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Securing Pricelessness 208

DeliBoy writes "In light of public discussions over security after The Scream was stolen, CSO Online offers an interesting look at museum security. The article details a system designed without budget restrictions intended to secure a painting in a public gallery. Interesting how the consultant balances public access with the need for security, comprised of redundant vibration sensors, overlapping microwave and infrared motion sensors, and an old-fashioned guard. "
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Securing Pricelessness

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Create a super strong plastic box filled with a toxic substance (radioactive/chemical) that's not damaging to the art and have a guard stand outside while another looks on in a camera room somewhere else?
    • You may wish to patent your Magic Box and Magic Substance right away.

      Not only have you found some transparent substance that blocks radioactivity in a way that nothing else does (or what would be the point?) but you've also found a chemical mix that is horribly hazardous to everything except "pieces of art" (I said "art", not "eight").

      You're well clever.
    • Re:Why not just... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Walt Dismal ( 534799 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @08:04PM (#10389635)
      Wolverines, I say. Lots and lots of hungry wolverines. And guards with BFGs. Better yet, why not put valuables on a fast-moving slide that can pop up in the air and hang off the ceiling upon alarm, so access takes awhile. Even two-three minutes could make a difference. A simple set of rails on the ceiling and a pre-tensioned draw-cable could do it. Imagine a garage door opener spring and cable drum on steroids.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @07:54PM (#10389564)
    Security - $699

    Museum Ticket - $17

    Pricelessness - Priceless!
  • by dwipal ( 709116 ) * on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @07:55PM (#10389565) Homepage
    i wonder how they will be calibrating all these many things to fire the right alarm. a mischievious person might get some kicks by raising false alarms every now and then, as all he has to do is to point a finger near the painting. i also wonder how they will test it, and keep it maintained without a large time overhead.
    • Almost all museums that I've been to (admittedly a fairly small set -- the ones in LA and London mostly ;) Have at least some sort of motion detector in front of the artwork. And they do in fact get lots of false alarms -- somebody leans in too close and sets the alarm off. Usually the guard/guide/some guy wearing a blue suit comes over pretty quickly to see what the beeping is about and tells the person to lean back. So I guess that they don't mind that much about having some false alarms.

      For what it

      • There are two different kinds of false alarms. The motion detection thingy is practical for notifying the local guards that some joker is trying to fondle the painting, and stopping that from happening. The other kind is, of course, when that motion alarm automatically alerts the police. Which might be what happened prior to the Scream theft. neither the museum nor the police wnat to comment on how many times they were called out to a motion alert prior to the theft.
    • it's called How to Steal a Million.

      One of the more intresting parts is a gentleman that causes false positives on a sensor protecting a piece of art. this being at night, the guard gets tired of checking out the art. he then turns off the system. our thief then does his trick and notes the system being off. he then takes the art work and leaves a plain old bottle in it's place...

    • Actually, to bring in a really BAD movie in on this...

      example, the movie "hudson hawk" Bruce willis throws a child's stuffed animal at the case and trigger's the system so he can see what is there.

      did the movie suck? yes, but it does have some good points, and cince it was so bad, it's campy and fun to torture friends with!
    • * a mischievious person might get some kicks by raising false alarms every now and then*

      i don't know.. why don't you travel over to louvre and try it out? come in every day to raise some alarms?
      the real weak link in this is that there's a guard there. why? they can come in and tell the guard to take the painting down on gunpoint(in addition to the painting being 'around' and not going into a time delayed safe by some automatics).

      the last 'scream' painting stealing for example, doesn't matter if the police
      • "they can come in and tell the guard to take the painting down on gunpoint"

        Yes, because thieves are usually incapable of taking down paintings.

        The guard exists to mark off the false alarms; the cameras exist so that people can't just have the guard mark a real alarm as a false alarm.
  • Comment from Article (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hypermike ( 680396 ) <`hypermike' `at' `'> on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @07:55PM (#10389566)
    Comment from the article, kinda interesting.

