Vacant Building Security

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 31,000 vacant-building fires between 2003 and 2006. Vacant buildings accounted for 7% of the $9 billion in direct property loss and 2% of the civilian deaths associated with U.S. fires.

In the first four months of 2010, the city of El Paso, Texas, faced seven fires in vacant structures. In April 2010, a vacant doctor’s office in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was destroyed in a fire that resulted in $300,000 in damage.

A vacant building represents more than an economic burden for a property owner—it can also be a magnet for property damage and liability risks associated with fire, vandalism or illicit activities.

Securing vacant buildings against unauthorized entry and taking prudent steps to maintain the building’s infrastructure are critical steps in protecting the structure, as well as in guarding against property damage and liability claims.

In addition, there may be municipal or county regulations outlining necessary steps to secure vacant buildings. For example, as you vacate a building, you may be required to notify emergency responders and other local officials, or to board up ground-level building openings.

Exterior Measures

Part of what makes a vacant building an attractive nuisance is the presence of broken windows, overgrow vegetation, trash-strewn parking lots or other signals that advertise a building’s vacancy as clearly as a lighted sign would.

To help reduce the risk of a bad situation growing worse, keep the following in mind:

  • Remove trash and combustible materials from the building exterior.
  • Maintain or upgrade exterior lighting to deter loitering, vandalism or other illicit activities.
  • Hire a security service to drive by the building daily to look for signs of unauthorized entry or other emerging problems.
  • Block parking lot entrances and driveways to prevent illegal dumping or access to the property.
  • Trim or remove exterior plants that could provide hiding places or contribute to the appearance of the building being vacant.
  • Check the roof regularly for growing vegetation, clogged drains, signs of forced entry or other potential hazards.

If it appears that someone has entered a vacant building, resist the temptation to investigate the site on your own. Contact the police and request their assistance.

Maintain Building Systems

While taking a number of steps outside the building can help reduce the risks of owning a vacant facility, it is also important to maintain the building’s heating, essential utilities and fire-protection system as well as services such as pest control.

For example, electric, gas and water service should be maintained to the building’s alarm and heating systems, as well as to ensure the proper operation of wet-pipe sprinkler systems. According to NFPA, automatic extinguishing equipment is found in only 2% of vacant building fires and, in the vast majority of vacant building fires, the fire-protection systems had been turned off.

Central station alarm systems should be installed to monitor the building’s temperature as well as to detect early signs of fire and unauthorized entry.

Company owners should also address potential hazards such as unprotected floor openings or poorly lit areas that could injure people entering the building, such as workers, utility employees, security officers or even trespassers.

These measures can help your company avoid compounding the economic losses associated with owning a vacant building with extensive property damage, liability exposures, injury or death.

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