Last updateWed, 01 Jul 2020 1pm

The Best Policy: The Burglary Next Door and the wisdom of safe placement

Jeweler Perry Reeba had two good safes for his level of inventory - they were not the highest rated safes by any means, but they met his insurance company’s requirements for a store with his amount of inventory.  Both safes were described by the manufacturer as a “UL TL 30.”   Perry could have bought a single, higher rated safe, but he had reasoned that the two lesser-rated safes would cost about the same or less, and he would have the advantage of being able to split his merchandise into two containers. 

“Burglars might bust into one safe, but they’d never have time to deal with two of them,” was Perry’s thought.

And Perry Reeba Gems also had what Perry considered a “state of the art” alarm system – according to the person who sold it to him.  And it included a set of contacts on each safe door and a motion detector mounted above the safes that would trigger the alarm as anyone approached them.  Perry accidentally set the alarm off one day and he received a call from the monitoring company within just a few minutes – proof, in his mind, of an excellent alarm system! 

Reeba put his two safes side-by-side in his back-room area - backed up against the brick wall that ran between the store and the real estate office next door. 

Then one night crooks easily compromised the alarm system of the real estate office and entered it, easily forcing a back door that had a medium-security lock on it.  Then they brought in the rest of the equipment they would use in the crime.  By careful casing of Reeba’s Gems a few days prior, the crooks knew exactly where, in one of the business offices, they would be opposite the jewelry safes – only a few inches of clay and cement away.

With the efficiency of a moving crew, they moved furnishings away from the wall to give themselves room to work.  The fact that the wall was masonry rather than a simple stem wall of studs and sheetrock was a minor distinction that just meant that the attack would require chiseling tools and that it would take a few minutes longer to break through.  But time was their ally in this instance; with the alarm system of the real estate office turned off, and working in one of the back offices, they would have hours to work if need be.

Soon, there was a huge gaping hole in the wall which clearly exposed the backs of both safes.  Torch equipment was brought into the room and the attack on the first safe began.

Jeweler’s Quiz: How long would it take to cut a 96 sq. in. hole in a 1” solid steel plate?  (96 sq. in. is what Underwriter’s Laboratories defines as a “person-size opening,” through which a small person might be able to pass.) Answer at the end of the article.

When Perry opened his store the next day, it seemed to him just the beginning of another average day in the jewelry trade.  He unlocked and entered through the back door and turned off his alarm just as he did every day.  The alarm had not gone off during the night, and there was nothing out of character for the store.

He opened the door of the first safe, but instead of seeing boxes and trays of jewelry, Perry was shocked to be peering directly into a cluttered mess in a conference room of the real estate office!

It is important to state at this point that this is a fictitious narrative; yet the crime described is one which has occurred many times in the jewelry industry in America. 

The alarm system.  We don’t know by this story whether Perry had a good alarm system or not – assuming it to be a good system from a single incident of accidentally setting it off is like saying that you know you have excellent tires because you just drove across town and didn’t have a flat. 

For example, safe vibration detectors would likely have been triggered by the safe attacks – and also as the crooks chiseled and hammered away on the masonry wall; but they were not part of Reeba’s “state of the art” alarm system.

The safes. Perry’s reasoning that it would take longer to break into two safes than it would for one was accurate – assuming the comparison is one TL-30 safe vs. two TL-30 safes.  But here’s the problem:  The “TL” in the rating stands for tool.  That means that the safe was tested and found to be effective against very simple, ordinary hand tools such as are found in many home shops and garages.  The test did not include higher level power tools – and it did not include a torch.  (Hint:  If an oxyacetylene torch had been a part of the test, the safe would have been rated “TRTL 30.”)

Also, the UL test was a 30 minute trial and was performed only against the door of the safe and the framing around it.  Not only did these burglars attack the untested back surface of the safe; by never entering the alarm-protected jewelry store premises, they had literally all night to work.

But did they need all night?  Here’s the answer to the Jeweler’s Quiz, above.  In a timed test using a common welder’s torch (oxygen and acetylene mixture), performed against 1” plate steel, it took approximately three minutes to cut a hole of 96 sq. in.   Many TL-30 safes are constructed of 1” plate steel.

Tip #1 If possible, avoid locating your safe(s) or building a vault against an “outside wall” of the premises – including party walls to adjacent premises.

Tip #2 When closed to business, your safe is the most important area of your store to protect – and by more than one device.  Consider all of the following:  safe contacts on the door, vibration sensors on the body of the safe (1-3, depending on the size and make-up of the safe), and motion detection – mounted across from rather than above.

Tip #3 Understand the UL code for safe ratings and select a safe that exceeds rather than “just meets” insurance requirements.  TL = tool, TR = torch; 15, 30, or 60 = time of the test; X6 = six sides of safe tested (without “X6,” door-only test).  Some security experts would argue that a person does not really have a security safe unless it meets UL manufacturing and testing guidelines on all six sides.  

Tip #4 Check your premises thoroughly when there is an alarm call (and only with police or guard assistance), and remember also that thieves do not always enter through doors and windows.  They often enter from above or from next door.

As most jewelers who have had burglaries would attest, to have insurance coverage after a burglary is comforting – and will help to restore the business, but it would have been far better to not have experienced it at all.

Bob Carroll is a Certified Insurance Specialist associated with Robert G. Carroll and Associates and Clockwork Insurance Services, serving the jewelry industry throughout Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Alabama.  E-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..