Can Copper Theft be Prevented?
By Duane Jones, Contributing Writer
TRENDS AND IMPACTS
Understanding motivations behind copper thefts is an important part in establishing an effective prevention strategy. The obvious financial motivation exists as copper prices continue to rise, almost doubling in price since 2005. The availability and visibility of copper also adds to the motivation. According law enforcement, much of the copper thefts can be attributed to individuals addicted to methamphetamine.
Many legitimate metal recycling companies have joined with local police in attempting to ensure only legitimate transactions occur. However, there are many jurisdictions that have no laws that address the amount or recording of transactions at recycling facilities.
The financial impact of copper theft is extensive. Keith Morelli, of the Tampa Bay Tribune, reported that in 2006 copper thefts for
REDUCING THE RISK
While local law enforcement may know that a facility exists, now is the time for the security manager to arrange a tour of the facility, showing what assets are important to the continued safe operation of the facility. Often law enforcement will provide measures to increase security. Request that local police increase their patrol activity, and even offer coffee readily available for any patrol during evening hours. The rapport that can be established is invaluable.
Reducing the risk of copper theft may also require work with local government officials. Increasing the punitive effects of those convicted of copper theft along with the establishment of better accounting and transaction practices from recycling companies should be high on your agenda. Coordinating with other local companies that are also susceptible to copper theft will serve as a force multiplier.
Managing the supply of copper is also important. Scheduling deliveries to prevent unnecessary volumes of on-site copper is one step. If there are large quantities of copper on hand, they should be placed in storage containers, lockable buildings or wire cages. Using an accountability system for onsite storage of copper is another measure.
Taking measures to conceal the presence of copper is another. A source of copper readily visible is more likely to be targeted than where copper is concealed or not readily identifiable. Concealment of copper can consist of simply shrouding the equipment by covering it from casual observation. Relocate equipment that has copper inside to a less visible and more secure location. For locations with copper that cannot be moved, consider painting to conceal the true nature and color of the material.
Consider marking the copper with nanotechnology that allows the wire to be identified when recovered. Other adhesive sprays adhere to the copper in small granules that have specific identifiers on each grain, and the identifier can tie specifically to your company. While these approaches are primarily designed for use in recovery and prosecution, installing signage along the perimeter can help deter the thief. As part of regular security surveys, access points to potential copper sources, such as ladders leading to air conditioning units, must be adequately controlled. Motion-activated lighting and intelligent video systems can be very effective additions, too.
No one measure alone will eliminate copper thefts, but taking steps to reduce the risk of theft, engaging local community leaders and law enforcement, using sound security practices and appropriate technologies offer the greatest chance for preventing future theft.
About the Author
Duane Jones is corporate security manager at Kinder Morgan in
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Stopping Theft, Catching Thieves
Jim Smith, executive director of asset protection for AT&T, said, “In 2006, AT&T reported 1,066 copper cable thefts with more than one-third disrupting service for customers. The cost to AT&T alone: $2.2 million.” Law enforcement estimates that total losses across all types of
For utilities with many remote locations, traditional video and access controls may be less expensive and more costly. A few carriers have been experimenting with a new totally wireless video system that runs for months on a set of batteries. SNC, a security firm in
Elsewhere, David McGinnis, general manager/CEO at Grayson-Collin Electric Cooperative in rural
While McGinnis uses security video tied to DVRs and traditional intrusion detection, vandals still cut through fencing and run off with copper from substations before he could effectively react. He installed smart fiber fencing from Smarter Security Systems. In one fence and lock cutting incident just last month, “we were there within eight minutes of the alarm. In four days, the car and driver were identified.” A dialer calls a number of McGinnis employees.
Called SmarterFence the highly intelligent fiber-optic, fence sensor technology tunes out environmental nuisances to detect real intrusion attempts.
The Columbus Division of Electricity utility substations, in