilities into wider security strategies.

It’s also getting smarter, and at the heart of these advancements are machine learning algorithms, which provide project teams with extensive data to enhance response times and proactively spot security risks.

By training algorithms with images of known security concerns or synthetic data, these systems evolve to become more intelligent and efficient over time, allowing security personnel to adopt a more proactive stance in safeguarding sites instead of merely responding to incidents after they occur.

CCTV systems are already a staple in construction firms, offering a reduction in the need for extensive ground security staff and minimising human error. Now they are being supercharged by CV software that can be integrated into existing kit.

Modern, site-wide monitoring systems excel in analysing video footage in real-time, enabling them to identify abnormal patterns, specific items, facial recognition of potential intruders, or activities signalling a security threat. Furthermore, AI-driven imaging technology plays a pivotal role in data accumulation over time, revealing trends and patterns in site activities.

Eyes in the skies

Drones are also emerging as a key asset in enhancing the security and maintenance of construction sites, offering an affordable and efficient solution for monitoring extensive areas. A recent report by PwC estimates that construction and manufacturing industries could see cost savings of up to £3.5bn by the end of the decade through the uptake of drones.

Easily programmable for automated patrols, they are ideal for overseeing zones where construction materials or costly equipment are stored. They can also be more cost-effective than traditional on-site security guards and provide valuable visual records crucial for police investigations, ensuring project stakeholders’ investments are protected.

The unmanned nature of drones is particularly beneficial in managing risks and safety on construction sites. Equipped with advanced features like thermal imaging, they can identify issues from a safe distance, offering immediate alerts and detailed audit trails for on-site maintenance and security incidents. Like surveillance kits on the ground, drones are also integrating AI in the same way to provide more rapid responses to security and safety incidents as well as predictive analysis.

Embracing a technologically advanced era

As the construction industry moves forward, it is clear that the integration of technology with traditional site operations is creating a new era in construction security. The combination of AI-powered surveillance, drones, and BIM is not just a trend but a foundation for a more informed, proactive, and secure construction process. This technological fusion ensures that despite economic uncertainties and increased theft risks, the industry is well-equipped to safeguard its assets and maintain project continuity, building a more secure future in an ever-changing world.

The Construction Equipment Association, along with other industry groups, has committed £650,000 to combat machinery theft in the UK, a testament to the severity of this issue. As the industry navigates an ever-evolving risk landscape, these technological solutions are becoming indispensable for the steady progress and resilience of construction projects.”

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