It was 7 p.m., the weather was rotten, and Amy Thist had just gotten home from a busy day at the store and settled in front of her fireplace when the phone rang.
“This is Wiketchem Alarm Company. We are getting a motion-sensor trip at your store.”
Reluctantly, Amy put her coat back on and drove the five miles back to the store. The police had already arrived, had done a visual check of the exterior of the store, found nothing, and were waiting for Amy to arrive for an interior check of the premises.
Inside, nothing was found to be out of the ordinary. A helium-filled “balloon-o-gram” which had been delivered that day was on a desk in the same room as the offending motion detector. Amy removed it and successfully reset the alarm as she and the police exited.
Perry Doe roused sleepily and reached to turn off his alarm clock. Why was it going off at 1 a.m.? Then Perry’s mind focused enough to realize that the annoying sound was from his bedside telephone. The alarm company was calling to report a possible break-in at the jewelry store. Perry asked for the dispatcher’s name and ID number, which he jotted on a note-pad that he kept next to the phone.
His next step was to call the monitoring company back; he had the number on a card under the note-pad. “I’m calling to confirm an alarm call at Perry Doe Jewelry; my access code is …” The dispatcher confirmed the call and Perry said he would leave immediately for the store – would they please contact the guard service or police if they had not already done so.
Perry arrived at the store to find a pick-up truck sitting half inside his store, broken glass and bent metal were everywhere.
Alexander Wright had been plagued by false alarm calls for several nights in a row – at different times of night, but always for the same reason. It was happening again. Each time, the phone line monitor was showing “fault” for some unknown reason, but the system always reset itself. This night he decided to tell the alarm company to ignore the signal and not dispatch, and Alex went back to sleep.
Emma Rallgrine got a call from her alarm company when she was at a party one Saturday night. She was told that the only unit showing trouble was one of the four motion detectors in the showroom; none of the door contacts or glass-break sensors had been activated – proof to Emma that no one could actually be in the store. Anyone wanting to break into her store would have to break a window or force a door before tripping an interior motion sensor. So Emma returned to the party, resolved to call for an alarm technician to come on Monday to fix the problem unit.
Let’s look at each of these alarm scenarios.
Amy Thist – Amy had only one unit that was indicating a problem in her store – a motion detector which appeared to have been triggered by a wavering ball of gas. That was a plausible explanation. On the other hand, did anyone check the roof? Is it possible that burglars had begun a penetration from above, and that vibration or noise from the tools or equipment had triggered the alarm system?
We don’t know for certain. But had there been another alarm that night after removing the balloons, Amy would have had reason to suspect a more serious problem.
Perry did a lot of things right. Knowing that a fake call from the alarm company could lure him to the store on a dangerous false pretext, or permit a hostage situation at his home, Perry’s first act was to confirm the call. Note also that he called using a phone number that he independently knew to be correct – rather than ask the caller for a call-back number.
Next, he made certain that police or the guard service would meet him at the store. Had he arrived before them, he would have waited in his locked vehicle for assistance.
Burglars had been tampering with the phone line. They first tested the line to see if the system was monitored or if there was a back-up communicator such as cellular phone or radio. There was, so their ploy then was to test the system repeatedly to the point that the jeweler or the alarm company would simply ignore it. After three nights, the plan worked. They broke into the store through the back door and took the safe out through the same door.
The first thing that Emma saw when she entered her store on Monday morning was the rope. Next, her eyes spotted the debris on the floor, and then the hole in the roof through which the rope still hung.
Showcases which had contained merchandise were empty, having been opened from the back. Burglars had dropped into the store and crept behind showcases, those cases forming a protective “shadow” from the other motion detectors.
Emma mistakenly believed that burglars used doors and windows to break into premises they intend to burglarize. They don’t – especially when going for jewelry. In fact, doors and windows are seldom the way in for professional thieves who are after serious merchandise.
