17 July 2008

Wireless video security making its mark against cable theft

US-based Duke Energy is using revolutionary wireless video technology to fight copper theft at its substations and operations centres. This is something of particular interest to South Africa, which has been plagued over the past decade with a growing incidence of copper theft, something that impacts infrastructure, construction sites and commercial property, as thieves are able to pocket easy cash for stealing something that is in or on every building.

Copper cable theft costs utilities like Telkom, Eskom and Transnet Freight Rail billions of rands, in addition to impacting the emergency services’ ability to do its job and ruining smaller businesses, thereby costing people their jobs. Inkatha Freedom Party MP Hennie Bekker has insisted that this crime should be 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 every year because of the activities of cable thieves.


Normally copper theft is not so dramatic. In a November 2006 article, “With the Price of Copper Up, the Plumbing Can Go Missing,” the New York Times claimed: “Though the news media has reported thefts of copper wire from streetlights, electrical substations and cell phone towers across the US, most of it is taken from abandoned homes or homes under construction.”

Unfortunately, victims of copper theft find that the loss of actual copper is not what is most expensive. The damage done removing R1600 of wire or plumbing often costs many thousands more to repair.

“The Gompers Centre in Phoenix in the US suffered some R280000 in damage to its nine air-conditioning units, leaving the 55000-square foot facility without air for up to two weeks,” says Zane Greeff, Technical Director at Elvey Security Technologies. “R280000 worth of damage. And what did the thieves get? R400 worth of copper.”

Even repair costs do not take into account the increased fire and operational risk when thieves remove copper lightning rods or grounding bars from commercial properties. The real problem is that much of the risk of theft occurs in areas that are difficult to secure with traditional security systems or CCTV surveillance cameras.


Greeff points out that substations are an obvious target for copper thieves and this is one area where security could be put in place to combat copper theft.

He says that using traditional sensors outdoors had created too many false alarms, while CCTV was impossible in all but a few areas with power, and even then it was simply too expensive.

“However, with a wireless and battery-operated verification security system we can create a substation security solution. The system is built around the Videofied outdoor sensor/camera, in conjunction with a cellular-based Videofied panel using the GSM/GPRS network,” says Greeff. “Motion activates the integrated night vision camera and sends a 10-second video of the intruder over the cell network to the monitoring station and site manager.”


Copper theft also has afflicted the mobile communications industry, especially in cell phone towers. Because these are the highest structures in a given area, cell towers are predisposed to take lightning strikes and are therefore designed with large copper grounding plates. If these plates are stolen, the expensive switching equipment housed near the base of the tower is at risk. However, in the cell towers where it has been installed, wireless video security has resolved the copper theft issue.

“The same wireless technology has been protecting cell towers with Videofied for more than a year in the US and they have not experienced a single loss,” says Michael Brett, National Sales Manager at Elvey.


In May, burglars climbed onto the roof of President Thabo Mbeki’s official residence, Mahlambandlovu, on the Bryntirion Estate in Government Avenue, Pretoria and stole between R20000 and R30000 worth of aluminium. The 10mm aluminium wire which had been installed in the roof to form part of the house’s network of electronic fittings, including closed-circuit television cameras and computer systems, and which was also designed to protect the house against lightning.

The recent theft of a rooftop unit at a major supermarket cost the company concerned more than R100000. The company has since installed wireless video security systems.

Cooling units in remote communication towers and switching stations also are routinely targeted. Often the replacement unit is stolen as well. These sites are difficult and expensive to secure when what is stolen is on the outside of a building. However, new technology makes outdoor wireless video far more affordable, and a new outdoor camera and sensor exists that operates in low temperatures, right down to -20º Celsius. The security system is also wireless, meaning that every device operates on a single set of batteries for months.

“There is finally an answer to the raft of copper thefts that has plagued many businesses and parastatals in this country. Today, Elvey Security Technologies can supply affordable wireless video products that will save businesses and citizens both time and money in the fight to avert copper theft,” concludes Brett.
Elvey Marketing