Setting Up a Security System For Your Small Business

If you are a small-business owner or are responsible for the day-to-day operations of a small business, you know that it’s not a matter of if, but when you’ll suffer a loss due to robbery, burglary or internal theft. Once you face this reality, you have a choice: You can be proactive, or you can be reactive.

Shutting the barn door after the cows are gone is being reactive. Installing a video surveillance camera system that will let you monitor the premises any time of the day or night is proactive. For extra peace of mind, you can hand off the responsibility to an off-site security alarm company after closing hours. In addition to these hi-tech solutions, it never hurts to resort to a very low-tech solution — posting warning signs.

Security Signage

Whether intended for employees or the general public, warning signs can serve as a first line of defense. Should they choose to disregard them, they will face the consequences.

Security signage, whether displayed indoors or out, should be vandal-resistant, and made of metal or laminated heavy stock paper. They should be prominently displayed near main entrances, secure areas, in warehouse and at dock doors; as well as employee break rooms, bathrooms and dressing rooms. Take a walk through your property and decide which signs and locations best suit your purposes:

  • “Vandalism Will be Prosecuted”
  • “No Admittance”
  • “Authorized Personnel Only”
  • “Shoplifters Will be Prosecuted”

Psychological studies suggest that signage featuring “watching eyes” makes people act in more socially acceptable ways. Researchers in Great Britain conducted a study to see if signs had any effect on bicycle theft on college campuses. They installed durable signs bearing images of watching eyes and a corresponding verbal message above bicycle racks in three areas, and did nothing in the rest of the campus, using that as a control. After a year of monitoring, it was found that thefts had declined by 62 percent in the warning areas. This suggests that not only can signs be an inexpensive crime reduction intervention, but that merely suggesting surveillance goes a long way, even when none is in place.

Whether it is true or not, adding the words, 24 hour video surveillance” or “alarmed and monitored by police” tends to multiply a sign’s effectiveness. Yet a better idea is to follow through with either or both of them.

Video Surveillance Cameras

If you’re like most business owners, one of the first questions that come up when considering workplace cameras is: “Is it legal?” Rest assured, with the obvious exception of a few uses, you will be well within your rights.

What Type?
While Internet protocol (IP) cameras are the choice of more and more business and store owners, closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras can also work for your purpose.

  • CCTV surveillance cameras are analog and are connected to a closed circuit television network. Their signals are not distributed outside of the network, meaning they can only communicate via coaxial cables or wireless connections with video recorders and monitors connected to the company’s CCTV system. Thus they cannot be remotely viewed on outside computers or devices.
  • IP cameras are digital and, since they are installed on a company’s IP network, can communicate with any computer or device that has access to the network. The camera’s connection can be wired, (using the same wiring as your network) or wireless. IP cameras have Web servers built into them, as well as a processor and Web connections, so they work whether or not your computer is on. Video management software installed on a dedicated Windows computer controls live streaming displays as well as setting the parameters for recording and reviewing video footage. Since they can be accessed like any Web page, you can watch your store or office from anywhere, anytime whether you use a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Where to Mount?

Line of Sight:

Seeing a prominently placed security camera can cause second thoughts for a person intent on committing a crime, and in the event that he does go through with it, the footage captured can identify him as the perpetrator. Therefore, thought needs to be given to where to mount the cameras. If they are positioned too high, you will only get the tops of heads, which will be of no forensic value if presented to the police.

As a rule of thumb, cameras mounted 7 feet or higher and aimed at a 10- to 15-degree angle provide the best facial identification. In a shop or reception area, at least one camera should be placed, in this position, behind the counter, and another at the door to capture him as he flees.

However, it’s still a good idea to place another camera high overhead. A camera fitted with a wide-angle lens and mounted near the ceiling in a store, office or lobby, can capture a lot of geography and not only record a crime in progress, but provide police with clues as to the escape route the perpetrator took. That’s why you need a video camera system, with every camera having its own place and purpose.


If the camera doesn’t have enough lightthe resulting video will be too dark to be of any use. A camera that produces highly defined images during opening hours in brightly lit rooms cannot be expected to produce the same quality at night when lights are dim.

There are two remedies: Employ bright, round-the-clock lighting or, if your budget allows, spend a little bit more for a day/night camera that can use infrared lighting after closing.

When mounting a camera outdoors, give consideration to the lighting changes that take place in the course of a day. Direct sunlight will blind the camera and reduce the performance of its image sensors. If possible, outdoor cameras should be mounted facing slightly downward and placed so that the sun always shines from behind them.


If you are knowledgeable, you may be able to install a security camera system yourself, but don’t forget the maintenance issues which include periodic video management software updates and additional software licenses when you add cameras to your system. If you feel this can get in the way of your day-to-day business duties, it may be a good idea to purchase the cameras from a reputable dealer who can help you with these as well as service them now and then.

Commercial Alarm Companies

No matter how dedicated you are, you cannot be there 24/7/365. However, just because you aren’t there, doesn’t mean your business has to go unguarded. Sure, you could hire a night watchman, if indeed the occupation still exists, or you could contract with a commercial alarm company to set up sensors, alarms and provide monitoring at agreed-upon times.

The Basics:

Since there are many alarm companies in business, you should shop around and see what features will suit you best, but generally speaking, a basic security alarm system should include:

  • Central control panel — for arming at closing time and disarming at opening time
  • Door sensor — to set off an alarm if the door is opened
  • Motion sensor — to set off an alarm if movement is detected
  • Glass break sensor — to set off an alarm if a window is broken
  • Alarm

Should you wish to pay an additional fee, you can add a fire alarm/heat sensor, and motion activated video surveillance cameras.

How it All Fits Together:

If any of the sensors are tripped, the alarm will be triggered and an alarm company rep will call you or whomever you list as a primary contact. If you can verify no employee accidentally set it off, they will immediately notify the police. This middle step saves you from being charged by your local law enforcement agency should they find that it was indeed a false alarm.

How It Works:

While there are still traditional alarm systems that depend on phone lines, cable, broadband or Ethernet, most of today’s systems are wireless which is an improvement since savvy burglars have long known how to disable alarms by cutting the lines.


If you are tech savvy you may very well be able to install the system yourself. If not, the money you pay for installation will be paid back in the security of knowing that a qualified technician has placed your sensors in all the key locations.

In addition to the upfront costs, you should also ask about minimum contract lengths, termination fees, warranties and if any fees will be incurred should you relocate.

One last consideration should be given to customer service. Whether it’s a question you have about security cameras or alarms, any dealer you choose should have the knowledge to answer your every question and concern.

Author Bio:

Wes Wernette heads marketing at FireKing Security Group in New Albany, Indiana. FireKing offers products for retail and commercial security, including cash management products and physical safes. Their products are available from dealers all over the world.