Security alarm system to prevent burglary at your business.

Preventing Burglary at Your Business

Updated June 3, 2018 . AmFam Team

Burglary is a crime of opportunity. Businesses that are at risk to burglary should implement measures to reduce the opportunity for the crime. We’ve highlighted some important information on the elements of a burglary prevention program for your business.

Burglary is a crime of opportunity. Research into the crime indicates that burglars look for places that offer the best opportunity for success. In choosing targets, burglars look for locations that contain something worth stealing and then select those that look easy to break into. Burglars appear to be strongly influenced by the look and feel of the business they are planning to burglarize. Consequently, if the exterior of a business appears to reflect attention to security, the burglar will likely look for an easier opportunity.

Businesses that are at risk to burglary should implement measures to reduce the opportunity for the crime. This report provides information on the elements of a burglary prevention program for a business.

Preliminary Analysis

The first step in a burglary protection plan is to determine if the business is worth burglarizing. Some basic questions to ask include:

  • Is the business located in a high-crime area? The local police should be able to provide statistics on property crime and burglary for the area.
  • Is it obvious that there is cash or valuable merchandise stored inside the premises?
  • Is the merchandise considered a high-risk target item, such as computer components, or a desirable consumer product, such as home entertainment equipment? The more valuable or desirable the merchandise, the greater the risk of burglary.
  • Is cash on the premises or in safes kept to a minimum by making frequent bank deposits?
  • Is an up-to-date inventory of all valuables kept?

Use Common Sense

The next step is to look at the business as if through the eyes of a burglar. Burglars look for premises that afford concealment and appear easy to break into. Consequently, if the exterior of the business appears secure, the burglar will likely look for an easier target.

Windows should be kept clear so that the view into and out of the premises is not obstructed. Window displays should be arranged to provide for visibility into the premises. Indoor lighting should be located towards the rear of the premises, so an intruder's silhouette will be visible from the street. Automatic timers can be used to turn lights on and off.

All equipment should be marked with a serial number or other identification. This serves as a deterrent to theft (burglars don't like to steal marked goods) and provides a means for returning property that is stolen and subsequently recovered. Cash register drawers should be emptied during non-business hours and left open to prevent unnecessary damage.

Lighting serves as a strong deterrence to burglary, since burglars do not like to be seen. Interior and exterior lighting levels should be adequate. The Lighting Handbook, published by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, provides information on lighting systems and recommended illumination levels. Exterior lighting fixtures should be protected against breakage and damaged lighting fixtures or burned-out bulbs fixed or replaced as soon as possible.

Equipment or structures in outdoor areas that could be used by a burglar to gain entry should be removed or otherwise protected. For example, a ladder could be used by a burglar to access the roof or an upper-story window. Likewise, building alcoves and overgrown foliage could provide the burglar with cover to work without fear of being seen. Landscaping shrubs and trees should be kept trimmed to maintain clear visibility throughout the property. Alcoves should be properly illuminated.

Goods stored in yard areas should be protected by a fence or other barrier. The standard, ASTM F-567, Practice for the Installation of Chain-Link Fence, published by the American Society for Testing and Materials, provides requirements for the installation of chain link fencing. For additional information on fencing, see Crime Prevention Report CP-31-10, Chain Link Fencing.

Loaded cargo trailers should be secured with king pin locks to prevent their being stolen. Otherwise, thieves could easily hook up a tractor to a trailer and drive off with the cargo.

If burglars were to successfully enter the premises, it should not be made easy for them to get the goods out. For example, forklift trucks that have been left with the keys in the ignition, and side and rear entrances and doors to loading docks that are easily opened from the inside, can be used by burglars to help move merchandise out of the building.

An inspection should be made before closing the premises to assure that all doors and windows are locked, as well as any safes or vaults, and that the alarm system has been turned on. All closets, bathrooms, and other hiding places should also be checked - don't lock the burglar in. A walk around the property should be taken, before leaving, to see if everything appears normal.

For more information, see Engineering and Safety Service CH-20-17, Burglary Prevention Checklist.

Lock Out the Burglar

Burglars will first look for easy ways to enter a premises - through unlocked doors, unlatched windows, and unsecured skylights. A study by Temple University found that, in 50 percent of commercial burglaries, entry was gained through a door. Failing that, burglars choose entry points that offer the least resistance to entry. While some burglars have the expertise to pick a lock, in most cases, entry is made using physical force - smashing doors, crow-barring doors or windows, and breaking window glass. Some burglars have even resorted to breaking through building walls with sledge hammers, pneumatic drills, or explosives.

All exterior doors should be provided with deadbolt locks that have at least a one-inch throw. Side and rear doors should be provided with supplemental protection, such as an iron gate, police bar, or four-point locking device. Outward swinging doors should have hinges with non-removable pins. For hinges with removable pins, the hinged side of the door should be secured to prevent removal of the pins and opening of the door on the hinged side. Regardless of the locking devices used, they should not create conflicts with building and life safety code requirements.

In mercantile premises, during non-business hours, the front of the business (e.g., entrance and show windows) should be protected by a roll-down grille or ferry gate. If aesthetics are of concern, the grille or grate can be installed inside the premises behind the glass surfaces.

