Solving copper theft

January 2010 Security Services & Risk Management, Mining (Industry)

South Africa is losing approximately R5 billion per annum due to metal theft. Who is addressing the crisis and more importantly, how?

In August this year, parliament tackled the subject of metal theft head on. The Democratic Alliance’s shadow deputy minister of public enterprises, Pieter van Dalen, highlighted the repercussions of this vandalism on the likes of Transnet and Eskom whose combined losses due to copper theft amounted to a loss increase of 38,1% in 2008/09 and replacement costs increasing by 57,4%. Clearly, serious solutions are needed.

So what is government and private enterprise doing to combat this scourge, and what is and is not, working?

Whilst the combined losses noted above are substantial, it is interesting to note that Transnet is the one company that has shown the most significant increase in material losses, with replacement costs now amounting to R30,1-million, more than three times their 2004/05 levels. Eskom, on the other hand, has been more effective in keeping cable theft relatively stable over the last five years. Why?

Leigh Yorke-Smith
Leigh Yorke-Smith

Fusing technology with management

Statistics and research have revealed that it is all very well spending money on state-of-the-art high tech security solutions, but this alone cannot solve the problem; it needs to be matched by capable management and a security policy. Merely outsourcing security detail is not adequate; organisations like Transnet need to oversee the security company’s services themselves.

Team management starts from within organisations, but it cannot succeed without co-operation from the SAPS and its related bodies. So while companies tackle technology-related solutions, the DA has called for the following nine steps to be actioned:

1. Empower the Non-Ferrous Theft Combating Committee (NFTCC)

Formed in 1993 to fight the theft of copper cables and other NFM theft in the country, the committee comprises major role-players such as the SAPS and Eskom. The NFTCC seeks to provide strategic guidance and direction for the prevention and eradication of NFM theft.

2. Accurate tracking of crime information

The SAPS must re-instate the SAPS code for copper theft. In the past, there was a separate code used for all information regarding the theft of copper.

3. Specialised training of judicial officers

There must be a comprehensive training module on metal theft, in particular copper theft, for judicial officers.

4. Specialised training of SAPS members

There must be a comprehensive training module for SAPS members, in particular detectives as to how to analyse and detect evidence that is likely to be found at the scene of cable theft.

5. Increased export control

Review export controls for non-ferrous metals. At the moment, customs inspection for NFM has been outsourced to private businesses, which are not required to inspect every container containing copper.

6. Marking of copper cables

All newly manufactured copper cables should be marked in some way. Marking options include micro-dotting and identifying groove markings.

7. Creating a specialised SAPS unit

Copper cable theft involves organised criminal activity, so it is imperative that the SAPS reinstate the specialised units that used to deal with non-ferrous metal theft.

8. Establishing a reward hotline

A national reward system (including involvement from businesses) that provides monetary rewards for information that leads to arrests. 9. Eradicate the backlog of dealer licences

Many dealers in non-ferrous metals have applied to the SAPS for licences in terms of the current Second-hand Goods Act; these have not been issued because of delays within the SAPS.

Who is coming up with solutions?

With damages and costs amounting to three times the cost of the material stolen in this multimillion Rand trade, task teams have been formed in both Cape Town and Tshwane to tackle the crisis head-on. The City of Cape Town’s Copper Theft Task Team, known as the Copperheads has successfully co-operated with different role players, apprehending in excess of 200 thieves over the last two years, 75% of which are drug related.

The Tshwane Metro Council recently launched a technologically equipped centre to curb copper cable theft responsible for the loss of about R26-million annually. The centre is operated by private company, Combined Private Investigations (CPI), which relies on technology to combat the growing trend of copper cable theft. Since its launch, there have already been approximately 248 copper cable thieves arrested and most of them have been successfully prosecuted.

So what technology is effective?

Many affected sites are remote, receiving relatively infrequent visits by technicians or workers. A grounding connection can be missing for a period of time before a problem is detected. Equally frustrating is the fact that suspects in these cases remain largely unidentified, primarily resulting from camera image quality restraints and the delay waiting for armed response to reach the scene of the crime.

Many remote sites are also difficult to secure; they comprise areas that are often without power or communication lines, and are targets for copper plumbing, wiring, generators, materials, air conditioners, cables, copper grounding bars, sprinkler systems and cooling systems. These sites include:

* Construction sites.

* Vacant buildings.

* Communications towers.

* Electrical sub-stations.

* Foreclosed properties.

Finding ways to detect intruders and notify authorities as quickly as possible is a core focus for some security specialists. Elvey Security Technologies has partnered with other players in the security industry to help curb this growing copper theft epidemic. Elvey has pioneered a wireless video security system known as Videofied, manufactured by RSI Video Technologies, to combat South Africa’s copper crisis with a no-nonsense approach.

The Videofied solution was borne out of the need to create an outdoor sensor and camera combination and an outdoor arming and disarming station with a GPRS cell-based reporting capability to send alerts to the monitoring station. Thanks to this technology it now takes seconds instead of hours for a response to take place from the time the alarm signal is received by the control room.

Using a battery powered sensor and camera that operates for four years on three AA batteries, this wireless system can be easily installed anywhere on a site to provide detection and immediate response to criminal activity. Network engineers also stand to gain; by accessing realtime information about grounding conditions they are subsequently able to deal with the problem before it causes excessive power outage problems.

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