A constant armed struggle

SMART Mining Security Solutions 2024 Editor's Choice, Integrated Solutions, Mining (Industry), IoT & Automation

Security in the mining industry is no joke. From the good old days when security meant stopping workers from stealing goods, it has devolved into a running battle where ‘soft’ crimes like fraud and theft go hand in hand with violent and often murderous activities by well-organised and funded criminal syndicates (see the associated article with Nash Lutchman in this issue on how security on mines has changed over the years).

State authorities are hardly useful in this matter as, in most cases, they are unable or unwilling to assist mines, even when innocent lives are at stake. This means mines have to go it alone, and we have seen mines invest in armoured vehicles and well-trained and armed tactical response teams – and even these are often outnumbered and outgunned. The old ‘guard at the gate’ scenario is no longer a factor in mines that take their security seriously.

SMART Security Solutions asked a few people involved in servicing mines to join us in a virtual round table and give us their insights into mine security today. Our participants were:

• Ian Downie, Director, Xone Integrated Security.

• Nick Grange, Director, XtraVision.

• Richard Groenewald, MD, Xone Integrated Security.

• Nash Lutchman is a retired risk executive with decades of experience at De Beers, Goldfields, and Sibanye.

• Kelly McLintock, Chair, Blacklight Group.

• Dave Rampersad, National Sales Manager, Syntell Group.

• Theuns van Schalkwyk, Director, XtraVision.

As seems to happen more often than ever before, the round table went off on a tangent from what we expected – as can be seen in this brief review. To accommodate any additional input from the participants, we spoke to them separately to learn more about their companies’ services and solutions for mines and the resulting insights are included in or following this article.

Starting out, we asked the participants for their views on the most important security challenges facing mines in South Africa and Africa at the moment. Sadly, these challenges seem to be growing and expanding to other countries, but we will not focus on that in this article.

Threats on every side

Starting out, Dave Rampersad highlighted the evolving security threats in the mining sector, including almost every security challenge mines face, from cybersecurity to illegal mining, community unrest and geopolitical risks.

Theuns van Schalkwyk highlighted the threats from illegal mining, but noted that it is not only about the theft of products, but also the health risks that come with mining activities. Mines go to great lengths to try to make a dangerous activity as safe as possible; illegal miners are under no obligation to do the same and ignore safety in favour of profit. One of the vulnerable areas in all mines is the perimeter (which is long) and wide-open spaces (which are very difficult to secure). Even with thousands of surveillance cameras, it is simply not possible to cover everything.

Adding to the list of security challenges mines have to deal with, a list that can take hours to work through, Ian Downie says the power situation (or lack of power) is a key factor in the efficient security of mines. He adds that legislation around mines is also complex and can cause problems, unnecessarily so. Moreover, given the extreme poverty in South Africa and the location of many mines, this is another security risk that does not seem solvable. Mines, therefore, need careful planning to handle the situation effectively.

Nick Grange highlights shrinkage as a significant problem, whether due to internal failure to follow the correct policies and procedures, or external factors such as illegal mining.

Nash Lutchman says executives underestimate the global security challenges we are facing today in terms of their impact on mines. Whether a mine is a global corporation or a small local mine, its product is sold internationally to various critical industries. The impact of global security uncertainty, the Red Sea shipping routes, for example (and many more), will impact business in the years to come.

Lutchman also advises that a mine should never allow an accountant or ‘non-security person’ to determine a security operation’s budget, structure, or tactics. These people have their own areas of expertise, but security is not one of them, and a price-based strategy will result in problems. The result will be similar to certain tender processes in government, where unskilled and inexperienced people were put in senior positions where they did not know what they are doing, with the results we see every day in South Africa. Similarly, companies with the wrong people in the wrong positions will not be a runaway success.

He knows that security cannot get the budget it wants, so mines have to rely on their security professionals to develop the most appropriate, resilient control environment for external and internal threats. He adds that it is critical that the control systems are resilient, flexible, and technology-enabled, in order to handle the realities of the threat environment.

