Face it, if you have lots of camera gear, you at least need to think about what would happen if someone stole it.
What precautions can you take to help prevent this and what should you do in the event it happens?
Let’s start at the beginning. Have insurance. I’ve written about this before so brush up on insurance – then come back here for more
So we’ll assume you have insurance. What else can you do?
At home or at the studio, consider a burglar alarm. Depending on the amount of gear you have, you can get by with something as simple as a Radio Shack sensor alarm – all the way to the top-of-the-line military spec system. I just spent $20k installing a new system at my new office. There are the usual devices that notify me if someone breaks a window or opens the door. But there are more sophisticated tools you might want to consider adding to your system. I got 24/7 camera monitoring, pressure plates for key areas of the office/studio, audio and infrared sensors, motion sensors and heat sensors. There are other devices beyond these, but they are probably cost-prohibitive for most photographers.
If you can afford it, get a monitored burglar alarm. This means someone will call police or fire if the alarm goes off and they don’t get a challenge response code to stop the alarm. If you’re out of town, a loud bell going off at your place of business won’t help you. A monitoring company can call you on your cell phone and let you know the situation.
In addition to a good burglar alarm, good storage inside your home or studio is helpful. If someone got past our alarm and into our gear room, they’d find fire-proof file cabinets that are actually like safes. They won’t open with the usual burglar tools and provide an additional level of security.
There are things you can do just by changing your behavior to minimize your exposure on the road. When you stay at a hotel, make sure to either leave your gear in the front office safe when you go out or keep it with you at all times. I’ve been known to frequent many a dining establishment carrying all my gear. I want to keep it with me, not in the hotel room or the car In most cases, the car is safer than the room.
Try not to “gear up” in the place where you stay or in situations where people will easily take note of your possessions. When I return to the hotel at night, I try to make sure all my gear is packed into the bags well before I pull into the hotel parking lot. That way, anyone who sees me moving in and out of the room won’t necessarily know I am a photographer. When I check into the hotel, I don’t even tell the front desk I am a photographer. No need to advertise it.
Speaking of cars – I always try to park in full view of the hotel front desk, or alternatively, right outside my hotel room door if that’s available. If your vehicle doesn’t have an alarm, consider installing one. My alarm comes with a pager that will page me if the alarm goes off, in addition to sounding three very nasty, loud horns in the vehicle. Also make sure you park in well-lit areas and avoid high-crime districts if possible. Try to never let anyone see you walk away from a vehicle after you’ve just stored your gear inside.
Here are a few additional random security tips. I always keep an older, small CF card in my pocket. If a “security” official decides I am a terrorist demanding to see my pictures, I hand them the blank card and tell them I just got started. Nothing to see. I also make sure my name and phone number are written on all my memory cards, camera gear and camera bags.
Wrapping up. Take pictures of all your gear. This makes for a record on the condition of the gear. That will be important if you do not have replacement coverage. Also make sure you have a complete list of your gear, including serial numbers. This will be helpful in case you ever have a theft, the police and the insurance company will want this information. DON’T store this list with your gear – if you keep this list in your camera bag it won’t be much help once that bag is stolen.
Also make sure you contact local camera stores and notify any online photo communities in case you have a loss. Sometimes, the gear quickly makes it onto a web site or over to your local camera shop’s used desk. You might assume the police will check these places so you don’t have to, but you’d be wrong. Unless you live in a very small town, it’s unlikely the police will do anything for you other than hand you the form your insurance agent needs to reimburse you. The cops are too busy in most jurisdictions to even show up for a property crime report.
Like anything else, a little common sense goes a long way when it comes to your camera gear.
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