Security threats to warehouse and distribution and best practice to stay one step ahead


Noah Price, head of the G4S Academy, provides an overview of the security threats faced by warehouse and distribution services, together with a useful overview of how to stay one step ahead through security best practice. The threats facing the warehouse and distribution services include:

1. Theft of goods during storage 

The most common threat is loss of goods and assets through criminal activities. Although high-value items, such as electronics, phones and cosmetics, will always be targeted, the portability of the item and how easy it is to steal and conceal, will be the determining factor. Whether a particular site is targeted will depend on where it is situated and what it contains, as well as the security measures it has in place.

To guard against external threats, organisations need to secure their sites and buildings, using a mix of detection and deterrence methods. This can include CCTV cameras, alarms and control systems, especially at points of access and egress, and a staff/visitor management system to ensure that only those authorised are admitted to different areas of the site.  

However, the greatest threat to warehouse and delivery centre stock comes from insiders. Organisations can conduct checks to  ensure that staff are bona fide, and warehouses can implement random searches of bags and lockers. Some areas can be restricted to authorised personnel only, cages can be used for high-value items, and both can be monitored with video surveillance. An anonymous reporting system can encourage suspicions of co-workers to be reported. 

2. Theft of goods during transportation 

While being transported, cargo can be stolen, tampered with or used to conceal illegal immigrants. 

Most attacks on vehicles involve the driver having little time to respond, so security awareness for drivers is key. In Europe there have been incidents where gangs have driven up to the backs of lorries, gained access to the trailer, ‘surfed’ into it and then stolen the goods without the driver being aware. In the UK deception is often used, with criminals stopping lorries by posing as police or Vehicle and Operator Services Agency personnel. Once the driver has parked up, the vehicle is an easy target. 

Although routes are planned in advance to avoid risks, sometimes due to delays or non-compliance, drivers may find themselves in a non-secure area. Here vehicles are vulnerable to thieves or illegal immigrants. 

Although the methods of attack for cargo theft are getting more sophisticated, so too are the solutions, especially those incorporating telematics to monitor vehicles and assets using GPS technology, remote immobilisers, sensors, as well as on-board diagnostics and CCTV. 

3. Health and safety

Organisations have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of their employees, contractors, visitors and clients, and if something goes wrong, they may find themselves financially liable. Good security can enhance procedures to mitigate against such risks, so it is important that regular security and safety risk-assessments are carried out.

4. Cyber security

With many organisations relying heavily on automated processes and large amounts of data being exchanged between those within the supply chain, the risks of cyber-attacks have never been higher. Hackers will often find an entry point into the chain by attacking the less secure elements, enabling them to gain access to the systems and data of other organisations.   

5. Fire, flood, and adverse weather damage

Fires in warehouses and distribution centres are not uncommon. The risk is not just about product loss, but also smoke or water damage, as well as employee injury, or even loss of life, and the resultant disruption to normal business activities. 

The risk of flooding is increasing, which can lead to the damage of both stock and buildings, with disruption to operations. There is also a risk from high winds. As well as taking the appropriate steps to minimise damage, organisations should document procedures, ensure that staff are security aware and clear what to do in the case of an emergency including an evacuation.

6. Activism and civil disobedience

The use of campaigns and protests has significantly increased, creating a constantly evolving threat.  Extinction Rebellion activists targeted over a dozen Amazon distribution centres in the UK on Black Friday 2021 to highlight what they saw as “exploitative and environmentally destructive business practices”. Attacks may not be against the organisation directly, it could become a target because of the partners it works with, or the nature or brand of goods stored or transported.   

Protests can be extremely disruptive and, even when protestors issue a threat, this may cause people to change plans, shut a site or stop trading for the day. To guard against disruption through activism or civil disobedience it is important to plan for and test a range of scenarios.

7. Impact of Covid-19

Around three-quarters of supply chain organisations experienced some level of disruption and reduced operations due to the pandemic. The changes created new opportunities for criminals and organised criminal groups. There was a significant increase in theft, especially cargo freight, but also from warehouses as stocks built up due to transport backlogs. The effects of the pandemic continue to impact on supply chains and security teams need to continuously review their systems. 

Fundamentals of good security 

In response to these threats, a number of elements need to be in place, in order to achieve good security and stay ahead of the evolving threat.

Regular risk assessment and planning 

With regular risk assessment and planning being the foundation of good security, it’s worth taking time to consider whether your organisational and supply chain risk assessments and plans are up to date, and whether you have a regular documented refresh plan. Have there been any changes in the assets you need to protect, be that people, property, information, or reputation? Are there any new vulnerabilities? Are your assessments incorporating the latest good intelligence – in real time - and if so, are you building these into your plan and the way you respond? 

G4S offers an online risk assessment tool, which asks a series of questions and creates a downloadable risk report, to help shape your security planning. It is ideal for those with basic risk assessment requirements and should take no more than five minutes to complete. G4S also offers consultative risk assessments with a G4S expert.

Regular testing 

In the same way that businesses use penetration testing to test cyber security, physical security should be tested against various scenarios. Table-top exercises can be an excellent way to identify possible weaknesses and be prepared. 

A more holistic approach to training 

Organisations can benefit from thinking about training in a more holistic way. Security officers will receive training relevant to specific needs, however, it is also vital to encourage employees to take part in relevant security training. Joint sessions can be invaluable for all concerned and build rapport and understanding, which can become especially valuable in an emergency. 

Working in partnership 

The best security solutions will be achieved where security providers and clients work closely together, whether it’s the planning of an integrated security solution, or a small change in an existing plan, collaboration can help to reach the best solutions, more quickly. As an example, working in partnership to extend the role of security from just the protection of the warehouse into supply chain transportation. This is something that G4S is actively pursuing with Yusen Logistics. 

Developing a strong security culture

A strong security culture will ensure that employees are security-conscious and aware of the most effective ways of protecting assets, including themselves. It is important to review the security culture on a regular basis, in line with changes to the threat landscape, working practices, and the technology being deployed. 

Insights, shared information and best practice  

Good security utilises insights and shared information, while also using best practice from first responders.

Balancing security and customer service

In addition to providing an excellent security service, security officers working in the warehouse and distribution services sector must be proficient in customer service. 

Embracing new ideas and new technologies 

Threats on the one hand, and responses including technologies on the other are constantly evolving. For example, G4S can supply delivery fleet security solutions either by providing escort services, or through the use of telematics. G4S telematics employ the latest technology to ensure a continuous data flow through cameras, sensors, satellite tracking and CANBus data to its 24/7 secure operations centre. G4S can also provide remote monitoring of sensor measurements, such as temperature and humidity, to prevent unnecessary loss of food stuffs and other environmentally sensitive goods.

Building integration in security 

Security that is integrated and planned holistically, is likely to work better, precisely because it has been designed to ensure that there are no gaps to be exploited. Physical security for example is best when security professionals work in harmony with good technology, and when integrated with personnel security (protecting from the insider threat) and cyber security (protecting digital data and systems). 

Noah Price is International Director of the G4S Academy which is responsible for sharing specialist threat and security knowledge. It provides regular, free security bulletins on potential threats, which can be a useful part of security planning.

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