How the world’s top museums protect against theft
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Faced with this daunting task, and bearing in mind that 50 per cent of thefts occur on the upper floors of museums and that it only takes 58 seconds to steal an unprotected painting, museum security experts adopt a top-down, outside-in approach.
Starting from the outer perimeter, the premises are scanned using CCTV with motion detection, infrared detection and/or laser technology. Alarm systems are attached to all architectural features on the exterior, in particular the roof, windows and doors, and on all levels of the outer building. One of the most effective CCTV-based deterrents includes having a monitor at the entrance where potential thieves can clearly see their image being recorded.
Internally, security measures include motion detectors, infrared systems, sonic alarms and RFID (radio-frequency identification) devices, which are applied to, or embedded into, works of art that allow them to be located if stolen.
Security planning includes how to display objects prominently and openly without incurring unnecessary risk. Precious items are displayed in the centre of the building rather than near the outer walls, display cases use burglar-resistant glass and picture hanging systems make theft difficult.
Museums don’t restrict their preventive measures to the latest high-tech solutions, though. They add to the general level of security using simple, tried and tested methods of controlling visitors: employing guards, setting rules for visitors and checks at entrances such as manual search and metal detection.
Channelling the movement of the viewing public along dedicated routes helps prevent theft. If you’ve ever been annoyed at being forced to follow a specific route, consider why it’s being done. A smash-and-grab thief finds it harder to sprint through a crowd that’s moving in a single direction, like trying to swim upstream. And visitors who consider being herded through museum shops prior to exit as simply for financial gain should bear in mind that it’s also an opportunity to throw extra hurdles in the path of would-be thieves.
One often neglected aspect in preventing theft is staff screening. In America, FBI figures indicate that over 70 per cent of thefts – and that’s just the solved cases - have had insider assistance. Top museums take the decision to include personnel in their risk assessment very seriously.
What’s on display in a museum is often just the tip of the iceberg, so basement and offsite storage is a major consideration. This is where safes do come in handy. Rather like the homeowner preventing residential theft, security teams rely on strong fireproof safe’s, room-sized, walk-in safes, waterproof safes and specialty collection safes.
Combine multiple security measures
The one thing top museums don’t do is resort to only one prevention method. Using the principle of redundancy, they ensure that if one layer of security fails there is at least one other level in place.
So how does The Louvre do it? Let’s just say they’ve come a very long way from a 12th century moat.
The goal of the average individual trying to prevent residential theft couldn’t be more different than that of a museum’s security team. Homeowners place their valuables in safes that are hidden away from public view, while museums have the contradictory task of putting their valuables on full display. In the case of the Louvre, such a display showcases to around 10 million visitors a year.
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