Security Tell-All

Features - Security

Five cultivators share security lessons and tips they learned from experience.

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July 26, 2018
Jolene Hansen
© akindo | iStockphoto

With high-value crops and the industry’s cash-heavy reputation, it’s not surprising that cultivation-business security generates a lot of interest—and tight lips. Staying compliant with stringent state regulations is an essential first step in securing your grow, but the lessons learned through experience can be priceless.

Cannabis Business Times interviewed several market insiders willing to talk security for the industry’s greater good. Their hands-on, beyond-compliance security tips can help you make your cultivation areas more secure.

Tips from … Corey Buffkin Partner and Director of Cultivation, Green Man Cannabis

Grow Type: Indoor

Operating In: Colorado, Oregon and Nevada

With nine years in the industry, Green Man Cannabis partner and Director of Cultivation Corey Buffkin has seen a lot of changes regarding buildings and security. He currently oversees six indoor cultivation facilities in three states, including a 120,000-square-foot building in Aurora, Colo., complete with 24/7, state-of-the-art security inspired by tough lessons learned “back in the early days.”

1. Have multiple barriers to entry.

Reinforcing cultivation areas with multiple barriers helps prevent smash-and-grabs. Buffkin recommends the following barriers, for starters:

  • doors that automatically lock,
  • five-point locking system doors,
  • key card entry for all doors, and
  • parking bollards to prevent people from driving through doors.

“We do the doors that lock behind you in every facility,” Buffkin says. “It can take 15 to 20 minutes to get through one of those doors if you don't have the right kind of tools.” That delay can be critical to effective response from local law enforcement.

Years ago, thieves hit a Green Man Cannabis location during a blizzard. “They got $200,000 worth of product in seven minutes,” Buffkin recalls. Police didn’t arrive until 30 minutes after alarms sounded. “We learned a lesson that day not to count on the police to stop [thieves],” he says.

Green Man added parking bollards after two Aurora-location break-ins, just six days apart, where large vehicles smashed through commercial overhead doors. No one has tried to hit the facility since the bollards arrived. “It's pretty heavily fortified,” Buffkin says.

2. Key-card all doors, and tie clearance to responsibilities.

Green Man uses key card access on every door and programs cards with job-specific clearances. Higher clearance cards that work on every door are limited. Other cards restrict access to specific areas and prevent employees from wandering or entering areas that aren’t required for their jobs.

3. Keep night security active.

Buffkin recommends contracting with security firms whose nighttime protocols keep guards alert and moving. “Even with your best intent, it's hard to stay up all night long, especially when you’re not really doing anything,” he says.

4. Deter internal theft with robust checks and balances.

“In addition to what's outside your organization, you have to look within your organization,” Buffkin advises. He recommends multilevel checks and balances to protect everything from finished product to proprietary genetics. “Don't have any one person holding the keys to everything. Have multiple people that are checking and, if they see something, raising the flag,” he says.

Tips from … Nathaniel Pennington CEO and Founder, Humboldt Seed Company

Grow Type: Outdoor

Operating In: California

Nestled in Humboldt County, Humboldt Seed Company devotes 21,000 square feet to seed breeding, genetic development and flower production. CEO and founder Nathaniel Pennington draws a strong parallel between community and security.

5. Be a good neighbor.

“This is one of the most important things,” Pennington says. “Sometimes in rural communities, if community members feel like there isn’t equity or you’re not providing local employment ..., that can create animosity ... that can lead to people not feeling bad about breaking in.” And remember, good fences make good neighbors. “Nobody likes to look at industrial, prisonlike fences. Have fencing that’s secure, but not an eyesore,” he suggests.

6. Deter theft with highly visible security equipment and signage.

Pennington suggests using motion-detecting lights and cameras (including types that send text notifications). “Make those cameras and lights highly visible before they’re even triggered,” he says. He also advises posting your security company’s signs to reinforce that the site is secure.

7. Keep a clean workspace.

Waste product left in view can encourage theft. “A pile of [cannabis] leaves that the cultivator is going to discard or compost—even that could be attractive to someone who ... thinks they could ... make a buck off of it,” Pennington says. “Cover compost [and] waste, and properly dispose of it.”

