I’ve written this post in response to a few emails I received from the owners of small and CL sites that realise the necessity of providing proper security for their visitors. Security worries are by no means exclusive to us van owners. Places where we meet up and congregate such as camp sites need to be and are just as vigilant to the potential of theft. The financial success of any site depends on its reputation among the caravan and motor home communities. Reports or even rumors of thefts from a site will quickly tarnish their hard earned reputation and affect business.
Small, privately owned sites and CL’s face some unique problems. To begin with, they have a limited seasonal income that rules out many of the expensive, hi-tech security measures deployed by large or club sites. More often than not they’re located in picturesque rural areas with large boundaries to protect.
Clearly we cannot expect the staff on a small site to watch over every pitch but there are certain deterrents and precautions they can implement that wont be intrusive or break the bank, indeed the presence of these are things we need to consider when booking.
The following are some of the ways a small site can make a big difference to their security without too great a financial outlay. In many cases a lower cost basic application will suffice but I have suggested some enhancements that you may want to consider.
Entrance and Exits
Maintaining a single entrance and exit to the site is advantageous for a number of reasons. All traffic must pass this way so there’s only one point to monitor and protect. It should have a sturdy, single piece gate with solid posts that is locked overnight. Don’t be tempted to use a normal double gate, the lock between them is a weak point that’s easily cut or broken by nudging it with a vehicle. Traffic barrier arms offer no security at all, they can simply be lifted out of the way.
A good manual gate fitted from the start can be enhanced later. Options include electronic open/close, PIN or smartcard access, timer control. Linked to a CCTV system with number plate recognition it can even be programmed to recognise and open for specific vehicles as they approach. I would suggest however that your money is best spent on resilience rather than features.
CCTV is not the great expense you may think it is. A simple system comprising of a camera at the gate, a recorder and monitor in reception will let you see everything entering or leaving the site without leaving the office. Even if you miss something you’ll be able to look back and see what happened.
One camera focused on the gate should be sufficient to capture the front of arriving vehicles including their registration numbers and occupants, a good polarising lens filter will eliminate reflection and glare from windscreens letting you see the occupants clearly in all conditions. A second camera facing in the opposite direction will provide the same cover for vehicles leaving the site.
If there is a need and your budget permits, additional camera may be added around the site. You can also add additional features such as number plate recognition and motion tracking. I do have another section on CCTV under Perimeter Security later in this article.
Flood lighting is never going to be popular on a camp site but it is important to keep the gate area reasonably well illuminated not just for the safety of those entering or leaving but to let you monitor activity. Most CCTV cameras these days have infrared capability that allows them to see in the dark but they will not be able to read number plates without some visible light source.
The ideal lighting solution will activate when it detects motion, be bright enough to see what’s happening but not dazzling to drivers. At least one light should be placed either side of entering vehicles to avoid dark or shadowed areas. A lamp on top of each gate post works best for many.
As I mentioned, most small sites are in remote areas surrounded by open fields. Determined thieves, especially those in stolen vehicles, think nothing of entering a site, stealing a van and dragging it across farmland to escape. Doing so means they avoid the usual security precautions present at the main entrance. Some sites may be fortunate enough to be walled but a typical wood and wire fence or hedgerow for that matter offers no real protection. Fortunately there are things you can do to protect your boundaries effectively.
Mounding & Ditching
This can be a very cost effective and efficient method of preventing unwanted vehicle access. Essentially a trench is dug around the site perimeter with the soil removed from the ditch creating the mound immediately alongside. A ditch on it’s own might be bridged with wooden planks, the mound alongside makes this much less likely. A good size mound and ditch will stop even the most capable 4x4s especially one towing a caravan.
It may not look very pleasant at first but In time the grass will cover the excavation making it much more attractive as well as effective. If you already have or are planning a hedged or fenced perimeter, the trench can be concealed behind them.
If your site is large enough, mounding and ditching can be used do divide it into discreet areas or lanes. As well as being a deterrent to joyriders it prevents guests taking shortcuts across grass areas.
Again a very efficient method of preventing unwanted vehicles but significantly more expensive than a mound and ditch. A wall can be rammed and partially demolished by a vehicle but damage caused as well as the rubble will still be enough to stop most attacks.
A well built stone wall can be an extremely attractive feature in its own right. With minimal maintenance it should last a lifetime.
Security fencing is not cheap and in my humble opinion, not the best option for a caravan site. For a start it’s ugly, more in keeping with a prison than a holiday venue. It also has some serious failings when it comes to security. Yes they’ll keep people out but there’s no guarantees when it comes to vehicles. If a fence is rammed it will usually fall flat enough to drive over. It’s also very easy to attach a rope or chain and pull it down. An ugly fence can be hidden behind hedging making it look better but adding nothing as a deterrent.
People take priority over property.
It goes without saying that the safety of you and your staff is far more important than protecting property. Do not under any circumstances put yourself or anyone else at risk by challenging intruders. Before you do anything, call the police, at least you’ll know help is on the way. Remaining safe, do what you can to scare them off, switch on lights, sound any alarms you have, shout if that will work – anything that lets them know they’ve been seen will eventually scare them off but be prepared to back off and protect yourself immediately.
It’s not easy to stand there watching someone take or damage your property so occupy yourself by gathering as much information as you can. If you have CCTV, make sure it’s recording and has the best view of what’s happening. Take notes, how many are there?, what are they wearing?, can you hear what they’re saying? Do they have accents? Do they use names when calling to each other? What about vehicles? Registration numbers? Make? Model? Colour? Distinguishing features such as roof racks, additional lighting? stickers? Damage? All of this will help the police find and identify them later. You’ll be amazed at how little you remember after an incident so make a conscious effort and note it down.
If you’re a van owner rather than a site owner reading this, let me remind you that the security of your van ultimately rests with YOU not the site you’re on. A good site will always do what they can to help and protect you but they have much more to do than stand guard at the gate. Please read my articles:
and do your bit to prevent crime.
A Good Example of Bad Security!
Not that you need any proof that sites need to continually review and adapt their security, I suggest you have a look at this recent Facebook thread. This beautiful and expensive van was stolen by cutting away the perimeter hedge. More worryingly, the site has had other van thefts using exactly the same method. If you don’t learn from and address your vulnerabilities, don’t be surprised when they’re exploited again!