    My experience with Museum Directors and Curators is they like to show painting without intrusiveness, such as a low rail or rope. One thing that is less intrusive than placing a low rail/rope across the painting, is putting pressure sensors undernest the flooring that are wired in an alarm point system. This can be addressable to the painting name, gallery and location. Which is capable of notifying the control room security staff as well as the guard in the gallery. Example: if the alarm should be activated the camera would automatic override the monitor that the security staff may be looking at to and give immidate location of the painting as well as the orgin of the alarm right on the monitor. It is also possible to have your CCTV system program to follow movement such as room to room. The options are unlimited with today technology.

    P.S. Because of todays technology, the trend is now away from breaking after hours into museum-its now armed robbery during public hours.

    Alton Malcolm
    Chief of Security

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @08:21PM (#10389738) m

      A notable example of a brazen daylight robbery was the recent theft of "The Scream".

      This is the same thing as what is happening to car theft these days. The alarm systems and locks are so good that the way to steal a high end car is while its owner is in it.

      In both cases, the result is that better alarms have caused much greater danger to the people involved. Progress? Maybe not.
      • A notable example of a brazen daylight robbery was the recent theft of "The Scream".

        Are you kidding? "The Scream" was stolen? Oh my god! I hadn't heard!

        (end sarcasm mode)

        Thanks for catching up with the whole point of this article.
    • Perhaps putting micro-transmitters in the frame might help.

      This would give the police the ability to track the picture right after it was stolen. But there is the risk that the thieves would know about this technique and cut the picture from the frame.

      I'm a little concerned about the loss of large collections of priceless art due a bombing of a museum. This might be the destruction of the building with a bomb, missle, or aircraft. Or even the loss of the museum when the city around is destroyed b
      • by karnal ( 22275 )
        We might as well have the ability to protect things that are really important, like priceless art.

        I don't know about you, but I'd be more worried about saving my ass than I would a few paintings.

        However, would the proper precautions be in place, we could save the paintings, and save ourselves in the same place!!!
      • by Binary Boy ( 2407 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @10:57PM (#10390737)
        The problem with moving art is that's when it's most vulnerable. Working in a similarly top-notch museum, I can pretty much assure you that in such a major emergency, nothing is going anywhere.

        The biggest risk seems to be takeover robberies these days, as the article aludes to. Museum guards are not typically armed, at least not in public, and they certainly are not trained to resist armed intruders in daylight with visitors around.

        Nighttime security is relatively easy - but balancing daylight security with the public's interests (casual, non-militarized galleries) is a toughy. Even in a place like where I work - a heavily fortified site on a easily defended hill overlooking Los Angeles - I can imagine with the right balls and some big guns, you aren't going to be stopped by museum security. You may have the SWAT team responding by the time you hit the gates, but I can imagine a quick exit route or three.

        Not that I've ever thought of such things.

        But again, other than a few national treasures - the Constitution in DC, several copies of Magna Cart - the risk of moving them in an emergency is not worth it.
      • I remember an old Time Magazine article that talked about secret Cold War-era plans to save special items like the constitution and the declaration of independence. Couldn't find a link, though.
      • I'm a little concerned about the loss of large collections of priceless art due a bombing of a museum. This might be the destruction of the building with a bomb, missle, or aircraft. Or even the loss of the museum when the city around is destroyed by an atomic weapon. It seems that there should be plans to get, say, a hundred paintings maybe several hundred feet underground within ten minutes should authorities determine that a nuclear event is imminent. Especially for the collections like the National

  • Imagine (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    A beowulf cluster of

    Securing my

    1. Steal Priceless Object 2. ???? 3. Profit!!!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @07:56PM (#10389570) they mean one that always opens doors and pulls our chairs for the ladies, or one that shakes his fist at teen-aged whippersnappers?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @07:57PM (#10389579)
    Put a fake on display, and hide the real one somewhere else.
    • Indeed (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @08:23PM (#10389750)
      It's not like 99.9% of the population are going to be able to tell the difference between a decent copy and an original. Rather than being funny, it sounds like one of the better ideas.

      • Re:Indeed (Score:3, Interesting)

        by CJ Hooknose ( 51258 )
        Syriloth: From what I've heard, this is pretty common [...] Frequently your average Statue of Isis or whatnot on display at a museum is actually just a high-quality cast of the original.

