[hackerspaces] US hackerspace and makerspaces - safety practices in risky neighborhoods

Arclight arclight at gmail.com
Sun Jun 26 08:14:11 CEST 2016

I don't think this is a strictly US problem.  Other folks from Europe
and Latin America have told me stories about the dodgy spaces they
rent due to affordability.

In any case, we don't have a "safety manual," but we do have a few
core principals.  Our place is located in an industrial area 2 blocks
from a methadone clinic and a downtown with a large homeless
population. It's not gangland or especially dangerous, but common
sense must be observed.

1.  Lock it or lose it!  Don't store anything outside that you don't
want stolen.  It could be fine for weeks, but it's bad practice,
serves as an attractor to scumbags, and often ends in lots of crying.
This applies to materials, bikes, large tools, etc.

2. The space gets locked when not open, 100% of the time, no
exceptions.  Make the workflow of your access system encourage this
practice by making "door stays unlocked' an explicit mode that is not
the default after the first person comes in, and setting a nightly
timeout to relock everything if forgotten.

3.  Use cameras and alarm functionality the right way.  I'll say it
now:  Cameras do very little to prevent crime.  We have a visible
camera right over the dumpster, and it has never stopped the taggers
or the phantom pooper.  And unless you have a very high quality (i.e.
1MP or above with good low-light and appropriate optics), you'll just
have a bunch of blurry pictures of people stealing your stuff.

And if you have a monitored alarm, you're also not using it right if
you have repeated false alarms.

The right way:  Use cameras as a way of verifying who is at the door,
or verifying what is going on in real-time should your alarm go off.
Cops will be more likely to respond if you have a video-verified alarm
than the typical "something may or may not have happened" telemetry.

Regarding the alarm system itself, we have a self-monitored system,
and have made it very easy for people to arm it and lock up when
leaving.  (You just enter '1's until it starts the 30 second
countdown, or chirps an error if you left a door open).

We also make it easy to disarm - something like "the act of badging in
also disarms the alarm" is a good way to prevent falses and make the
5+ people callout list that gets SMS'd in the event of an alarm
immediately jump up and check the cameras.

Yes, you can go into endless "what if the attackers jammed cell
service, cut the wires, and took advantage of the fact that MD5 is an
outdated hashing algorithm" scenarios.  The truth is, you're trying to
protect your assets from a bunch of thieves parking a moving truck in
your loading dock and stripping the place while everyone is at DEFCON,
or the odd "smash and grab" druggie from the alley.

4.  Make it look like there is nothing to steal.  No laptops, camera
bags, etc should be sitting on your car seat.   Don't make it look
from the outside like it's a weed grow, a computer shop or anything
with cash or retail goods.  Be forgettable.

5. If you see people that don't belong to your group milling around,
engage them.  When we do this, we either end up inviting them in or
they quickly find out this isn't the place to go to "just use the
bathroom" for 2 hours...

6.  The best defense is having people there a lot and at unpredictable
times.  In most hacker spaces, there is not "safe" time a person could
break in and be assured of it being unoccupied.  This ain't Starbucks.
You can also maintain a presence if you have an active chat room/IRC
channel and a webcam.  You can even set up the webcam to be disabled
if the space is unoccupied/alarm is armed.  That is a personal choice.
Some folks actually like turning on a webcam and being logged in to
chat if they are working alone - it's like having someone keeping an
eye on you if you get hurt/etc.

7.  The last thing: If you need someone to leave, ask them to leave
clearly and unambiguously.  No passive-aggressive games.  If they are
aggressive, crazy and/or otherwise won't leave, call the police.  All
of the local businesses here have the direct number to the PD taped to
the counter for a reason.  Some spaces have a "No cops, EVAH!" policy.
The bottom line is that they are a resource you occasionally need,
warts and all.



We've have neighbors get broken into, but our space has never been targeted.

On Sat, Jun 25, 2016 at 7:43 AM, Shirley Hicks
<shirley at velochicdesign.com> wrote:
> Hey everyone,
> For a whole bunch of reasons, we’re having to push through and complete safety and security protocols for our makerspace.
> The thing we need to address is very US-centric, that of having taken a low(er) rent space in a neighborhood with crime problems and needing to beef up security and safety practices as a result.
> We have a good crew in charge of this at our makerspace, but we now need to get a formal process in place for our membership so that we capture _all_ incidents. (we’re working with our city police and administration to improve safety in the area).
> Am wondering if you would be willing to share your practices at your makerspace. Also, if you have linked material or docs, would you be willing to share that as well?
> Thanks in advance,
> Shirley Hicks
> Red Mountain Makers
> Birmingham, AL
> _______________________________________________
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