Protecting inaccessible places

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Protecting inaccessible places

Recently we were browsing at the Strand bookstore in Manhattan at the same time a co-editor was in a bookstore in Phoenix. We both chanced upon the same book by a burglar from Florida. He would thumb through the pages of a local slick colored glossy socialite magazine, notice what jewelry the socialites were wearing, and choose his next victim based upon the security system of their dwelling. He possessed the sure knowledge that most people’s security systems had gaping holes in them. One story he told was of robbing Mrs. Armand Hammer, whose apartment on a high floor of an apartment building had an inaccessible terrace. He figured that if he could get access to the terrace he could get in. As it turned out he could, and he did.

During this period an alarm system was being installed in our office in Gotham. We protected the door, but ignored the windows, since A) they were relatively inaccessible, and B) they were very visible from the street.

One afternoon we glanced out the window and found ourselves looking at a man looking in at us. As it turned out, some work was being done on the building next door to ours, and they had put up scaffolding that was, by coincidence, installed in such a way as to put a ramp directly to our window.

Now, we weren’t robbed when they put it up: They really were just working on the other building. And we immediately took steps to eliminate this vulnerability, which, by the bye, we would never have permitted in the office of a client. What this shows is that when preparing for an unlikely eventuality you need to look at the incremental cost of doing the job right, as opposed to doing the bare minimum. In this case, the incremental cost of alarming the windows was nil. This means that when we balanced the cost (nil) against the risk (also nil), it would have made sense to protect the windows at the outset.

But what if the cost of protecting the windows would have been substantial? In that case the risk would not have justified the cost – we really don’t have anything worth stealing – and we would have self-insured (i.e., borne the risk ourselves). This explains why we did not protect the walls, as we might in, say, a jewelry store. If someone cut a hole in our walls –most internal walls in modern New York City small buildings are only plasterboard – the thief could walk in, take what he wanted, and leave as he came.

The bottom line is that whenever you are taking protective measures you need to look at the threat, the vulnerability, and the cost – that is to say you need to evaluate the risk – and make some sensible judgment based on this risk. But you must do this with the full knowledge that an event being unlikely – like someone building a ramp to our window – does not mean that it can’t happen.

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