GPS software can give theft prevention a boost.

Circling the globe more than 12,000 miles overhead, nearly 30 satellites help people find the nearest coffee shop. Oil contractors and construction companies use them to navigate to remote workplaces and dispatch vehicles, but GPS has also become a valuable tool for preventing the theft of vehicles and equipment.

Such thievery is a growing threat. Estimates of construction site and oilfield theft both range around $1 billion a year, according to various sources. “It’s one of the biggest problems they face for those who have large assets like construction equipment or cargo in trailers and containers,” says Heather Conboy, senior marketing coordinator for GPS North America in Philadelphia. 

A small FBI task force formed in 2008 covering oilfields in just three counties in western Texas arrested 25 people and recovered $1.5 million in equipment in its first 12 months. The National Equipment Register received reports of $300 million in construction and heavy equipment losses in 2013 with only 21 percent being recovered.

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There are several types of GPS tracking devices available to help in recovery. “Our Smart Antenna is installed discretely under the dashboard and gives you the ability to track and route vehicles,” says Conboy. The company also offers battery-operated units for trailers, cargo and equipment. “We have high success in recovering stolen vehicles. I’m not sure there are any cases in which we haven’t been successful.”

One GPS North America customer experienced quick resolution of two cases. A Thomas Industrial Coatings trailer containing $100,000 in equipment was stolen from a work site in Tulsa, Okla., after thieves used a forklift to smash through a gate. The trailer was recovered in less than 24 hours - before the thieves could dispose of any of the property. Near St. Louis, a thief was caught red-handed minutes after stealing a trailer from a bridge-painting project.

In another case, a potential customer quickly learned the benefits of GPS tracking during a demonstration of GPS equipment. “We only had two or three units installed out of 175 vehicles. One was stolen and they were able to recover it immediately.” 

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GPS software can create geo-fences with specific location boundaries that are easy to change. “If the vehicle or equipment is taken outside that zone, you’ll get an immediate alert either by text message or email,” explains Conboy. The geo-fence can be a job site for a week or a company yard for a weekend, or it can encompass a large service territory.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports riding mowers, skid-steers and tractors are the most popular targets. In 2013 the NICB reported 11,486 heavy equipment thefts, up 5 percent from 2012. It recommends the following tips:

  •    Install hidden fuel shut-off systems.
  •    Remove fuses and circuit breakers when equipment is unattended.
  •    Place more easily transported items, such as generators and compressors, in the middle of a circle surrounded by larger pieces of equipment.
  •    Maintain a photo archive and a list of the PIN and component part serial numbers of each piece of heavy equipment. Stamp or engrave equipment parts with identifying marks, numbers or corporate logos.
  •    Use hydro locks to fix articulated equipment in a curved position, preventing it from traveling in a straight line.
  •    Use sleeve locks to fix backhoe pads in an extended position, keeping wheels off the ground. 

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