Small Site Security Investments Can Save Big Losses from Arson

Raymond O’Brocki

November 9, 2020

I continue to be amazed at the amount of intentionally set fires that are causing hundreds of millions of dollars of losses at high profile construction sites across the country.

But it doesn’t take a deep dive on the internet to show just how much of a threat arson presents to developers and the communities where these multi-story, multi-family complexes are being built – and targeted by arsonists. Here are a handful of costly examples:

  • Bound Brook, N.J.: In January 2020, investigators determined that a seven-alarm fire that destroyed a 174-unit complex being built in this community’s downtown core was intentionally set, causing an estimated $52 million on damage.1
  • Seattle, WA.: A three-story apartment complex under construction in the Beacon Hill neighborhood was intentionally set ablaze in August, causing $5 million in damage and forcing the evacuation of hundreds from nearby structures.2
  • Reno, NV: Investigators blame arson for a blaze that caused more than $15 million in damage to 11 multi-family unit buildings that were under construction.3

So, what can be done to mitigate these risks and losses? What can builders do to better protect their construction sites from those intent on destroying projects?

The answer is pretty simple: Take steps to elevate your security game.

The common thread to each of the arson fires cited above is a lack of construction site security.

I had the opportunity to inspect the Bound Brook fire and read the investigative reports, which faulted the developer for a few critical things. This included a lax security during off-hours, failing to maintain a clean and debris-free site and neglecting fire safety best practices.

In the aftermath of Seattle’s Beacon Hill blaze, city fire officials posted a reminder of best practices for preventing incendiary fires at construction sites.

We are firm believers that site security is critical, and minimal investments in these measures can go a long way to protecting the millions of dollars already invested in projects: This includes:

  • 24/7 on-site security and fire watch
  • Securing the site perimeter with strong fencing
  • Installing video surveillance and/or monitors capable of detecting heat and smoke
  • A reliable badge in/badge out process for all on-site personnel

In closing, I’ll leave you with a question I pose to anyone when the conversation turns to investing in security at construction sites: If you had a room filled with $50 million in cash in boxes, would you pay someone to keep an eye on it?

I think we all know the answer to that one.

1 Bound Brook fire suspect caused $52M in damage, authorities say. Judge orders him to remain jailed. January 17, 2020.

2 Huge 3-alarm fire at unfinished south Seattle apartment complex was arson, chief says. KOMO. August 20, 2020.

3 $30,000 Now Reward Offered in Apartment Complex Arson in South Reno. KTVN. July 23, 2020.