Cable theft

July 2008 Security Services & Risk Management

Copper cable theft is costing utilities Telkom, Eskom and Transnet Freight Rail billions, in addition to ruining businesses and costing people their jobs. Inkatha Freedom Party MP Hennie Bekker wants this crime declared ‘sabotage’.

Bekker says the answers provided to questions he recently asked in the National Assembly show that more than R5 billion is being lost to the economy a year because of the activities of cable thieves.

Elvey Security Technologies spoke to Keith Jentoft, managing director of American company RSI Video Technologies.

Q: What does today's rash of copper theft mean to security companies?

A: Reducing copper theft is one of the most significant new opportunities to happen for security companies in the last decade. Copper theft probably began as construction site theft because there is so much exposed copper in plumbing and wiring. Many sites are being hit by thieves who chain the electrical service to their pickup and pull the breaker box and all the attached wiring out of the walls. Because thieves often rip out the drywall to strip the plumbing and wire, the cost to repair dwarfs the actual loss of the copper.

Q: Where else is copper theft causing problems?

A: It is now contributing to power outages, dropped phone calls, and routinely closing schools and hospitals. The US Department of Energy said in 2007 it was a $1 billion problem and growing. Here are some real examples seeking a solution.

One real world example seeking a solution includes communication towers. Recently two men and three women were accused of stealing $270 000 worth of copper from 100 cell towers in Virginia and South Carolina. While in South Africa, it has cost billions to the economy due to cable theft and subsequent economic loss.

Other examples include electrical substations and airconditioners. According to the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute in the USA, airconditioning units are now the 'hot item' for copper.

Q: What can we as an industry do about it?

A: Traditional security systems can help indoors and in vacant buildings. CCTV can also help but it tends to be expensive to deploy and tough to install in remote locations. The trouble with copper theft is that much of what is at risk is outdoors and in remote locations that are difficult for traditional systems. In my opinion, this is the main reason why the security industry has been so slow to focus on the copper theft problem - there have been no easy answers.


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