Guard tour systems can help utilities protect their facilities and copper. Photo coutesy Contronics

By Duane Jones, Contributing Writer

As the price for copper surpasses $4.00 a pound, many companies face threats from thieves who steal bulk copper. Wire that is energized has not deterred some criminals. Often sites for theft have baseline security measures in place. But it is still a challenge to find a prevention answer. More info at


            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 Tampa area were approximately $3 million, which did not include the costs for replacement. In addition, some people engaged in attempts to steal copper have been severely burned and there also have been fatalities. As companies targeted for theft also recognize, the potential for major service disruptions also exist. Utility companies, irrigation projects and even rail service have been impacted.


            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 Houston. It is one of the largest pipeline transportation and energy storage companies in North America.

Sidebar 1:

Guard Tour to Protect Your Copper and Facility

The concept of monitoring guard tours is not a new one. For quite some time different tools have been created and applied to control the tour performed by patrol officers during their shift. Unfortunately, most of them have proven to be unreliable because of their inconsistency and easiness to be altered. Perhaps technology’s primitive state was the major reason why these systems were not successful.

As time went by, the fast evolution of technology and the need for efficiency and trustworthiness in the security market led to the development of new systems that were able to monitor responsibly the activity of patrol officers. Contronics Technologies was one of the pioneers of what we call today a Guard Tour System.      

A guard tour is an electronic system composed of hardware and software which aims to control human activities, in this case specifically the tours of patrol officers or security guards. The hardware must be rugged and reliable for such control and the software must generate a variety of reports and be easy to use. Besides tracking the steps of the patrol officers or even the supervisors, Contronics patrol system prevents the mistakes that usually occur, since the wand interacts with the user, informing the time to start each tour and if it is being done correctly. It is a proactive way to avoid tours being missed and to increase the overall security. Consequently, the end user feels safer, the service provider improves its service and the site becomes more secure.

Contronics manufactures the world's leading Guard Tour System. In the last 11 years, our guard tour products have been recognized by both top security companies and end- users worldwide as the most rugged and advanced system available. Thanks to our commitment to developing the best and smartest guard tour products, along with superior customer support, we have successfully sold our products to over 60 countries worldwide. The reports generated by our PROGuard software are comprehensive tools to manage and evaluate the security guards and it helps the service provider to improve the business relationship with his customer. There are several reports to choose from and all can be configured to display the information needed for each case.

Contronics has focused on providing products and services with excellence and in a professional manner since our inception. In case you have any questions or would like to receive a brochure please visit our website at  


Sidebar 2:


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 U.S. businesses hit more than a billion dollars annually.

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 Hutchinson, Kan., discovered new European video security technology, Videofied. SNC took existing indoor integrated camera/sensors from RSI Video Technologies and customized them, putting the camera/sensor in a black housing on a gimbal to handle harsh weather proof for cell tower sites.

            Elsewhere, David McGinnis, general manager/CEO at Grayson-Collin Electric Cooperative in rural Texas, said the problem, in his area, has grown substantially over the last two years. “It’s not really organized here – just vandals who see a new area to mine.”

            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 Columbus, recently installed an intelligent video solution (IVS) from Arteco to prevent copper theft and other security related issues. After setting up a “virtual” perimeter around the fence and areas within the substation around the transformer, video analytics technology provides true object orientation and recognition and real-time alerts.