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GPS a tool in theft prevention

Korky Koroluk
GPS a tool in theft prevention
Korky Koroluk

Global positioning devices are everywhere, it seems. They are used by some roadbuilders, who rely on them to deliver extremely precise grades.

Some farmers use them, too, to ensure that their fields are evenly sown, with no gaps or overlaps as their remotely controlled tilling machinery circles a field.

I even know a grandmother who has one in her car to guide her around the small city she’s lived in for most of her life.

When GPS devices found their way into the security market, one could be forgiven for thinking that theft of construction equipment from jobsites would be greatly reduced.

Guess again. Equipment is still walking away from jobsites large and small. In fact, the Ontario Provincial Police estimate that between $15 million and $20 million worth of construction equipment is stolen every year.

The really big stuff isn’t stolen very often. It’s not easy to move a big bulldozer without people noticing. But the smaller stuff, the smaller backhoes, the little skid-steer loaders that seem always to be bustling around just about every jobsite, these are favourite targets.

Two things got me thinking about this. First came a news release about a new theft-protection system that uses GPS. It’s not the first, of course; it’s merely the latest.

It has built-in sensors that can detect vibration, temperature and tampering. It also has alarm sirens, and can automatically send wireless warnings to the owner or operator’s smartphone. Its maker says it can even track down equipment that’s inside trailers or buildings.

Then came a report on equipment theft that’s published annually in the United States by the National Equipment Register and the National Insurance Crime Bureau. It covers both construction and farm equipment, and it reports that incidents of theft are down only marginally.

The report notes that complete statistics simply don’t exist. But those available made it possible to estimate that the losses in the U.S. in 2011 were close to $300 million. That’s a lot of iron. And, the report adds, only about a fifth of the stolen equipment is ever recovered.

So what about all the nice-sounding security systems on the market? Well, the report contains repeated warnings that thefts could have been avoided if suitable security practices had been used.

In other words, equipment owners are either not buying the anti-theft systems, or they’re not ensuring that their jobsite supers are using them.

“The level of risk,” the report says drily, “varies greatly between equipment owners who take certain precautions and those who do not.”

I haven’t been able to find national figures for Canada, and I’m not sure any have been compiled. If they have been, perhaps a kind reader can point me toward them.

What Canada does have, though, is an excellent website provided by the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association. It’s at

On it you can find a list of recent thefts—from sites all over Canada and the U.S. Or you can use it to report a new theft. You can read tips on theft prevention. You can order “Crimestoppers” decals to put on your equipment. It even lists the phone number and e-mail address of a theft consultant.

Browsing the list of thefts, you notice at once that, like the U.S., it’s the smaller stuff that is targeted the most. The mini-excavators so popular with landscaping contractors seem to be special favourites among thieves. And you can also find examples of what some people think is security.

A contractor lost a backhoe from a jobsite in Beaverton, a small Ontario community on the east shore of Lake Simcoe. It had been locked to a 20-foot Loadstar trailer.

So how did the thieves manage to steal the backhoe?

Simple. They stole the trailer too.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to

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