Burglars enter by removing heating and air conditioning units to gain access through duct work; they crawl over stem walls or smash through them from adjacent premises; they cut and chisel through solid masonry walls, and they “drop in” after cutting holes in roofs, whether wood, steel, or solid concrete. They even cut their way up from lower premises and basements, or tunnels.
What does insurance require?
There is no question that alarm systems are essential to the jewelry industry. No safe or vault is impenetrable – all can be opened given the right tools and enough time. Alarm systems take away the element of time and for that reason are a critical part of every jeweler’s security formula.
At the same time, alarm systems can sometimes be a source of consternation. Systems can give false readings, units can malfunction, batteries can go down. Anything electronic can be foiled – or fooled. Jewelers spend a great deal of money to install and maintain their alarm systems; then does it make sense to ignore them?
Are there circumstances where alarm malfunction is clear or at least very probable? There are. For example, adverse weather can affect alarm systems. Also the location of a particular unit that is faulting in relation to other equipment can be a clue to the possibility of a system malfunction.
What should you do if your system will not set up when it is time to close? What should you do when you receive an alarm call after closing?
Perry Doe provides a good example for what to do when you receive a call. Confirm the alarm using an independent phone number before leaving home; request police or guard response; drive to the store and wait for assistance before entering; check the premises thoroughly, inside and out, looking for signs of forcible entry – remembering to also check adjacent businesses and to look for indications of roof access.
Most insurance companies at least recommend that an alarm call be responded to by the subscriber (what alarm people call jewelers). Some may require it. If the alarm will not set, someone may need to remain inside the premises – lights on, cell phone at hand, frequent police drive-by requested.
Does that put the person inside at risk? The risk is not as great as one might think. Burglary is by nature not a confrontational crime. A burglar’s goal is to sneak in, steal what he came to steal, and then go away – leaving the victim to discover the crime hours later. A person remaining inside the store is generally cause to abort the crime and try again elsewhere – even though that person is not actually there to “guard” the premises nor expected to resist should there be an attack on the store.
Some insurers will recommend or require that a guard be hired if the alarm system is not functioning. Some insurers recommend that a jeweler call the insurance company for specific instructions. Knowing what to do is really a case of knowing your insurance carrier and that company’s expectations – and whether those expectations are recommendations or requirements. The difference is that if a requirement is not adhered to, coverage may be jeopardized.
Check your policy for endorsements related to your alarm system. Check to see if your insurer offers any literature with instructions on what to do in the event of alarm failure. Is there a requirement that the insured (jeweler) respond to every alarm situation – or is that the recommended procedure?
Can you talk to your insurance company in the middle of the night – on a weekend? Can you talk to a real person to discuss the situation and get advice, or do you get a recording and an opportunity to leave a message for a call-back on the next business day? Is your carrier in another country or “across the pond,” and do you know how to reach someone in authority in an emergency? Can you call your agent for advice?
This agent places significant business with one carrier who provides guidelines – a set of procedures that are recommended and encouraged for the prevention of loss. That company also provides an emergency phone number that allows the jeweler to speak with a person in the home office who has the authority to advise and make binding decisions. Additionally, the agent provides 24/7 accessibility. A guard or “staying with the store” is seldom required as prudence and common sense often suggest other options.
If you were looking for this column to give you unequivocal instructions as to what you must do in the event of alarm failure, and an answer to whether your carrier will pay a loss if certain “rules” are not followed; you are disappointed. There is not one answer that will apply no matter who the carrier might be.
The key is for you to read your policy, and know your insurance carrier and what that company expects of you when you receive an alarm call. And since no two situations are exactly the same, determine where or whom you can go to when you have questions … on a Sunday morning at 2 a.m.
Bob Carroll of Robert G. Carroll and Associates is a Certified Insurance Counselor specializing in insurance for the jewelry industry for more than twenty-five years, representing Jewelers Mutual and other carriers in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Tennessee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.