GPS tracking cuts WA building site thefts

The WA building industry has resorted to GPS tracking and mobile phone detection technology to crack down on building site theft costing tens of millions of dollars a year.

WA building giant BGC has hired security and investigation firm Braven Group Services to safeguard its sites, including fitting appliances such as ovens, whitegoods and hot-water systems with GPS trackers.

The device transmits an SMS or email alert when it is moved, or is taken beyond a virtual perimeter around a construction site, and is then monitored by a live link that can be shared with police or security.

BGC Residential executive general manager Michael Bartier said the company took action after being hit with four or five break-ins a month.

“The excesses and skyrocketing costs of insurance are a real burden to the company,” he said.

“But we’re really conscious of the knock-on effect to smaller trades and companies. If a tradie loses the materials they are supplying it can, in this market, mean the difference between paying wages and not paying wages.

“It also significantly impacts the time in which a home is built, so the homeowner is paying more.”

Display homes in suburbs including Piara Waters and Harrisdale were often targeted.

Last year a display home was broken into three times in one night and furniture, plants and even lawn stolen.

This prompted BGC to set up surveillance cameras but then they were stolen. Mr Bartier said the tracking technology had already curbed theft.

Matt Cooper, whose company GPS Tracking Systems supplies the devices, said they could last for up to five years on one set of batteries.

No GPS-fitted items have been stolen, which Mr Cooper said was likely because of signs warning the technology was being used.

“Evidence has shown that once word gets out that GPS tracking has been added to high-value assets on the building sites, theft levels are reducing,” he said.

Braven hoped to set up an industry-wide database and director Kevin Minchinton said it was important for companies to report theft.

“If police don’t get the stats, they don’t think it’s a problem,” he said. “We need every item, whether it’s cement, frames, copper cables, to be reported.”

The Master Builders Association is in talks with Braven to roll out the technology and is also looking at trialling a system that could detect the mobile phone number of anyone who entered a building site.

MBA WA executive director Michael McLean said previous estimates of a $50 million-a-year cost, Australia-wide, were a “gross underestimate.”

“It’s a problem that is very serious and has caused a lot of stress and cost to both builders and their clients,” Mr McLean said.

“Most of the theft comes when a project is nearing completion, where there is more potential for a would-be thief to steal, whether it’s whitegoods, fittings, sound systems.

“During construction you have potential for contractors’ tools, equipment or materials to be stolen.”

Some companies had fences, security patrols, lighting and cameras, but these measures had only gone some way to stopping the problem.

Source: The West Australian