“LIKE AN ECHO BOOM TO THE RESIDENTIAL construction surge, construction equipment theft is on the rise, according to a study by equipment recovery firm LoJack. The firm reported an 82 percent increase in reported thefts from 2003 to 2004.

And the effect on builders is severe. The National Crime Insurance Bureau estimates that equipment thefts cost construction companies up to $1 billion per year in lost assets. And that's just material costs.

Kathy Kelleher, LoJack's national sales manager of commercial/construction equipment, explains, “When you have a piece of equipment stolen, it's not just the cost of the equipment. Time is money in this industry … any delay is going to cost [builders] money.”

With equipment scattered throughout multiple job sites, builders have difficulties securing it. “It's not affordable to put up a fence or hire a security guard to protect the equipment,” Kelleher says. Facing this obstacle, some builders have shifted focus from prevention to recovery and invested in radio frequency-based tracking systems such as LoJack. Police are able to track the systems' silent signals until the stolen equipment is pinpointed and recovered.

And the study reported that such devices work. More than $12,800,000 in stolen construction equipment was recovered by LoJack in 2004. The most popular theft targets were backhoe loaders, skid steers, generators and air compressors, dump trucks, welders and untethered trailers, and light utility trucks and forklifts.

The study tracked recovery reports in 21 states for equipment outfitted with a LoJack tracking system from December to January 2004.