KCB Thika robbery: Key lessons for business, home owners

Thursday December 7 2017

KCB Thika heist

Police on November 20, 2017 deliberate on investigations into the heist at KCB Thika branch. PHOTO | MARY WAMBUI | NATION 

By DELFHIN MUGO
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On Sunday, November 19, a gang of thieves accessed the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) branch in Thika by digging a tunnel from an adjacent building before drilling holes into the safes and making away with Sh50 million

Information on how the bank’s supposedly secure location was breached and the money stolen remains scanty, and there are more questions than answers to the bank’s security, or lack thereof.

For instance, most of the experts DN2 spoke to wondered why the bank’s strong room lacked modern security installations such as smart closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and vibration and motion sensors.

“A lot could have been done technology-wise to thwart those efforts but we cannot blame everything on lack of technology. It’s first an issue to do with the management’s mindset,” says Mr Mukira Gitonga, the chief executive officer and co-founder of home automation company, Chimera IOT (Internet of Things).

That the bank was located close to a police station might have made it even more vulnerable, says Mr Gitonga; the management might not have taken many precautions, believing that their close proximity to the police station assured them of security.

“To secure any place you need to have an open-minded approach that the worst can happen. The management should have invested just a little money on security and they would have been fine.”

MOTION DETECTORS

Mr Gitonga says that since the bank is located on a busy street, they should have installed special seismic sensors that detect vibration on the ground.

These detectors rely on seismic and acoustic sensors which can detect large (heavy vehicle) or small-sized objects (such as people or small disturbances).

The sensors can be adjusted to tune out noise from motor vehicles and would have detected intrusion from underground. “I don’t have the details, but I wonder why they didn’t have motion detectors inside the strong room,” says Mr Gitonga.

Ms Priscilla Mureithi, a locks expert with Tenacity Locks Ltd, offers a hint: “If the bank had sensors, then the conclusion we can make is that the system was compromised by an insider.”

Acknowledging that technology cannot solve everything, Mr Gitonga says that another measure the bank could have taken was to observe the employees’ behaviour patterns to detect any suspicious conduct.

One of the most detrimental factors to security is developing a routine and the bank should have been aware of this, he notes. For instance, assigning duties randomly, especially to subordinates involved in, say cleaning the strong room, as opposed to having a month-long schedule, would have helped thwart the “insider’s” efforts.

On the whole, Mr Gitonga believes that the lesson from the bank heist is clear: cutting corners is very expensive when it comes to security. He estimates that it would have cost the bank a maximum of Sh200,000 to have ground vibration detectors installed.

But away from the bank, the question every home owner should ask themselves is how they could have forestalled such a meticulously planned and executed burglary. Below is what the experts had to say.

SECURITY GUARD

Having a well-trained and motivated security guard from a reputable private security company is the first and the most important human intervention in foiling any burglary.

Mr Brian Abungana, a security expert and the head of the Fire Department at Radar Security, says. And besides being physically fit, your security guard should have at least three months’ training in, among other areas, communication, surveillance and detection; alarm activation; suspicious character, personnel and vehicle detection; fire safety and first aid; and search techniques and patrol.

The guard brings in the much-needed human intelligence, Mr Abungana says. adding that his/her role is to conduct random and constant patrols around the home in order to detect suspicious items, activities or people.

The guard should also deal with any threat and if unable to, should raise the alarm, which will prompt the back-up team to intervene. But although guards can also monitor CCTVs, they are being edged out with the advent of more sophisticated cameras.

For efficiency, ensure that your guard is regularly supervised by their hiring company. But your monitoring the guard will also go a long way in ensuring that they are efficient.

Mr Abungana notes that night guards are usually provided with GPRS clocking systems mounted at specific locations within the compound, which they use to send signals to the control room to indicate that they are awake. Failure to send a signal triggers an activation that summons a back-up team.

PERIMETER FENCE

Several incidents of people being ambushed by thugs as they wait for the gate to be opened have been reported. What can you do to pre-empt such an attack?
Mr Abungana says you can install a remote-controlled gate, which you open only as you approach it. Alternatively, you can have a buzzer installed at the gate to alert the security guard that you are approaching.

Meanwhile, Mr Gitonga says that, funds allowing, you can install a smart electric gate which can be configured to open automatically as you approach it and closes behind you.

Their suggestions offer ways of reducing the chance of being attacked at the gate by reducing the time you would take to get out of the car to open the gate or wait for the watchman to do it.

Notably, while many people fancy having a high, brick-and-mortar perimeter wall complete with an electric fence, Mr Gitonga dismisses the idea, saying it is not an effective deterrent against a determined robber.

