Before buying your security system, talk with manufacturers in the video, access control and intrusion detection industries to learn what they have done to help business owners like yourself. A lot of times these manufacturers are highly educated in the cannabis industry and will help design your security plan.
Once you have built those relationships, ask them to help you get a couple of comparable quotes to review.
Then set a realistic budget for your security system; don’t go cheap!
A bare-bones system will give you exactly that. We’ve seen many cultivators and retailers go with inexpensive systems that maybe only cost them a few hundred dollars. However, what they are not taking into consideration is that those systems probably won’t meet the regulation requirements for storage, time stamping of the video and water marking on video clips in the event it is needed in court.
Also, the bare bones security systems typically are not compatible with external systems such as point-of-sale systems and access control systems.
It is far cheaper to buy the right equipment upfront than to risk non-compliance or worse, loss of video due to an under-powered system. This could result in heavy fines as well as loss of business, and could cost more than the initial investment of a professional-grade, turn-key system.
There are several mistakes we have seen in the cannabis industry regarding security.
First and foremost, know the regulations of your state, local and county agencies. Make sure your design meets all these regulations. Oftentimes the state has one regulation, but the city or county has another restriction on the guidelines for the security systems. For example, the state may require 45 days of continuous video recording, while an individual city may require a total of 60 days of continuous video recording. This is important because you will need more storage space and processing power for the added days of video retention.
Most states require video coverage of head, hands and feet at all times. Understanding the best way to get this coverage is critical, not only for compliance but also the cost of the security system. In some cases, the penalties for non-compliance alone can put a business in jeopardy.
Another point worth noting is that security is not just watching people and live plants. There’s also the new aspect of transport. When the grow operation physically moves product to the distributor or the distributor to the retailer, those plants or packaged products may need to be tracked by video 100% of the time (depending on the state). So don’t forget to think about the total business model. All facets of the industry will require video security at some point.
Cultivation vs. Retail
Cultivators rely primarily on video surveillance and access control because they want to monitor who is coming and going at their facility at all times. Intrusion detection systems are also used for securing the facility when employees are not in the building.
Retailers primarily have video surveillance, access control and intrusion detection systems to monitor the entire retail environment and ensure a safe environment for all patrons and employees. Retailers also need a point-of-sale system integrated with their video surveillance system, allowing transactional data to be processed with associated video. This gives retailers the ability to search based on returns, voided sales or sales over a certain dollar value, and it helps eliminate theft from internal team members.
We also foresee companies realizing that different light wavelengths will translate to different product results. Lighting levels (colors, brightness, etc.) will eventually be controllable through the overall security system.
Cannabis retail vs. traditional retail
Cannabis retailers and traditional retailers are very similar, from the aspect of video surveillance and point-of-sale systems.
Cannabis retailers usually have cameras and a point-of-sale system to track revenue and inventory. A lot of them do not have it associated or “linked” to a video surveillance system. Video footage linked to financial transactions is the “belt-and-suspenders” approach to security. A transaction at a POS terminal that may seem out of the norm can be viewed on video to confirm either suspicious activity of accurate transaction events.
Where traditional retailers would differ is the area of both internal and external theft. Cannabis is very different from that aspect, as they rely heavily on the security system and many times have a security guard present at each retailer.
Protection from an ‘inside job’
Make sure that all areas are covered 100% with video surveillance. Ensure that camera placement for head, hands and feet is appropriate. This is very important, and we have seen this many times within both retail and cultivation spaces that regulators will require additional cameras to meet that requirement.
For the serious cannabis operation, using analytics features make sense. These can include alarms for someone going through a door the wrong way, a person not wearing a uniform, a person wearing a hat, alarms upon entry at off-hours, etc. All these kinds of things can help the operation quickly react to behavior outside the norm to hopefully avoid an “inside job.”
Make sure you have more than a basic internet connection at your facility. These are several reasons for this investment. One is to manage your video surveillance system remotely. Also, if you use a point-of-sale system or are processing credit cards, you will want a reliable, sufficient internet connection.
Try to really vet the system integrator doing the install. Have they done cannabis projects before? What kind of after-install service will they provide? How local and large is their team? How familiar are they with state law?
All these questions and more will help the end-user install a system that actually does what it is supposed to do — and ensures that if there is a problem, the technical support is there.
Ethan Maxon is Salient Systems’ director of key accounts. He has 25 years of experience in the video security and telecommunications industries, including time at Cisco Systems, Motorola and ADVA Optical Networking.
Blake Albertsen has been a security professional for the past 14 years. In his current role with Salient Systems, he is in charge of sales for the Pacific Northwest region, where he helps facilitate system designs, product recommendations and customer development.