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Security of Warehouses and Distribution Centers

Warehouses and distribution centers are frequent targets of burglary, theft and pilferage. These facilities contain lots of new merchandise in its original packaging, something that is highly-desirable to both professional and amateur thieves.

The large quantity of merchandise in most warehouses also brings out an emotional feeling within many people that suggests: "Wow, there are so many of these items, they won't miss just one…". This feeling can sometimes tempt people who otherwise wouldn't think of themselves as criminals.

Warehouses are subject to both internal and external theft. Internal thefts are committed by company employees, contractors, and other "insiders" who have a legitimate reason to be in the warehouse at certain times. External thefts are committed by "outsiders"- people outside of the company who have no legitimate need to be in the warehouse and are coming to the facility specifically to steal.

Truck drivers and other types of delivery service drivers can pose a specific security risk. Some drivers have gotten into the habit of stealing from their customers when making a pick-up or delivery, and consider this to be a justifiable "fringe benefit" given the inadequate wages that they feel they are making. Drivers are often allowed to wander freely while their trailer is being loaded or unloaded and can use this opportunity to gather up items that they wish to steal. It is often easy to place additional items into the trailer after it has been loaded, or to place stolen items into the cab of the truck unnoticed.

Along the same lines, many warehouse employees feel that they are underpaid and underappreciated, and look at stealing from the warehouse as a way to supplement their income and to get back at their employer at the same time. There are variety of ways in which warehouse employees can steal: some simply load merchandise into their car during the day; others place merchandise in trash bins and come back later to retrieve it; and still others may pack merchandise into a box and ship it to themselves using a bogus address that they have established just for this purpose.

Sometimes, dishonest warehouse employees work in conjunction with dishonest truck drivers to steal from the company. This can be a particularly dangerous combination: the warehouse employee has knowledge of what's coming and going, can plant stolen merchandise in outgoing shipments, and can modify paperwork to cover his tracks - while the truck driver has the means to remove the merchandise from the warehouse. Collusion between warehouse employees and truck drivers is a big problem in some industries and is responsible for multiple millions of dollars of losses each year.

Here are a few suggestions for providing good security at warehouses and distribution centers:

  • Try to separate areas used for Shipping away from areas used for Receiving. When possible, provide physical barriers between these two areas.

  • Where possible, provide a separately fenced yard area that encloses the warehouse shipping and receiving doors. Establish a policy that prohibits personal vehicles from being driven into the shipping and receiving yard area. Keep the gate to the exterior yard area locked at times when the warehouse is closed.

  • Do not allow employee or visitor parking near warehouse shipping and receiving doors.

  • Do not allow truck drivers to wander through your warehouse. If possible, provide a dedicated "driver lounge" for use by drivers. Driver lounge should contain restrooms and other amenities that can be used by drivers while they are waiting for their trailers to be loaded or unloaded. Access to driver lounge should not require travel through interior warehouse areas.

  • Exterior trash and recycle containers should not be directly accessible from the inside of the warehouse. If possible, locate exterior trash and recycle containers away from building. Keep trash and recycle containers locked. Establish procedures for trash removal that requires at least two employees to be present when trash is being removed from the building.

  • When possible, the warehouse manager's office should be located so that direct visual observation of the shipping and receiving bay doors from the office is possible.

  • Avoid stacking merchandise directly in front of shipping and receiving doors - try to maintain a "clear-zone of at least ten feet.

  • Don't leave valuables sitting unattended on exterior loading docks or platforms.

  • Provide separate areas for the storage of valuable or highly desirable items, such as computer and electronic equipment, cigarettes, liquor, baby formula, expensive clothing, etc. If possible. create separately lockable "high-value" cages or rooms for the storage of these items.

  • Use an electronic access control system to control access into high-value rooms or cages. Access control system should be capable of providing audit trail of who entered and when.

  • Provide video surveillance system to record activity in high value cages and rooms. Cameras should be placed to view entrance points as well as interior areas.

  • Consider instituting policy where at least two employees must be present in order to enter a high-value cage or room ("two-man rule").

  • In locations where overhead doors must be left open for ventilation purposes, provide folding metal security gates to protect the door opening when the door is left open. Consider the use of an electronic door monitoring system that sounds an alert when both the overhead door and the folding gate have been left open for longer than a specified time period.

  • Strictly limit the number of exterior doors that can be used for employee entrance and exit. Avoid having entrance doors where they cannot be observed by staff. Provide audible exit alarms on all doors designated as emergency exit only doors. Consider the use of delayed-egress devices on emergency exit doors that are being frequently misused.

  • Establish procedures to control outgoing shipments to prevent employees from making unauthorized shipments to themselves.

  • Avoid situations where trailers filled with merchandise are stored in your warehouse yard at times when the warehouse is closed. If trailers containing merchandise must be stored outside, consider installing an intrusion alarm system to protect the exterior yard area and/or the trailers themselves.

  • Large warehouses and distribution centers should have manned security checkpoints at the entrances to the site. All outbound trucks should be required to stop at the checkpoint for inspection prior to leaving the site. At smaller warehouses where a manned checkpoint cannot be justified, consider having a supervisor or security officer make unannounced checks of outbound vehicles on a random basis.


If you need help in improving security at your warehouse or distribution center, please contact us.


(Also see related article Security of Trailers  at Warehouses )

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