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Mines Look to Safety and Security

Mines Look to Safety and Security
The mining industry suffers from high rates of accident and crime. A&S looks at how some security players are rising to the challenge.
The mining industry suffers from high rates of accident and crime. A&S looks at how some security players are rising to the challenge.

Mining is big business. More than 320,000 people work directly in the U.S. mining industry, and mines process nearly 47,000 pounds of material for each American. Processed materials of mineral origin account for nearly 5 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. In addition, coal and uranium generate one-third of all electric power. Given the value of the ore and the equipment used to mine and process it, the industry has gone for security electronic products and systems in a big way.

As minerals constitute about 60 percent of South Africa's total exports, the mining industry has provided significant growth for the South African security industry, said Ian Downie, Key Account and Mining expert at i to i technologies. He estimated that South Africa's mining industry buys US$5.56 billion worth of electronic security equipment and solutions every year.

Growth, he continued, has been more than 20 percent annually for at least the past two years due to high levels of violent crime, low education levels and poverty. "Mines are being hit by armed groups with AK-47 assault rifles, resulting in substantial losses of diamond and even lives."

Meanwhile, the Latin American and Mexican mining industries are also booming, said Sergio Rodriguez Carbajal, Engineer and Sales Representative for Hubbell de Mexico. Security spending in this vertical has doubled in the last two years because of high commodity prices and crime. "Security for mining operations in the region now amounts to more than $5 billion per year," he said.

Understanding the Challenges

"Risks are both internal and external," explained Paul Gladston, Partner at Wunderlich and Gladston. "A modern gold mine is very often in a region where there has been gold mining activity on a small or subsistence scale for generations, sometimes literally hundreds of years. The local people are aware of the gold extraction process. Even though we now have very high-tech gold mines, the extraction process when boiled down to its basics is not that complicated. This presents us with a major challenge."

Mines are often found in hostile env i ronment s . " In Rus s i a and Kazakhstan," said Gladston, "temperatures of up to -60 degrees Celsius are common. You need to have someone who has worked in those kinds of conditions." Another problem is that corporate security solutions are rarely suited to mining environments, said Neil Cameron, Divisional Manager of Systems of Johnson Controls South Africa. CCTV solutions that will do for corporate sites, for example, probably do not have the magnification or image quality needed to see the shiny glare of stolen gems or metals.

"We often talk to customers who have systems designed by companies who usually supply, say, banks. The fundamental difference between a bank and a mine is the presence of dust, dirt and grime in the latter. This makes use of biometrics problematic. In addition, some mines are in tropical areas, which are extremely humid. Caustic substances present in the mining process are also thrown into the mix."

Then, in high-security zones, mine workers may be required to strip down, be searched or even X-rayed. Health and human right requirements limit exposure of individuals to gamma radiation from X-rays as well as protecting their privacy.

Also, limited budgets mean that security is often a tough sale, said Gladston. "When advising a company to install a system worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, you have to bear in mind how long the mine will be operating. It is no use putting in equipment worth $200,000 if the mine will be around for only four years because you cannot demonstrate return on investment."

As mines are rated on security policies and procedures, statistical analysis is important. To define risk and accurately measure losses, the process must be auditable with risk ratios in any single environment directly correlated to asset value (richness of minerals or gem veins) versus number of workers in that space or moving through it.

Internal audits conducted by fraud examiners and protection professionals can greatly reduce exposure to losses through embezzlement and employee theft. If proper controls are implemented, the window of opportunity for theft is significantly reduced. It is very important, said Gladstone, that security systems be properly designed and that the highest quality equipment be used. Lack of appropriate protection of vaults, refineries and other high-risk areas can have serious ramifications if insurance claims are made.

Products in Play

The world's major mining companies are well aware of the risks. Dhanoa Minerals has upgraded its installations to include cameras for 24/7 monitoring of gold processing, making live camera feeds available online via its Web site. The company has also completed the installation of satellite points on its properties in the Bella Rica region of southern Ecuador.

"Cameras provide 24-hour streamline visuals of the property, while providing first-rate security measures for the company's mining properties," stated Lee Balak, President of Dhanoa Minerals. "As far as I know, this is the first time cameras have been used to provide a 24/7 overview of mining operations so shareholders can view the pouring of gold and silver bars."

Professionally designed systems include, at the very least, cameras, alarms, access control and proprietary monitoring stations, said Gladston. Most motion detectors are Dual Tech devices; cameras are usually from Pelco and Panasonic; and the industry standard for DVRs is Pelco. Technologically driven security solutions for mines include access control, perimeter intrusion detection and alarm systems as well as CCTV cameras. Functionality, quality of resolution and reporting requirements extend beyond normal standards.

"Previously, CCTV systems needed to be constantly monitored by security personnel," said Cameron. "Nowadays, built-in analytics is reliable and accurate." Given the large areas that need to be covered, this is one of the areas with the largest spending. "The main advantage is the ability to interface with many different systems so that the customer is not locked into buying from a single manufacturer."

"With interfaced systems," added Gladston, "all the units work together, but they are standalone. If the camera goes down, the access control system continues functioning. In an integrated system, such as a PC-based management system, this level of protection is not afforded."

Interfaces to third-party systems centralize alarming, reporting and stop-search applications for access control. The latter determines the risk level of employees entering or exiting high-risk areas, automatically directing them to search cubicles if necessary.

Biometrics, however, is not used much in mines due to the moist, dirty, dusty conditions, especially with regard to scanners. Voice verification is also limited due to the noise. When it comes to perimeter protection, external microwave motion detectors are common. Motion detectors can also be found on fences.

While boxed solutions may offer a lower initial cost, the high level of functionality in more sophisticated, open products ensures lower total cost of ownership and improved return on investment. Open security systems are essential to the development of specific functionality, such as security searches and integration with other products such as X-ray machines and barriers. The system must keep accurate records of which employees have been searched and exposed to radiation.

Strong Solutions Require Strong Partners

Mines must apply stringent assessment criteria in the selection of products, Cameron warned. These should require that players have global representation, strong research and development abilities, and good integration.

Using proven technology is a must as is finding a solution provider that will adapt the solution to unique environments; meanwhile, enabling specific security policies and integration of various solutions is equally critical.

The best way to choose a good installer, Gladston concluded, is to look into members of national security associations or similar organizations. Members, he added, normally have to adhere to standards of knowledge and capabilities.

Product Adopted:
Network Cameras

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