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Scrap Metal Theft Soaring
a&s International 2007/11/16

Theft on construction sites extends even to raw materials, such as wiring and copper tubing. A&S takes a look at efforts to fight back. Theft on construction sites extends even to raw materials, such as wiring and copper tubing. A&S takes a look at efforts to fight back.

From the U.K. to Argentina, from India to Australia, recyclers and authorities around the world are reporting theft of guardrails from roadways, steel from rail tracks, copper from high-voltage wires, coils from air conditioning condensers, metallic structures from buildings (including churches), bronze from statues, and sculptures, and metal from trucks.

A December 2006 entry in a popular South African blog revealed the extent of the problem: "They will steal absolutely everything that they can lay their hands on, and if they cannot steal it, they break it. They steal road signs, metal strips from highway barriers, telephone and power cables, even manhole covers and concrete blocks. Everything and anything that can be moved is stolen, usually for sale to scrap metal dealers."

South African authorities fear theft is spiraling out of control and will only worsen as the country rolls out infrastructure projects ahead of the 2010 World Cup. The country is also undertaking the Gautrain project, a proposed 80-kilometer Mass Rapid Transit railway system in Gauteng Province that will ultimately link Johannesburg and Pretoria to the international airport. It costs US$67.5 million to replace stolen cables nationwide every year, and $338 million in resultant losses. Copper cable theft cost Cape Town alone $3 million in 2006. Spoornet, the national railway system, lost $745,000 a day through cable theft in 2006a figure that does not include reparation costs.

The increase in such thef t has prompted the Malaysian authorities to closely regulate the lucrative scrap metal business. According to the Malaysian Star, the Cabinet ordered a clampdown on illegal metal scrap operators following complaints of rampant stealing of metal bars and objects in major towns and cities. In addition, European Metal Trade and Recycling Federation (Eurometrec) member associations send email alerts, which describe stolen materials, to all member companies. In addition, close cooperation with police services and national law enforcement officials has been established.

Scrap metal theft is not confined to developing countries only: the U.S. is experiencing the same problem. Traffic surveillance cameras have become targets of theft for their high scrap metal value. A metal recycling operator in Washington State was recently arrested in a sting operation for buying stolen property.

Why is theft of scrap metal reaching epic proportions? The German Metal Traders Association (VDM) explained. Scrap metal and production waste make for preliminary materials for the production of metals, and this is to be found in increasing quantities above, rather than below, the surface. Whenever scrap or waste cannot be reused directly, it is processed, sorted and classified. It is much more economical to return scrap metals to the production process than to use primary raw materials. Recycling thus reduces environmental pollution, cuts energy costs and consumption, and helps preserve scarce natural resources. Worldwide, over 400 million tons of metal are recycled each year, to the tune of a global metal scrap trade of $85 billion. In the U.S., metal recycling is worth $20 billion.

Virtually all metals can be recycled into high-quality new metal, explained the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA). Metal recycling is a $14 billion industry in the U.K. Copper is one of the most sought-after materials, said Ken Geremia, Communications Manager for the U.S. Copper Development Association. That is because it is wholly recyclable, plentiful, accessible and easily recycled.

The Chinese government also plans to expand development of scrap metal recycling. Use of scrap copper will reach 2 million tons by 2010 and use of scrap steel will reach 60 million tons, noted the China Metals Report Weekly.

Growth in global scrap consumption is accelerating and looks likely to outpace supply for the remainder of the decade; demand for merchant scrap will grow by 70 million tons by 2010, according to projections by the Iron and Steel Statistics Bureau (ISSB). With supply forecast to remain tight, scrap prices are going to remain high.

Laws Not the Solution

"Unfortunately, knee-jerk reactions will not solve the problem," said Leonard Shaw, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Recycling Industries (CARI). "Neither do scrap yards keep individual loads separate, nor can the industry save loads for even a seven-day period. Additionally, bylaw requirements seem to contradict obligations of all Canadian businesses under the Federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPED), which prohibits businesses disclosing personal information collected without the consent of the individual."

Steve Hirsch, Associate Counsel/ Director of State and Local Programs, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries agreed. "Measures such as requiring metal purchases to be held for 30 days are too burdensome. Scrap yard owners would have to maintain numerous piles of material, each labeled with the seller's name. Price of copper can fluctuate up to 20 cents a day, and the business relies on processing material quickly," he explained.

"These bylaws will simply not stop the current rash of metal theft," Shaw continued. "The vast majority of material received at a scrap yard does not have a serial number or any distinguishing marks. With resource cutbacks and changes in priorities, police forces are not able to address the current increase. CARI is in the process of developing a better electronic system that any company can access and rapidly inform scarp dealers of material that has been stolen from them."

Taking Action

Scrap recyclers must address scrap theft on two fronts, said Scrap magazine: they must protect themselves from having materials stolen either through internal or external theft, and they must protect themselves from buying stolen material. Security cameras can record images of scrap sellers, which can help identify illegal suppliers and repeat perpetrators; it can also help alert owners about break-ins.

