26 February 2010

One of South Africa’s largest producers and employers, the country’s valuable mining sector is being relentlessly battered by crime.

That’s according to Jack Edery, chief executive of Elvey Security Technologies, who says it’s critical for the mining sector to embrace new security technology if it is to stem ongoing, profit-pounding product and equipment theft.

In its own right, the mining sector is South Africa’s second biggest contributor to the country’s GDP after the agricultural sector. Home to one of the world’s largest reserves of chrome, gold, vanadium, manganese and PGMs (propylene glycol monostearates), it’s also the seat of the majority of Africa’s metal and mineral production[1].

“The mining sector employs more than 500000 people, whose livelihoods are at increasingly at stake as a result of the relentless theft of precious metals and equipment. Throughout the sector, profitability is being undermined to the point where some operations have stopped production and laid off their workers,” asserts Mr Edery.

While praising initiatives such as educational workshops which are being implemented to address the problem and hopefully discourage at least some of the criminally-inclined among employees, he says crime – much of it driven by insiders - shows little sign of abating.

“We know through ongoing investigations that stolen metals are being sold on the black market or to organized crime syndicates,” he says, adding that the only way to address the problem is to put in technologically advanced security measures capable of catching the “bad apples”.

Complex areas

The challenges of securing a complex site such as a mine are extreme. “Mines, which are often located in remote areas without power cables or telephones, require specialized security products capable of sending wireless alarm signals through to the control room. These same devices also need to be able to detect motion and react to it immediately by videoing the event and then sending it back to the control room or relevant cell phone or email,” avers Zane Greeff, technical director of Elvey.

Fortunately, on the back of recent and huge technological strides within the security industry, mine owners have access to top-of-the-range solutions that are crammed with crime-busting features, he says. Particularly impressive are those that boast fully waterproof, anti-tamper cameras with CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) black and white sensors, 85 degree wide-angle lenses, 320 x 240 pixel video resolution and two infrared LEDs to provide night illumination up to 12 metres. Through their PIR (passive infrared) ability to detect movement, they are able to activate sophisticated Fresnel lenses to begin recording in less than 100 milliseconds.

Because these systems are completely wireless, they can be installed anywhere, and in minutes, he points out further. Testimony to their effectiveness, says Mr Greeff, is documented proof of cameras transmitting over a distance of 300m to communicator panels.

He recommends the same type of solution for abandoned mine shafts, which he says are the hunting grounds of illegal miners chasing residual minerals. Although these shafts are no longer officially in production, they are serious headaches for the mine holding company, which invariably ends up having to foot the bill for security guards to patrol the area and notify the control room in the event of any disturbance. “Through the use of a few wireless cameras installed at shaft entrances or in areas storing old equipment, unauthorized entry visuals can be instantly relayed to the control room which can then deploy the necessary action,” he explains. “Not only is this a safer and more cost-effective method of monitoring the site than using man guards but it’s also more efficient and reliable.”

Outside area protection

By their very nature, mines often sit in large open areas which are accordingly easily penetrated by criminals. “Experts agree that the traditional, static CCTV system has its limitations when it comes to securing vast industrial areas,” says Mr Greeff, for whom the answer lies in “super-new technology that stands to change the face of surveillance significantly”.

Seamlessly integrated into existing CCTV systems, he maintains that the latest in outdoor industrial sensors takes surveillance and perimeter protection to a whole new level. “These sensors offer 100m ranges and video verification platforms that boast three outputs for far, near and creep detection,” he explains, noting further that multiple outputs make it possible for the activation of video transmission systems and the control of PTZ (point, tilt, zoom) cameras.

Another important feature of the technology is its flexible viewing fields. According to Mr Greeff, the detection angles of the main area of protection can be adjusted to match the camera’s field of view, which allows for the control room and security personnel to decide on how best to deal with disturbances. Its anti-rotation function, which is supported by a three axis accelerometer, thermo and light sensors and active infra anti-mask, allows the cameras to detect a human presence even in harsh conditions.

Boundary Protection

Mine owners desperate to protect entire boundaries or pinpoint spots where criminals have tried to gain entry are bound to be impressed by the latest in microwave cable perimeter intrusion detection systems.

“One of the most impressive and sophisticated perimeter security systems on the market, it is ideal for monitoring and protecting large, open tracts of land,” says Kenny Chiu, marketing manager of Elvey, of the top-range cable system which today protects more than 2.1 million meters of perimeter fencing worldwide.

“Technically-minded prospective users will be interested to know that the sensor is a volumetric, terrain-following sensor able to reliably detect and precisely locate walking, running or crawling intruders along the perimeter,” he notes. “The cable technology can detect any fence disturbance and narrow it down to within 3m. This it does through the use of proprietary digital signal processing (DSP) algorithms, which can pick up any attempt to cut or climb the fence while ignoring noise from wind, rain and heavy vehicles. What’s more, the microwave cable transmits alarm signals and operating power to all modules and auxiliary sensors along the perimeter, which eliminates the need for extra wiring.

The software interfaces directly with a personal computer which becomes the alarm monitoring display and graphic map. The result, says Mr Chiu, is a system that not only provides unparalleled performance and eliminates the extremely irritating problem of false alarms which plagues most other fence sensors but also offers measurable cost savings.

[1] Statistics SA

Elvey Marketing