8. Protect against wildlife with safe, humane measures.

Humboldt Seed Company hasn’t had wildlife problems, but other cultivation businesses have. One Mendocino County farm recently lost nearly one-third of its crop to deer. “Wild animals can be a threat to an outdoor cannabis operation,” Pennington explains. He discourages all use of poisons or rodenticides, and encourages wildlife relocation, live trapping and animal fencing. “Consider wildlife when you develop your fence,” he says.

9. Vet employees for longevity.

“High employee turnover is a negative ... for any business, but certainly affects security in cannabis,” Pennington says. Anytime someone who's been exposed to the inner workings of your business leaves, there's a risk of what they'll do with that knowledge—particularly if they aren't happy about leaving. “Think long and hard before you bring anybody on, as to whether you’d be able to work with each other long term.”

10. Maintain a good relationship with local law enforcement.

Inviting local law enforcement to your farm prevents surprises when you need their help. “Maintain a good relationship and keep them aware of what you’re doing, so you don’t have to think twice about calling them if you have a security issue,” Pennington says.

Tips from … David Risley Manager of Operations, Euflora

Grow Type: Greenhouse

Operating In: Colorado

As manager of operations for Euflora, David Risley understands the challenges of securing the company’s 7,200-square-foot greenhouse grow. Security at the urban cultivation facility faces an added test by hosting twice-weekly greenhouse tours to take advantage of Denver’s popular canna-tourism market.

11. Keep perimeter property entrances secured throughout the day.

A lunchtime break-in changed Euflora’s daytime open-gate policy. Perimeter gates now remain closed and locked to ensure only welcomed guests enter. A bell at the front gate announces deliveries and visitors; an interior fence limits passage to a secured, pedestrian gate.

12. Use thermal motion sensors inside the greenhouse.

Normal movement within a greenhouse, such as oscillating fans, can trip traditional motion sensors. Risley recommends thermal motion sensors instead. “They still sense motion, but thermal motion like a body, and you can adjust the sensitivity to prevent false alarms,” he explains.

13. Protect all greenhouse openings with infrared sensors.

Risley recommends infrared, line-of-sight, perimeter sensors on all greenhouse sides and openings, including cooling-pad areas and roof and sidewall vents. Thieves at another Denver greenhouse bypassed walkway sensors by entering through roof vents.

14. Reinforce evaporative cooling pads.

“Cooling pads are definitely the most vulnerable portion of a greenhouse and the most difficult to protect,” Risley says. He recommends securing chain link fence onto the inside of pads to prevent someone from simply pushing through. “This makes it a much more difficult task, especially when paired with infrared sensors,” he explains.

15. Don’t forgo nighttime security patrols.

“A security patrol is your No. 1 deterrent for any crime,” Risley says. For grows that think this type of security is too expensive, he suggests partnering with nearby businesses to hire a firm to do communal patrols through nighttime hours.

16. Keep all eyes on deck during tours.

Tour groups of 10 to 15 people plus guides are the norm at Euflora. Risley warns against leaving tour group security to house rules and tour guides. Position your own employees within the group and in the greenhouse. Watch visitors closely.

17. Make security codes unique, private and dynamic.

Don’t wait for someone to leave the company to change your codes. “Frequently change your codes and logins, even for your camera ... and control systems,” Risley says. Assign unique codes for every person and system. Have your security firm assign the codes so they are confidential.

Tips from … Brian York Facilities Director, Arizona Natural Selections

Grow Type: Indoor

Operating In: Arizona

With a 60,000-square-foot indoor cultivation facility in the Phoenix metro area, Arizona Natural Selections (AZNS) Facilities Director Brian York credits the company’s robust security measures for their success in deterring crime.

18. Maintain a low profile.

Other than an address out front, the AZNS cultivation site offers little hint of what’s inside. The company even left the building sign from the previous occupant intact. York keeps the profile low during deliveries to dispensaries as well. In addition to using state-mandated unmarked vehicles, AZNS randomizes distribution schedules so that day, time and drop-off order changes constantly.

