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How Remote Monitoring Can Protect You Against Copper Theft

Morgana Siggins
Morgana Siggins
Monitoring Specialist

Over the last few years, copper theft has become a rapidly growing crime. The value of copper has also risen dramatically, worth somewhere between $3 and $4 per pound. This prospect of quick cash continues to entice thieves all over the country to steal the metal from anywhere and everywhere, even cable that's in use in your network. "The bottom line is, it's dollars and cents," said Metro Captain Randy Montandon. "Copper by the pound has gone through the roof...so a lot of people are seeing as an easy way to make fast money."

Crimes like this could devastate your company's operations, and they're more and more frequent.

In our many years in business, we've helped many clients in the battle against copper theft. It's always important to monitor activity at your remote sites, and the ones with lots of copper are especially at risk.

Let's take a look at how remote monitoring systems can help you protect your network against copper theft.


The Destruction Caused by Copper Theft

Air conditioner coils, telephone wires, and old radiators are few sought after by metal thieves. Some criminals have even resorted to stealing the aluminum gutters and copper downspouts from churches and schools. This makes copper theft everyone's problem, but especially for industries such as telecom, transportation, power, utilities, public safety, and more.

Since thieves are most likely to find copper in more desirable quantities at businesses like yours, your assets are at a higher risk. The value of copper on the scrap metal market has continued to increase over the last few years, and it doesn't look like it will be taking any sharp drops in demand.

No matter what particular industry you are in, copper thieves could wreak havoc on your operations. The widespread use of copper, combined with its high market value have made thieves bolder than ever - many risking injuries and even death in their pursuit. "A lot of these lines are still energized with electricity," said Mark Davis, a spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad. "It's extremely dangerous to try and take the wire."

But while they cash in on your precious materials, you're left to pick up the pieces. Power outages, phone outages, and equipment failure are just some ways these thieves put your operations - and your customers - in serious danger. What if you lost the copper wire that connects your microwave radios? What if all your customers suddenly lost their phone service? You'd rather not think about such catastrophes, but you know you've got to protect yourself.


Where You Need to Protect Yourself

You can't be everywhere at once, and many of your sites are unmanned. Outside plant operations (OSPs), remote cabinets, and microwave radio sites are a few examples. Unmanned sites make it the ideal target for thieves to steal your copper and re-sell it. The good news is, there is a way for you to protect yourself.


The 3 Ways Effective Copper Monitoring Will Protect Your Company

It's always important to keep in mind that, while you can't be everywhere at once, you can deploy an effective monitoring system so you can swiftly respond.

Cost-effective network monitoring systems will act in three determined ways to help you against copper theft.

  1. Theft Deterrent

    The best way to prevent copper theft is to stop it before it starts. Monitoring systems make potential thieves think twice about stealing your copper. A thief who spots your cameras may decide that it's simply not worth getting "caught on film." This is the best possible outcome. You're helping yourself, your customers, and even the would-be thieves.

  2. Theft prevention

    Eventually some thief will be brave enough to go after your copper. That's where your monitoring really starts paying for itself. You'll get an instant alert that you can pass on to law enforcement. This limits the time that thieves have to cause damage.

  3. Theft prosecution

    Some sites are simply too remote - and some thieves are simply too fast - to be caught during the theft itself. That's where IP camera surveillance comes in. Cameras can pick up important details, like faces, body types, vehicles, license plate numbers, and theft tactics. All of these can be useful for law enforcement to track down and capture the criminals.

    Images captured by IP cameras are transmitted back to your central office for review and long-term storage. Image capture can even be "triggered" by a door alarm, motion sensor, or other events, ensuring that you get good surveil-lance even if you're not at your desk. In the courtroom, surveillance photos are particularly valuable evidence for your company to have.


What You Need to Protect Your Copper

You can't predict copper theft, but you can protect yourself with effective monitoring gear. For that, you need a system that alerts you immediately. This way, you can contact the police and catch the criminal in the act.

Here are some tools your monitoring system should have:

1. Motion and door sensors

These sensors are your first line of defense. Inexpensive and easy to set up, you can install them in multiple locations within a site. When triggered, they latch a contact closure that's wired into a discrete input on your local remote telemetry units (RTUs).

2. IP Cameras

One critical way to stop copper thieves in their tracks is a good surveillance system. Cameras are crucial to the protection of your copper materials because they act as both a deterrent and a watchdog. Many thieves decide not to abandon their plans when they see a camera in the premises. And if a criminal were to escape the facility, photos, and video of the crime will help authorities catch them and put them behind bars.

Make sure your IP camera allows you to view the live status at your site. The best IP cameras will also capture images when a nearby motion, door, or other sensor is triggered.

It's also important that your cameras provide you with a web browser interface and email notifications when operating in stand-alone mode. Also, make sure that your camera has an external housing that protects it from the elements. The use of housing means that you only need one version of camera hardware - reducing hassles during purchasing and deployment.

3. RTUs

The local alarm remotes at your sites serve as a central aggregation point for your sensors and, for models equipped with a LAN switch/hub, your IP cameras. It maintains a connection to your central office for reporting intrusions.

Efficient cameras can perform this role themselves, collecting data from 2 sensors and reporting back to you via LAN. There is no problem with it if you have smaller sites. This can actually make simple surveillance possible at a lower cost.

If that's not your scenario, remember to make sure your RTU model includes a web interface and email/text message notifications when operating in stand-alone mode.

4. Alarm master station

Now, if you have more than a few network sites, you should consider using a master station to monitor your network. It will provide an aggregated alarm display at your central office. In this case, it's best to tie your copper theft monitoring equipment into your existing network monitoring system. This way, your network operators will have just one screen to look at for all network threats. It is possible to monitor alarm remotes directly via web browser interface over LAN, but this is not recommended for monitoring any more than a handful of sites.


Start Preventing Copper Theft

If copper is used at any sites used for your business, you should know how much money is at stake - perhaps you've already been a victim of copper thieves.

Especially if you're in the telecom industry, you can see how this crime could devastate your business. It costs much more than the value of scrap metal to replace stolen wires and other copper items.

Using experience gained from successful network monitoring deployments on all seven continents, our engineering team has developed a simple and highly effective system for detecting copper theft attempts. With the right information, you can alert law enforcement early and increase their chances of catching thieves in the act.

So, don't wait until copper thieves strike in your network. The cost of just one incident will frequently pay for an effective monitoring system. It's much better to install a monitoring system on your own schedule than to do it all in a frenzy after your copper actually gets stolen.

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