Minimizing Mayhem

Taking steps to discourage graffiti taggers and cleaning up their messes fast will keep customers happy and raise your bottom line
Minimizing Mayhem
These portable restrooms were brazenly tagged despite being next to a lighted building in the busy Washington Square Park in San Francisco, across the street from the landmark Saints Peter and Paul Church. (Photos by Jim Kneiszel)

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Dealing with greater competition in the marketplace and an ailing construction industry, portable sanitation contractors have had to cut their costs to the bone to ensure profitability. Some costs of doing business always seem to be on the rise, including wages and insurance premiums.

But one area where you might be able to rein in costs is vandalism damage. Graffiti is a constant frustration in the industry. It’s a full-on battle to defeat the taggers, and waging that battle costs you in labor and cleaning products as well as the premature recycling of units that are constantly being targeted.

As you enter the busy season for construction and special events placements, here are a few tips to curtail graffiti damage:


Location, location, location

Site selection for restroom placement is part of the expertise you offer to customers. Your knowledge of the best locations for restrooms to discourage vandalism will save both you and the customer money and headaches over the long run. Scan a new customer’s property for the best drop site. Look for the busiest spot on a construction site. Find a fenced area where it’s more difficult for vandals to tag and run. Visit the site at night to take note of locations illuminated by streetlights. Ensure good lines of sight to the units. Consider locations and restroom colors that will help units blend into their surroundings rather than stick out and beckon vandals.


Keep it clean

Law enforcement experts say the best deterrent to graffiti is removing it quickly. Taggers want to see their images or gang-related symbols displayed as long as possible, and will avoid tempting targets where paint is quickly removed. So monitor your placements regularly and be prepared to clean a vandalized unit immediately. Train your customers to alert you to graffiti as soon as they notice it. Explain to them that workers on a construction site or the general public in a park, for instance, will appreciate it when vandalism is addressed quickly.


Have attendants on site at major events

To protect your inventory investment at special events, it sometimes pays to hire attendants to monitor restroom usage. This can be an especially wise investment when you have large banks of restrooms at a traditionally rowdy event, or when your restroom trailers are dispatched to a more youth-oriented event. Attire your attendants in uniforms and have them carry official identification tags and a high-grade flashlight with a strong light beam. Have the attendant frequently check around the outside of restroom placements, especially after nightfall, and check on interiors regularly for mischief and to clean messes and restock paper products.


Warn taggers that you’re coming after them

Add warning labels to all of your restrooms, telling vandals they will be caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Order stickers that are brightly colored, sternly worded and carry some sort of official-looking badge or law enforcement seal to give vandals pause. This isn’t going to deter the majority of taggers, but it might convince the more apprehensive vandals to move along. On the sticker, you also can provide a phone number and ask restroom users to report vandalism so that you can clean the units quickly. You also could offer a reward for information leading to the arrest of a tagger. While warning labels might have limited effectiveness, they are an inexpensive deterrent.


Install motion sensor lights

A proliferation of inexpensive go-anywhere motion sensor lights is making it cheaper and easier for you to cast a light on vandals at work. These battery-operated, weatherproof LED lights are durable, long lasting and can be found for $20 or less. Install one on a fence or a building, pointing at your units, and the light will discourage taggers the moment they shake the spray paint can. Motion sensor lights made specifically for use inside portable restrooms may also scare some vandals away in addition to their main task of providing a convenient light for users.


Add surveillance

Surveillance technology is always getting more reliable, easier to use and less expensive. For an investment of less than one new portable restroom, you can install a security trail camera pointed at a unit or two that are chronically being hit by taggers or vandalized in other ways. Often used by hunters to scout wildlife, these cameras use motion sensors and infrared flash technology to capture images in remote locations. Used for security purposes, the cameras have long battery life and ample image storage capabilities so you can monitor a restroom location for extended periods. Because these cameras are providing better images all the time, they may help the police identify graffiti vandals and curb the issue over time.


Employ intelligent placement

For locations prone to vandalism, deliver older units near the end of their lifecycle or dark-colored units where residual graffiti marks won’t show as readily. Your customers might have more tolerance for a worn unit or one that won’t come completely clean of graffiti if it means they will be responsible for fewer repairs or it limits their cost for damage waivers. Target-rich environments might be dimly lit urban areas where incidents of other types of crime are common, or poorly secured construction sites that are magnets for roaming youths looking to damage something.


Sample cleaning products

Once your unit has been tagged, finding the most effective way to clean it might be a matter of trial and error. If an effective graffiti removal product has eluded you, ask the manufacturers of these products for free samples or buy a small quantity of several products to try out in real-world situations. The Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo is a great place to talk to the manufacturers and collect samples of many consumable products, including graffiti removers, deodorants and the like. Identify the products that work the best for you and your crew.


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