Side and rear doors should be of solid-wood or steel construction and installed in reinforced steel frames. Hollow-core wood doors or panel doors should be replaced or be reinforced on the inside with sheet steel panels. Glass panels on side and rear doors should be replaced or backed-up with burglary-resisting glazing materials that are listed by Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL). Side and rear doors should be illuminated from above and the lighting fixtures protected against accidental or intentional breakage.

Side and rear windows should be protected with ironwork, such as burglar screens or bars, installed on the inside behind the glass. While bars installed on the exterior may serve as a deterrent, they are more easily attacked by the burglar; installed on the inside, however, the bars are harder to attack - the burglar would have to break the glass before attacking the bars or their attachment hardware. Skylights and other roof openings, transoms over doors, and air vents should be protected by a grille or burglar bars, or otherwise secured.

Padlocks used to secure sidewalk and basement openings, fence gates, and grilles should be of substantial construction and have hardened shackles to resist sawing or cutting. Hasps should also have a hardened staple and be solidly mounted. The term "lock hasp" may also refer to the style of latch most often used with a padlock. This latch uses a strip of metal on a hinge with a hole on the other end. Through this hole passes the staple, which looks like a link of metal chain. This staple passes through the hole, and it is secured with a padlock.

Control the Keys to the Premises

Control of keys is as important to the integrity of a locking system as is the proper selection of locking hardware. Keys are subject to being lost or stolen, resulting in a situation where an unauthorized person may have access to the locked premises.

Keys should be issued on a need-for basis only. Extra keys should be stored in a locked cabinet. Procedures should be established for collecting keys from terminated and/or departing employees. Lost keys should be reported immediately and affected locks rekeyed or replaced, as needed. All keys should be marked "Do Not Duplicate." For additional information, see Crime Prevention Report CP-35-20, Key Control.

Keep Valuables Safe

High-value merchandise should not be left unsecured during non-business hours. Small, high-value merchandise should be put into a safe. Larger merchandise can be secured in a security cage or other enclosure.

The right type and class of safe should be chosen for the values to be protected. Safes are either fire-resistive or burglary-resistant and are available in various protection classes (or levels). The greater the values to be protected, a correspondingly higher level of protection should be afforded by the safe. UL has listings for safes in various protection classifications. For a discussion of these classifications, see Crime Prevention Report CP-61-10, Burglary-Resistant Safes.

The safe door should be left open when the safe is empty; otherwise, it should be locked at all times. Safes should be secured to the floor to help prevent their removal from the premises.

The number of people with access to the safe or vault combination should be kept to a minimum. The combination number should not be written in an easily accessible place, such as a desk blotter. The combination should be changed on a regular basis.

Alarm the Premises

Executing a burglary involves locating and collecting items of value. Experienced, older burglars tend to remain on the premises longer than younger criminals and they tend also to make larger hauls (the smash-and-grab type burglar will smash a show window or glass front door, grab the goods, and be gone in a matter of minutes). Time on the premises can range from two to three minutes, to as much as a day or two, depending on:

  • The skill and confidence of the burglar(s);
  • If valuables are stored in a safe or vault; and,
  • If there is a premises alarm system, the anticipated response by the police or alarm company personnel, assuming the system cannot be compromised (i.e., turned off).

A premises burglar alarm system can be effective in preventing or deterring a burglary. A UL-Certificated central station burglar alarm system that sends a silent signal to a monitoring station, which dispatches guards on receipt of the signal, is preferred. An alarm system that sounds a local bell is better than no alarm at all - at the very least, it may scare off the burglar.

Safes and vaults (and security cages) should be protected by a burglar alarm system. For businesses at high risk to burglary, such as jewelers, or where the values are high, the safe/vault alarm system should be monitored separately from the premises alarm system (i.e., by a different central station alarm company). Alarm systems for such risks should be provided with line security to prevent compromises of the system. For a discussion of central station burglar alarm systems, see Crime Prevention Report CP-46-20, Central Station Burglar Alarm Systems.

The alarm system should be tested regularly and maintained properly. A testing and maintenance contract is a requirement of UL Certification. A sign indicating that the premises are protected by a burglar alarm system should be posted in a conspicuous location.

Head to our loss control and risk management page to learn more ways to protect your business.


1. Engineering and Safety Service. Burglary-Resistant Safes. CP-61-10. Jersey City, NJ: ISO Services, Inc., 2008.

2. Burglary Prevention Checklist. CH-20-17. Jersey City, NJ: ISO Services, Inc., 2017.

3. Central Station Burglar Alarm Systems. CP-46-20. Jersey City, NJ: ISO Services, Inc., 2015.

4. Key Control. CP-35-20. Jersey City, NJ: ISO Services, Inc., 2008.

5. The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI). Division of Workers’ Compensation. Small Business Crime Prevention Guide. Austin, TX: TDI, 2010.

COPYRIGHT ©2017, ISO Services, Inc.

The information contained in this publication was obtained from sources believed to be reliable. ISO Services, Inc., its companies and employees make no guarantee of results and assume no liability in connection with either the information herein contained or the safety suggestions herein made. Moreover, it cannot be assumed that every acceptable safety procedure is contained herein or that abnormal or unusual circumstances may not warrant or require further or additional procedure.

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