Crime proofing: Give your clinic a thorough examination

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Veterinary clinics can be prime targets for theft. Most use expensive equipment such as computers, diagnostic equipment, or other testing devices, and most maintain a supply of drugs-including controlled substances, as well as needles, syringes, and scales.

Clinic break-ins are becoming more common. Consider the clinic's down time, the effect on the staff morale, and especially the well-being of the patients. In the end, such losses cost more than the price of stolen drugs or equipment. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to prevent a break-in.

Start by examining the exterior of the facility. Walk around the perimeter of the building and try to identify where access points are located. These include basement windows, a skylight, or a window air-conditioning unit. Determine whether these access points are constructed to minimize the potential for a break-in. Consider using glass block windows or ornamental ironwork.

According to FBI statistics, nonresidential buildings are 90 percent more likely to be burglarized at night. Identify the places outside the building where thieves might hide; these areas can be identified more easily at night. Any areas that are not clearly visible, such as a fenced-in storage area, entranceway or alley may give a burglar considerable time to complete a break-in without being noticed. Using motion-sensor outdoor lighting can deter this even further.

Ensure that the doors and windows are in good condition and that sufficient locking mechanisms are in place. Deadbolt locks provide an additional measure of security; some types of deadbolts require the use of a key on both sides of the door, which prevents a would-be thief from unlocking the door by breaking a nearby window and reaching inside.

Whenever possible, keep computers and other high-value devices away from windows and out of public view.

By law, controlled substances must be stored in a securely locked, substantially constructed cabinet or safe. Stocks of controlled substances should be kept to a minimum. If substantial quantities of controlled substances are on the premises, the DEA recommends stronger security measures, such as a safe and alarm system. Access to the controlled substances storage area should be restricted to the minimal number of employees necessary. Consider changing locks or codes following an employee discharge.

Basic alarm systems use the door and window contacts as triggering devices. Others may use any combination of motion detectors, such as infrared beams or listening devices. Alarm systems can ring at a central station, such as an alarm company, the local police department, or at both. A professional alarm company can meet with you to determine what is best for your clinic, taking into consideration the patients boarded.

If alarm systems or security cameras are used, consider placing stickers on doors and windows to alert would-be thieves of their presence. Do not use these stickers if the clinic is not protected by actual working devices. Facilities that use mock cameras or place alarm stickers on windows with no security system may be enjoying a false sense of security. If staff members think the clinic is protected, for example, they may be less likely to spot potential holes in security.

Consider contacting your local police department to request an evaluation of your clinic and suggestions for crime proofing.

Keep an accurate, up-to-date inventory of your clinic's contents. Be sure to list approximate values and serial numbers. For specialized equipment, consider taking photographs and obtaining appraisals, and store this documentation with the inventory. Keep a copy of your inventory in an off-site location such as a safe-deposit box.

Additional articles concerning the protection of your clinic and other subjects can be accessed through the PLIT's free fax-on-demand service. Call (888) 740-7548 and request the document numbers you'd like to review. (A menu of articles is available.) Articles will be faxed free of charge. You might wish to read "Business interruption insurance," document 213, and "Controlled substances," document 306.

For more information on insuring your clinic and its contents, call the PLIT at (800) 228-7548.