Scrap dealers have installed devices, from simple analog cameras to 360-degree rotating cameras mounted in strategic places. The latter can be combined with high-intensity sodium lights to enhance camera vision. Motion detectors, perimeter alarm systems that use laser-beam sensors and even GPS systems are also used.

"Most U.S. facilities have fencing, guards, alarms and video cameras. Many scrap processing facilities have extensive security video systems," said Steve Hirsch, Associate Counsel and Director of State and Local Programs at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. "Scrap processors should consider adding an additional camera with a time stamp at the scale or cashier. The video stamp allows correlation of specific video segments to specific transaction times as recorded by the computer or the time stamp on a hand-written scale ticket. A few jurisdictions have proposed fingerprinting sellers of material to scrap yards, but this is intrusive and, currently, impractical."

According to Maoz Tenenbaum, Sales Director, Asia-Pacific, ioimage, the company's best seller is its intelligent encoder line. This enables leverage of existing CCTV assets, dramatically enhances productivity and value. Transforming standard CCTV cameras into proactive detectors, the encoders are capable of automated detection and tracking of intruders, vehicles, removed objects and other incidents, enhancing the way that security operators process information and make decisions, said Dvir Doron, Vice President of Marketing.

Murat Bayram, Central Coordinator, Metal Import and Export, TSR Recycling GmbH & Co., said his company has implemented a security system whereby all sites are connected to a police station. "The police station is informed within 15 seconds of the alarm going off. We have built walls and fences around nearly every facility to prevent trespassing. Entry during the day or at night is filmed by several cameras. We have infrared cameras for night surveillance and recording; every movement, from birds to larger objects, is registered. When an alarm goes off, the cameras follow the signal. To minimize damage, cameras are placed on very high pillars."

To reduce theft of scrap copper, Rohan Claringbold, President of Identification Technologies (IDT) and of DataDot Mexico, recommends identification solutions. Claringbold's company has developed a copper cable security system, which sprays thousands of encoded microchips on the entire length of the exposed copper cable, making it impossible to remove the identity of the lawful owner. Each microchip is the size of a grain of sand and is laser etched with the company's name and telephone number.

Although virtually invisible to the naked eye, these microchips can be easily located by ultraviolet (UV) traces that are contained within the adhesive that becomes visible in black light. Identifying information is viewed easily with a 30x handheld microscope.

Theft from Railway In frastructure

The phenomenon of communication metal cable theft from high-speed lines has recently become a matter of concern for many railway operators all over the world, especially in Europe, said Chanan Graf, General Manager of Israel's G.Team Security. "Robbers, equipped with the appropriate tools and vehicles for loading and quickly removing stolen cables, target remote areas on a railway line," said Graf." They cut the cables in a very short time and disappear without leaving any evidence or trace, leaving the security forces unable to catch them."

The immediate consequence is the stoppage of railway traffic in the area. Later on, train circulation in the surrounding zones will be affected as well. More consequences are the relatively long recovery time, the economic burden of repairing damaged infrastructure, indirect damages such as passengers' time loss and, of course, the train company's reputation.

Graf believes that security solutions must be customized to take into account the company's particular characteristics, activities and operational profile. The solutions, he continued, must effectively deal with specific threats and risks while remaining cost-effective.

The concept of prevention includes definition of area of interest (AOI), said Graf, as well as implementation of physical means and obstacles (fences, false cameras) to deter and delay intruders. Then, detection should be followed by verification with video images of intruders transmitted to the command and control center. Data transmitted should be analyzed by dedicated security management software installed in the center, he emphasized. "Response procedures should be decided by the client according to company policies."

The system should also provide functions such as identification, target tracking, alarm management, alarm verification, general surveillance, alarm and event recording, and event archiving. Reliable detection of intruders, small objects and vehicles along the tracks is essential, and centralized control should be offered 24/7.

Graf further recommended that the system be activated (alarmed) when intrusion to the predefined AOI is detected, intruder speed is lower than the fastest predetermined speed (train speed), or distance traveled by the intruder before initiation of an alarm is larger than the shortest set distance. Alarms should also be sent when the intruder moves in any predefined direction, vehicles are parked in the AOI for a longer time than predefined, cameras are blocked or interfered with, and loss of video signal occurs.

The system should cons i s t of observation poles along the tracks, CCTV day-night cameras, video motion detection software for outdoor applications, and a central or regional security command and control center. It should also have a communication channel between field components and security command and control, power supply for field components, and a DVR system. Laser cameras are also very effective because of the distance that they cover. Use of existing power and WAN Infrastructure is also recommended.

Finally, a fusion of VMD (video motion detection) and NMD (non-motion detection) should be used. NMD ignores motionprecisely what all other intelligent video systems are based on. In a busy scene, where many people are in motion, NMD provides results that traditional VMD cannot. In circumstances where traditional VMD has proven very problematic, such as lively outdoor settings as is typical in train stations, airports and public venues, NMD provides a good solution as it has the ability to handle obscurationpeople walking in front of objects being viewed.

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