Besides, the high cost of putting it up and maintaining it is not commensurate with the security it provides. He says burglars can easily access a wall using a ladder, irrespective of its height.

“I would recommend just a basic perimeter wall backed up with smart features such as motion sensors and smart security lights,” he says.

THE COMPOUND

Considering that most burglaries take place at night, the security experts says that one of the basic items to have all around your compound are security lights, which deter criminals. However, Mr Gitonga advises that you go for smart security lights.

“These lights are usually synchronised with a mobile application on your phone and enable you to control the them. Such a system allows you to adopt some randomness by setting the lights in such a way that they come on at different times of the night on different days. This ensures that even if someone is spying on you, they cannot establish the exact times at what time you arrive or leave your house,” says Mr Gitonga.

While motion sensors could have worked perfectly for KCB, they might not be ideal in a family setting, unless one lives alone. This is because the presence of more than one person will trigger the sensors from time to time. If this happens, the guard or back-up team might dismiss an alarm as false, even when the threat is genuine, says Mr Gitonga.

With their skills in patroling, alarm activation, as well as suspicious character, personnel and vehicle detection, Mr Abungana says, security guards are handy in the compound.

SMART CAMERAS

Many people, especially in urban areas, have installed CCTV cameras to monitor what happens at home. However, Mr Gitonga says, it’s not enough to have ordinary CCTV cameras.

“We now have smart cameras. What makes a smart camera different is that you can view everything on your mobile phone and it has a security feature that enables it to do basic facial recognition,” he offers.

The smart cameras ignore pets but the moment they pick the stature of a human being, they send a notification to the home owner with video footage in real time.

“The notification pops up like a WhatsApp video call,” says Mr Gitonga.
Mr Abungana says that CCTV cameras should be installed at security-sensitive areas such as all entrances to the house, the car park, and in a multi-storey house, above the stair case.

DETER AND DELAY THE BURGLAR

Ms Veronica Mugo, a locks expert and saleslady at Mathaga Hardware, which deals in locks and padlocks, among other things, suggests that you go for strong mild steel doors and reinforced window systems that will take a burglar a long time to break through. Her colleague, Mr Joseph Macharia, says it’s foolhardy to have very strong doors but extremely weak padlocks or locks.

“There is no such thing as a foolproof door or window system. The idea is to deter and delay the burglar so that they either give up, or get caught in the act. For that, you need heavy-duty padlocks or locks to complement the strong doors,” says Mr Macharia.

Mr Macharia’s sentiments are shared by Mr Kennedy Ndwiga, a locks expert and CEO and founder of Tenacity Locks Ltd, who notes, “Given the right tools, right set of skills and time, any system can be broken into. The idea is usually to deny the burglar the advantage of time.”

Emphasizing that the custody of keys is very important, Ms Mugo gives the example of smart door bells as the solution to having duplicate copies of your keys for relatives and workers.

“The smart door bell is connected to the lock on your door, so anytime someone rings the doorbell, it automatically pops up on your phone, allowing you to open the door for them and when they are done, after they close the door, you get an alert that someone has locked your door, meaning it’s now permanently locked,” says Ms Mugo.

PANIC BUTTON

Even after taking all the necessary precautions, it is still possible that an intruder can enter your house. If the you are at home, the ideal way to raise the alarm at this point is through the panic button.

This home automation feature is usually installed at a convenient location as suggested by the home owner, either on some walls or fitted in as a key holder. When pressed, the panic button sends a signal to a pre-subscribed security service provider or the police and the next of kin.

Mr Gitongs points out that the KCB bank heist is a clear indication that burglars are getting smarter by the day. Consequently, home owners should be a step ahead to ensure that they are protected from every angle.

For instance, the fact that the strong room had reinforced walls, a strong door and probably only the manager had the key, according to the experts, might have made the bank’s security personnel and management comfortable, and thus vulnerable.

Mr Chimera says they should have taken security further by installing passive infrared sensors (PIR). A PIR sensor is an electronic sensor that measures infrared (IR) light radiating from objects in its field of view.

They are commonly known as motion detectors and would forestall a burglary by detecting body heat emissions from an intruder. Coupled with vibration sensors, they are a viable option for forestalling an attack from the roof or floor.

Last but not least, the importance of having an insurance cover cannot be overemphasised. It will ensure you are restored to the original position in case you fall victim to burglary.

Ms Grace Njoroge, an insurance sales agent with Resolution Insurance, says insurance covers for property can be classified into two broad categories. “For clarity, let’s just call them home owners’ insurance and renters insurance. The landlord owns the house and, is therefore, classified as a home owner.

Homeowner’s insurance covers the house, as well as any other structures on the property. Meanwhile, rental insurance covers household items. It doesn’t cover the building, since that is insured by the landlord,” she says.