        Colin Smith: It's not like 99.9% of the population are going to be able to tell the difference between a decent copy and an original.

        Yep, it's widespread and very useful, because then the original can remain with the professionals while the amateurs get something that's 99% as good. I remember going to the British Mu

        • Re:Indeed (Score:5, Funny)

          by Lord_Slepnir ( 585350 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @11:18PM (#10390826) Journal
          I'm not sure how you'd copy paintings though

          Here's an idea []

        • Re:Indeed (Score:3, Informative)

          by bobbozzo ( 622815 )
          "The Museum Company", a mall chain store in the US, was selling "3-D Laser scanned" reproductions of Monet, Van Gogh and other paintings which are out of copyright.

          They looked real-enough to me (they had brush strokes, etc.).

          The store by me has closed, and I don't see any paintings on their web site, so I'm not sure if they are still doing it.

          They were selling for $350-600 for 2-3 foot paintings.
    • For those who think this is a good idea, then why the fuck have a museum at all? Just have an on-line set of images. Jeez.

      The real thing cannot be faked.
      • The real thing can be faked. If it couldn't, there would be much less problems with faked art.

        Of course, there's a big difference between looking at faked art and looking at an art reproduction in a book or on a computer screen.
    • Put a fake on display, and hide the real one somewhere else.

      That's called "security through obscurity," my friend.
    • hide the real one somewhere else.

      I know where! Put it in a safe behind the fake. They'll never find it there!

    • I have an even better idea: The artist doesn't even produce an original, but immediatly produces a fake. Since the fake is from the artist himself, and the original doesn't even exist to compare with, noone will see the difference. And since the original cannot be stolen due to its non-existance, we save a lot of money on security. :-)
  • by cephyn ( 461066 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @07:58PM (#10389589) Homepage
    Keller likes to alarm windows and fasten them closed whenever possible.

    Didn't anyone tell him that proprietary closed windows models are inherently insecure and that an open-window solution is the better route?
  • manic collector (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nbert ( 785663 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @07:59PM (#10389598) Homepage Journal
    Before anyone comes up with theories about manic collectors being behind of it all - there isn't a single case in history where a stolen painting was found in the basement of an art aficionado. It's mostly about blackmailing the insurance company in charge - it makes sense for them to pay 2 millions to the thief instead of paying 10 millions for the loss.
  • Sounds good, but.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ( 816752 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @07:59PM (#10389603) Homepage
    "First, I want to see everyone who walks in--with a good picture. And I want security checks of carry-ins there"--in other words, backpacks and purses.
    This was the security model at my old job. Sure it prevented people from getting in with anything funny, but you could take whatever you want when you left and nobody bothered to check. People walked out with laptops, probably on a regular basis. Event he ones with the little wire security system were sawed through.
    • It's kind of hard to search people on the way out. If they refuse, you have 3 options: do nothing, call the cops and hope they get there in time, or physically restrain the person and get your ass sued. Unless what you're protecting is very very important, like a casino's vault, it will probably be worth having a hands-off security policy.
      • 1. Make them carry an RFID badge as a condition of entry.

        2. Track how much they eat at the caffeteria, or if they go to take a dump

        3. Weigh them on the way in, and weight them on the way out.
  • Snipers nest with a view of the door...or at least someone outside the place to see the getaway.
  • by Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @08:01PM (#10389613)
    Most art objects are stolen to order, they are not crimes of opportunity. When a 'collector' is prepared to chough up enough cash professional thieves will invest the time and effort to defeat the security.
    • Got anything to back that up? Can't recall the last time I ran across a a survey of professional art thieves' motivations. I'd assume it'd be more useful for blackmailing an insurance company.

      I mean, seriously, outside of movies, how often do you think billionaires hire thieves to steal artwork?
  • RFID Chips? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by e9th ( 652576 ) <e9th&tupodex,com> on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @08:02PM (#10389617)
    Why not embed them in each artwork? I bet there's a way to do it in most pieces without damaging them.

    Sensors at the exits, guards in the parking lot, etc.