While Lutchman is in favour of using technology to assist in risk management, he also warns that thinking technology will allow you to reduce the number of guards you need is wrong. At the same time, simply stocking up on hundreds or thousands of guards will not help either. Guarding personnel today need to be well trained, having gone through integrity and psychological screening to ensure they are the right fit for the job. They also need the right physical characteristics to meet the threats of attack they will face.

Taking care of your guards is just as important. They are not isolated window dressing, but must be part of the risk matrix and understand the operating tactics of the security team. Lives matter, and a mine has an obligation to keep its security personnel as safe as they can while on duty in a hostile environment.

The role of intelligence

Richard Groenewald comes from an engineering and technology background and approaches security challenges from an intelligence perspective. He says intelligence comes from data, and you need to build the appropriate environment that allows you to collect the data from many sources, analyse it and make the necessary decisions.

He agrees with Lutchman that, while you need ‘boots on the ground’ as a tactical response to threats, the real objective should be to avoid them, and avoidance comes from intelligence. He advises mines to spend time understanding what type of information they need and how to gather and analyse it effectively to reduce risk.

Kelly McLintock believes the industry is in flux at the moment and dynamic security strategies are required. He says all the issues raised above are relevant but need to be blended into a deliverable outcome that raises situational awareness and the ability to deal with security issues. The higher cost of production, dynamic exchange rates, and lower profits are a perfect storm that cuts budgets and affects the ability of security operations to deliver what is required.

The conversation took a number of twists and turns from then on, sometimes far beyond what we expected (which is good). Keep an eye out on SMART Security Solutions’ home page and our LinkedIn feed, as we will be releasing the whole conversation as a podcast shortly after the print publication is released.


The value of intelligence

Following the round table, SMART Security Solutions spoke to Ian Downie from Xone to learn more about the company’s approach to mines’ (and other customer’s) security. Xone has been in the security market for many years, offering a turnkey solution to mines and other sectors.

While Xone covers the security spectrum and can provide guarding as well as technical services to install and maintain its clients’ infrastructures or work with project managers and third-party contractors, its key differentiator is its focus on command and control.

Downie explains that the company starts by conducting a camera assessment of the client’s environment, which is no small task for a mine with thousands of cameras. The goal is to understand each camera’s task and how it functions day and night, determining if it is fit for purpose. The results are compared to the client’s risk plan to see how, or if each one achieves the output required, marrying the output to the risk profile. This allows it to develop and drive specific processes for various security aspects – fencing, cameras, gates, etc.

With this understanding, Xone creates the control room environment (onsite, remote, or a hybrid) to match the client’s goals. Some cameras may be monitored via a black screen approach, while those in high-risk areas may be monitored 24/7. Under the overarching goals of the business risk plan, the processes for each operator are also defined, as are the priorities for different events.

Based on the information collected, Xone employs specialised business analysts at its head office who turn the data into a detailed business process that runs on an incident management platform (IMS). The analysts continuously update the IMS, and the information is used by trainers to teach the control room managers, supervisors, and operators how to apply those processes to deliver each according to each customer’s required outcomes. The control room operators and supervisors are involved in a constant improvement process; provided with regular training.

Xone also has specialised software that monitors the operators while on the job, measuring what they do well, how it compares to their peers and previous performance, and whether they are achieving the required output. The company has several key performance indicators through which its quality control team can tell how well each operator is doing.

This is a timely approach, as Downie says errors are caught in real time. This allows supervisors to assist operators almost immediately while the event is happening to ensure they are ready for the next event of the same nature. It’s learning on the job rather than getting a lecture a few days or weeks later.

While many control rooms use an IMS, which is populated with loads of data that does not accomplish much, the information in Xone’s IMS is used to create detailed reports to various interest groups on the mines. For example, a report goes to the board of directors, providing them with accurate, current, and pertinent information. This allows them to understand the business’s risk and how well its teams meet its goals and achieve the drive to constant improvement.


For more information, contact:

• Blacklight Group, [email protected], www.blacklightgroup.co.za

• Syntell, +27 11 582 2500, [email protected], www.syntell.co.za

• Xone Integrated Security, 0861 656 565, [email protected], www.xone.co.za

• XtraVision, +27 11 450 1056, [email protected], www.xtravision.co.za


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