Real Estate Turns to Real-Time Video to Catch Thieves, Save Money

July 23, 2018

It was the middle of the night when the would-be thief canvassed the site of the mixed-use development that was under construction.

He was wearing a dark colored jacket and jeans, with a baseball cap and the scruffy beginning of a beard.

The man yanked on the door handles of the nearly completed building, then smashed a window and climbed inside. Within minutes, the police arrived and swiftly apprehended the thief.

The cost of the botched heist: a new window.

That’s because the site was protected by a real-time video surveillance service called Stealth Monitoring, which installs cameras at high-value construction sites and monitors them live with a combination of video motion analytics and human intelligence.

The technology helps prevent and deter theft, keep expensive equipment secure, reduce injury and workers’ compensation claims and affirm that work is being done properly and in a timely manner.

Should injury complaints, theft or work disputes arise, the archived footage also provides law enforcement and legal teams with incontrovertible evidence.

“Real-time video is a great deterrent for theft or cheating on time cards, and we put up signs that say ‘Smile! You’re on camera,’” said Sherwin Loudermilk, the CEO and Founder of Loudermilk Homes, a luxury homebuilder in Atlanta that installs cameras on every site.

“We save a week or two on every project from being able to cross-check against our schedule. If painting is not happening when it’s supposed to, I can call and find out why,” said Loudermilk, who checks his video feeds frequently through an app. “It pays for itself many times over.”

A $1 Billion Problem

As much as $1 billion worth of construction equipment is stolen each year in the United States, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Fewer than 20 percent of stolen items are recovered, NICB data shows.

Construction site supervisors typically secure equipment at the end of each workday by clustering vehicles in a “wagon train circle,” putting portable things like generators and compressors in the middle surrounded by trucks and heavy equipment that form a protective outer ring.

Sleeve locks can fix backhoe pads in an extended position, keeping wheels off the ground so they’re harder to move. Removal of fuses and circuit breakers are another tactic, along with hidden fuel shut-off systems that prevent the engine from starting.

Secure lever controls and lock-out devices can prevent vehicles from being driven in a straight line, while telematics tracking devices like the ones made by CalAmp and recovery systems such as those made by LoJack can send alerts if equipment is moved outside of a defined geofenced area at a commercial real estate construction site.

For the most comprehensive security of any job site, the NICB recommends supplementing these physical deterrents with video surveillance.

Cheaper & Smaller

The rise of real-time video feeds and ultra-high definition time-lapse cameras, radio frequency ID (RFID) tracking, geofencing, and other security technology is driven by advancements that make these devices cheaper and smaller than ever before, according to Construction Business Owner, an industry magazine.

Modern video equipment can record in higher resolution, and many of them automatically upload and securely archive footage in the cloud. Mobile apps allow project managers and teams to access footage 24/7 from a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop.

Prices for mobile data transmission have also fallen, and the rollout of fifth-generation wireless technology (5G) will make it faster to transmit, upload and download enormous files such as high-definition video footage.

Other innovations such as solar-powered energy sources and specialty mounts have made it easier to install surveillance cameras just about anywhere, and some cameras have do-it-yourself installation kits.

“You used to see workers dragging miles and miles of cable to set these things up, but wireless has made it a lot easier and it brought the price down,” said Michael O. Rodgers, principal research scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Transportation Systems Engineering department, who uses real-time video to gather data and research traffic patterns.

Commercial-grade construction cameras can cost as little as $2,000 to upward of $20,000, depending on the resolution and whether it is a pan, zoom and tilt (PZT) camera or a fixed-position camera, according to OxBlue Corporation, an Atlanta-based construction time-lapse camera service provider. Monthly service and support fees can run between $200-$900.

Depreciation Benefit

Businesses looking to purchase video surveillance equipment may be able to take a 100 percent depreciation deduction on the investment in the first year the assets are placed into service, thanks to changes in the tax code under President Donald Trump’s tax reform law.

That can reduce taxable income and the amount of tax paid, especially for higher-end sophisticated equipment that costs tens of thousands of dollars.

Read more about the new depreciation rules here.

Job site cameras can also reduce insurance premiums, save time that might otherwise have been spent investigating incidents of theft or injury and also save legal fees that might have been incurred.

Highway Bridge Bonus

Beyond stopping theft, cameras can help businesses save time and money on complex projects — and finish big jobs faster.

In 2017, a massive fire caused a highly trafficked portion of the I-85 interstate highway in the heart of Atlanta to collapse.

About 250,000 motorists cross that part of the highway each day, forcing commuters to find alternative routes on surface streets,  snarling traffic across the metro area.

Georgia officials offered the contractor, C.W. Matthews Contracting Co., a bonus of as much as $3.1 million if the bridge could be rebuilt earlier than the original target completion date.

Two construction cameras were used — one that streamed live HD video and another that continuously captured high-resolution still images. Those feeds and monitoring support by OxBlue Corporation gave the contractor a visual tool to inspect and verify details of the project.

Dan Garcia, the CEO of C.W. Matthews, could monitor progress from his office as the crews scheduled just-in-time delivery of materials like the 505,296 pounds of steel and the 2,103 cubic yards of concrete needed to rebuild a 700-foot span of the 12-lane bridge.

The cameras enabled more efficient workflow for crews that hustled 24 hours a day, seven days a week to fix the bridge by minimizing downtime.

“If we were expecting a delivery by 8 p.m., I could verify that it happened. If it didn’t, I could start making calls to find out why and figure out what to do next so we didn’t lose any time,” Adam Grist, vice president of structures at C.W. Matthews, said in an account written by OxBlue about the project.

The I-85 bridge, a major artery that connects Atlanta’s financial district with the rest of the South, reopened in just six weeks. Check out the time-lapse video here.

The bridge was completed an entire month ahead of the original schedule, earning the contractor the full $3.1 million bonus.

In Summary

Commercial real estate developers and construction managers can reduce theft and fraudulent injury claims, potentially save money on insurance premiums, and schedule crews more efficiently with real-time video monitoring or time-lapse cameras on construction sites.

The purchase of security cameras and other equipment can also reduce tax obligations, thanks to new accelerated depreciation rules under the Trump tax reform law.

If you recently bought cameras or security equipment or are considering a purchase, contact our CPA real estate and construction specialists to learn more about how your business can save money.