  • Rats (Score:4, Funny)

    by filtur ( 724994 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @08:02PM (#10389624) Homepage
    I was hoping this was going to be an article about people getting caught in comprising positions.
  • by dzym ( 544085 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @08:04PM (#10389631) Homepage Journal
    But I thought the problem was that the museum did NOT have an unlimited budget for security?

    Not to mention that when you get guns pulled on you you generally try not to get shot. Even if it ends up costing you something priceless (which still ends up as being less precious than human life, no matter how fine the art).

    • "which still ends up as being less precious than human life, no matter how fine the art"

      That is only an opinion. There are scum on this Earth that I would trade their lives for a friggin' Bazooka Bubble Gum cartoon.
  • ...with frickin' laser beams. That's the ticket.
  • and then catch those theives. Of course, some basic "preventive" security is must. some RFID also will help.
    • Yeah, but thieves often cut paintings free of their frames to make them easier to move, hide, etc. It's kind of a lost cause to bug a painting, unless you put the locator in an indispensable part of the canvas itself, and I don't think many curators would do that to a pricless masterpiece.

      Plus, to bring it back to someone else's point, most major art thefts are going to involve ginormous insurance liabilities. Those insurance companies don't want to encourage wary thieves to go poking through the Mona Li
  • the scream (Score:2, Informative)

    by prof187 ( 235849 )
    for anybody who doesn't know, or wasn't sure, which painting The Scream is, here... []
  • Just secure a thick sheet of glass/lexan/plexiglass between the pictures and the people!

    • thick sheet of glass/lexan/plexiglass

      I think that, as long as the thieves know what they have to get through, there are easy ways to break through all of these materials.

  • If money was no problem, I'd just make a really fantastic replica of the painting (indistinguishable even by experts) and hang it on the wall with regular security and lock all the originals in one nice secure vault.
  • Why not just scan them all in, conver the museum into an internet cafe, and set up a website with all the paintings...

    I mean, it's not like we haven't already seen these paintings before...

    • Re:Bah... (Score:2, Informative)

      by fishbowl ( 7759 )
      "I mean, it's not like we haven't already seen these paintings before.."

      I never really appreciated Van Gogh until I was in the same room with one of his paintings. There is an important dimension which is lost in any reproduction.

  • If only... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by linuxwrangler ( 582055 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @08:34PM (#10389806)
    Sure, if budget is no object...but it is.

    I build an alarm system for a major campus art museum back in the day. This was no small affair - we were replacing an old system that never worked well. The old system had vibration sensors on all the panes in the skylights. Unfortunately these sensors were not only unreliable but also worked in groups of a couple dozen sensors for a skylight area and all sensors had to be calibrated together - a very time-consuming process as it involved after-hours work up on a 30-40 foot airlift (with all tools on teathers to protect the art, of course) and also involved removing the diffuser panel under each of the glass panes. Needless to say the skylights were soon unprotected. We replaced these with redundant infrared motion detectors covering all skylight entry points.

    Also, the old system had sensors in groups so when an alarm went off (or went bad) you only got a general area of the problem. We replaced this with about 150-200 individual zones. Every door and every motion detector was on a separate zone. In addition, we had a custom made map of the museum with lights for each alarmed door or zone so the central guard could immediately see where the alarm was coming from. Problems were easy to fix - no hunting down a bad switch from among 20 or 30.

    We had several pan/zoom cameras with motion-detection capability. A time-lapse recorder ran constantly and sped up to full-speed when motion was detected.

    The security room was upgraded with steel walls and bulletproof glass. In addition, being a campus-run museum, a duplicate alarm receiver was installed at police dispatch (no maps, just a printer showing alarms).

    The central guard could control all the lighting in the museum and speak to or listen to anywhere in the museum through the intercom/speaker system.

    There's more but all-in-all it was a heck of a system and fun to build.

    The end result: management cut back all but one of the off-hours guards (the one in the control room) and eventually cut that person as well since, after all, the alarms went to the police station anyway...
    • That is perhaps the hardest security problem to fix: management who does not want to pay for security. This is the reason most banks don't have armed guards, which would pretty much prevent robberies except for those by the most determined people. The bank would rather pay for the occasional robbery loss than the guard. I am surprised to see this reckless cost cutting attitude in a university museum, however.
  • by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @08:42PM (#10389854) Homepage
    Any work of art (or any physical object) will be lost at some point. Maybe not today, maybe not this century, but for any artwork, at some point, the circumstances will will collude to lose it it some manner. Increasing the efforts to counteract that may delay the inevitable, but will not prevent it.

