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Up On The Rooftop, Criminals Don't Pause

The Scene:

Two masked men dressed in black use a roof access ladder, their strength and what seems to be parkour training to get to the top of a warehouse roof in no time flat. The men just as hastily and skillfully gain access to the air vent system, crawl through and pull off a ceiling tile above the room that just happens to be the room they want to be in; the DVR & electrical control room. Its dark at first and the men are using their flashlights. But the motion lighting detects their movement and the room is at once illuminated. You can see them from the corner surveillance camera.

They quickly and strategically lower themselves to ground level, using server racks as their ladder. One begins to pull out all the wires to the alarm and access control panel and unplug the DVRs. The second man notices the camera in the corner…the one with the view to all this action. He lifts himself on to a cabinet and his face is now close up to the camera. Briefly, for a split second, the camera shows his eyes. Just his eyes though, because he’s wearing a black ski mask. Before you can even identify their color, BAM! He’s hit the camera with a hammer that came so fast it made you jump. Snowy static fills the screen & visual of the room is lost.

Sound like a movie you’ve seen? Mission Impossible? Ocean’s Eleven maybe? Oh, what about that old Martin Lawrence movie…what was it called? Oh ya, (thank you, Google) Blue Streak.

This actually isn’t a re-telling of a movie or a new script I’m trying to write for Hollywood, but a real life situation that happened to a business in 2013. For anyone with doubts, I’ve posted a link to actual video footage of the incident at the end of this post.

To those who have worked in security or operations in the warehouse & logistics business for any length of time; rooftop burglaries have been a known threat for several years. For the general public, or even some people in the warehouse & logistics industries, rooftop burglaries are still just a really cool part of an action movie. In fact, when I watched news clips for some of the roof top burglaries that occurred in 2013, one of the common themes I noticed were quotes such as “I never even thought about the roof” or “I didn’t think people really did that, it seems so farfetched.”

But, the reality is…it’s not farfetched. Companies big and small have learned this the hard way.

$75M Rooftop Burglary-Largest In US History-

Probably the most notorious rooftop burglary in recent history happened at a Connecticut Eli Lilly Warehouse in 2010. More than $75M worth of prescription drugs was stolen. This is the largest pharmaceutical theft in history and also the largest single theft in US history to date. Two brothers cut a hole in the ceiling, rappelled down into the warehouse with ropes, loaded pallets full of drugs onto a truck and got all the way to Florida. They were captured by the feds later and prosecuted with the help of DNA on a water bottle at the scene.

California Bank Robberies-Drilled Into Vault From Roof - Between 2002-2012, a group of thieves used construction equipment to drill through the roof of several banks from Palm Springs to Los Angeles. They broke through concrete and landed in their target spot each time…the vault. Because they went through the roof, and didn’t open the door to the vault, no alarms were triggered. They were able to steal over $16M in cash, jewelry and other items. These thieves were caught in 2013 when LAPD noticed them on a bank roof preparing for another job.

Sacramento Jack in the Box- Cut A Hole In The Roof With A Saw In June 2013, a former employee and his girlfriend went through the roof of a Jack in the Box restaurant for just a few thousand dollars in the safe. They were caught by police and all money recovered.

New York-Through Roof Then Walls At Shopping Center To Hit Multiple Businesses Quickly Just two days ago, Jan 23, 2014, the 104th precinct in New York apprehended a group of burglars who had hit multiple small storefronts in the area sometimes going through the roof of one, and then breaking through the walls of others. They robbed the stores’ ATM, register, lottery tickets, etc. They had over $12K in cash when they were captured.

If you’re part of a large company, chances are your warehouse is TAPA certified and you have an intricate CCTV and alarm system complete with motion detectors, glass break sensors and a roof-top hatch alarm. However, if you are part of a small business or have a limited security budget; not to fret. There are still some steps you can take to help prevent a rooftop burglary. And since we can’t completely stop crime and thieves seem to find system workarounds daily (as soon as there’s a new anti-theft device on the market, there’s a new anti-anti-theft device) even if you have best security standards in place, there are additional steps to help catch the thief in case he does get inside your facility, albeit by “operating” Harry Potter style. I’ve compiled a list of tips I’ve learned in my experience and posted below.

Just in case you were wondering how the opening story ended…the thieves were caught in action. The company this happened to had learned some hard lessons in the past and put some stringent security measures in place. Police were dispatched within 3 minutes of the suspects entering the DVR room, and arrived about 10 minutes later, K-9 unit in tow.

The video clip of rooftop breakin, as promised:


  • Ensure all rooftop access points are tied to your alarm system.

  • Install motion detectors tied to your alarm system in critical or high value areas.

  • Test the alarm system routinely to ensure it is in proper working order.

  • Ensure your alarm company has an updated set of work instructions on how to handle alarms. Confirm all contact information is up to date. If there are varying numbers or protocols to follow on different days/hours, ensure those are correctly conveyed and understood.

  • Place alarm monitoring company decals on all windows, doors and any landscaping areas. This won’t stop all thieves but is a good deterrent.

  • Ensure the alarm is set. This may seem obvious but I have seen a multi-million dollar theft happen because the alarm wasn’t set.

  • Place a sounder on the rooftop hatch. The noise will sometimes scare the thief away.

  • Place security bars or metal grills on all roof top access points. Include air ducts, air duct vents, rooftop hatches & glass skylights

  • Store rooftop access ladders INSIDE the building.

  • Don’t store trashcans or other items which can be used as a ladder next to your building.

  • Do daily security checks of your facility and its perimeter. Take note of anything unusual such as holes in the perimeter fence, trashcans moved next to the building, etc.

  • Educate your staff on basic security. Things such as suspicious phone calls or vehicles should be reported.

  • If you don’t have a CCTV system, think about getting one. Even a small one with cameras placed at critical entry points can help in catching a theft in progress or helping police catch the perpetrator after the burglary. There are some affordable options. There are even cameras that work off cell signal now and alert you on motion and send the images to your smart phone.

  • Make friends with the local police. If you do get a break-in, they are the first responders. You don’t have to invite them to your daughter’s wedding, but showing respect and appreciation to the boys in blue will go a long way. Reach out to the local department head to see if you can buy pizza for shift change or if there is an opportunity for your company to co-sponsor an event.

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Not just literally looking at your immediate surroundings but also talking to your business neighbors, watching the news, or becoming part of a business community law enforcement partnership program so you can be aware of crime in your area.

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