19. Control all entry and exit through one secure access point.

York recommends using one secure entrance/exit for the entire facility for all staff and visitors. “That allows me to capture any individual coming in and out on a regular basis on multiple camera angles,” he explains. A pre-security vestibule, complete with lockers, allows AZNS staff to store belongings. Employees also receive a clear bag when hired. Anything they want to bring past security goes in the bag, so contents are identified quickly without the need for intrusive searches.

20. Go beyond compliance.

Compliance demands camera coverage everywhere there is cannabis activity, but AZNS takes camera security further. “Every square foot of the facility is covered with some sort of camera angle, indoor and out,” York says. “Quality exterior cameras are a big thing. They allow you to see a potential issue before it arrives in your facility."

21. Be transparent with staff and local authorities.

York recommends working closely with local law enforcement and first responders. “We're very open to giving tours to them and educating them on cannabis itself as well as the cannabis business,” he says. “They've been on the other side of it so long. We bring them in, show them the cultivation site, show them where our vulnerabilities may lie and what to expect.” Transparency extends to staff, with an open and ongoing discussion regarding mandatory state reporting requirements and zero tolerance for issues like internal shrinkage (i.e., employee theft).

22. Deter internal theft with product incentives.

In a unique twist on incentives, AZNS offers free products to staff. Employees with valid Arizona medical cards receive one free gram per shift worked—in exchange for filling out a “gram report” about the product. Frequent bonus allotments of new products and generous in-store discounts up the ante. Free grams reduce temptation and keep employees educated and engaged with AZNS products. Plus, the company gets valuable firsthand feedback.

23. Stay in the know.

“Tracking and organization—taking diligent notes through the grow process, being hands-on, knowing what your rooms and your inventory look like—is huge,” York says. Staying on top of metrics enables staff to spot anomalies and respond quickly. If weights are less than expected and production notes don’t support it, staff can go straight to camera footage.

Tips from … Bruce Beckett CEO, TKO Reserve

Grow Type: Outdoor/Greenhouse

Operating In: Oregon

At TKO Reserve, Bruce Beckett approaches facility security from a unique perspective. The company’s mixed-use Oregon operation, with 25,000 square feet of outdoor cultivation and a 7,500-square-foot greenhouse, sits amid a bustling 60-acre working ranch that doubles as a sanctuary for farm animals that have been abused, abandoned or neglected.

24. Focus on prevention—with K-9 help.

Beckett emphasizes preventing crime rather than relying on quick response from local authorities, especially for relatively remote locations. An 8-foot-tall chain link fence and infrared perimeter beams encircle TKO’s 600-foot by 200-foot licensed cannabis property, while cameras capture the entire perimeter and indoor space. “The challenge ... is, even though you catch it on camera, people could still be breaking in,” Beckett says. So, TKO uses “a lot of dogs” on the property. Trained K-9s discourage intrusions by humans and wildlife.

25. Combine layers of protection with restricted access.

TKO’s cannabis property operates separately from the surrounding 60-acre farm. Fencing and perimeter alarm systems protect outdoor cultivation, which, in turn, secures the greenhouse and its additional set of alarm systems. “We have a lot of layers ..., as opposed to just one building in a city,” Beckett says. In addition, all staff and visitors must enter and exit via a single security checkpoint.

26. Add additional security during harvest.

While security is a constant concern, Beckett believes security should intensify during harvest and times of high inventory. He recommends hiring additional security when inventories peak, particularly for night hours when employees are gone.

27. Don’t overlook personal security, including your Apple watch.

“There’s more to security than the grow. There’s your personal security, too,” Beckett stresses. “It doesn’t matter how secure your building is if [thieves] can get you off-site and make you do something.” He advises owners and employees to stay ultra-aware of activity around them, even when traveling to and from home. He also reminds Apple watch owners that holding a button on the side of the bezel for three seconds calls 911 and immediately shares your location with first responders. “This is real quick way for anybody to notify police in an emergency,” he says.

Jolene Hansen is a freelance writer, former horticulture professional and frequent contributor to GIE Media publications.