    So, what do you do? Encase the piece in extreme layers of security to stave off its inevitable dissolution - but then also greatly hinder any real appreciation of the work by spectators? It's not easy to enter a contemplative frame of mind facing a painting at four or five meters, through ten cm of safety glass and surrounded by armed guards.

    Or, we accept its eventual destruction or loss as inevitable, relax the measures a bit, and let people appreciate it - _really_ appreciate it, up close and undisturbed - while it lasts.

    If I'd been a sappy touchy-feely type, I'd made a comment about how that is a lesson for life as well, but I'm not, so I won't.
    • The problem we have with your argument is that it can be said of civilization as well. Sometime in the future, the United States will collapse, its language will change, its entire culture will cease to exist, a relic for the people of the future to study. Why bother trying to prevent it? It is inevitable, all civilizations decline and collapse eventually.

      The point is this is what we have been doing since the first city was founded tens of thousands of years ago. Do you think the people in ancient Izmir b
  • by MasterDirk ( 659057 ) on Wednesday September 29, 2004 @08:45PM (#10389879)

    Being Norwegian I was quite interested in this, as were the Norwegian media. The largest Norwegian television-channel, NRK [], interviewed a biographer of Munch's. When asked what he supposed Munch would have thought of this theft he replied something like (and I'm translating off the top of my head here):

    If it were on one of Munch's better day's he'd probably say something like: "The Geniality of the artwork lies in the Thought and the Act, not in the Result. The Thought caused the Act, and I did it. The work itself is of little importance." But, Munch was a temperemental man so he might have been livid.

    And it wasn't exactly the only example of The Scream ("Skrik"), as there are several other versions made by Munch around the world. Still, I wish the thieves all possible good luck in selling the best-known image in the western world without being found out :)

    • Still, I wish the thieves all possible good luck in selling the best-known image in the western world without being found out :)

      What? Someone stole Paris Hilton?
    • Also being Norwegian (Halla, kompis!) I'm pissed off at the Oslo Art Collection Fund, for totally ignoring security once again. The security in Norwegian museums is so bad, it is a separate subject in the museum curator classes at the University of Oslo.

      As I recall, there are four or five separate complete works of Skrik (The Scream). One is oil on canvas, one is crayon on canvas, one is pastel on paper and the last is coal on paper. The oil painting, widely recgonized as the original, hangs at our Nationa

  • or a couple of fun movies that show the two ends of the spectrum for art theft try Thomas Crown Affair [] for the sublime, and Ordinary Decent Criminal [] for the ridiculous.

  • this seems like an obvious solution that I just thought of, but I'll post it anyways. For the really nice artworks that need protecting, the room has 2 doors to get into it (separated with a small hallway). Both doors cannot be opened at the same time. Have a sensor on the artwork that locks both doors when lifted.
    • This is frequently used in banks. The cashiers have complete control over the doors, and the robber have to make one of them open the first, then second door to get out.

      Problem being: This is the point when they start taking hostagesto force the cashiers to open the doors.

  • Reminds me of my short stint working in a museum. As part of procedure the first few days I was there I met with the chief of security to be indoctrinated on security rules.

    During the meeting I suddenly realized that the nice little painting hanging on the wall wasn't just a print... it was a real, live, authentic Monet.

    I asked about it and the security guy shrugged. He said that like most museums they had far more art in storage than on display, and so they often used it in office decoration.

  • Anti-integration (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Phreakiture ( 547094 ) on Thursday September 30, 2004 @09:08AM (#10393308) Homepage

    This is the part that impressed me: 9 Closed-circuit TV cameras . . . Anti-integration makes things difficult for the bad guys; it means they will have to break two systems instead of one.

    Redundancy is a Good Thing. Heterogeneous redundancy is a Better Thing. Here endeth the lesson.

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?