Thwarting Copper Thieves Through Promoting Partnerships

Homeland Security Solutions Director Karl Perman describes security experts’ response to the issue of copper pilfering and how we can reduce the vulnerability of infrastructure.

By Mary T. Stroka

As the trend of copper pilfering continues to occur due to its high value in the market — around $3 per pound at the time of this writing — security measures taken to protect the valuable equipment have increased.

(AP Photo/The News Tribune, Bruce Kellman)

The cost of time spent replacing the wire, coupled with the purchasing cost of new copper, takes a toll on infrastructure. Karl Perman, the Director of Homeland Security Solutions, said that the cost of replacement along with the personnel cost is “easily triple the cost of salvage value” since people have to be redirected from other previously scheduled work to replace the copper, which slows the progress of their newer projects.

The two biggest concerns about dealing with the problem, in addition to the high cost of replacing copper, Perman noted, are the potential for loss of life to the perpetrator and the loss of power to a particular area, which could lead to a blackout. He said that thefts “run the gamut” from less intelligent criminals who, unaware of the risks of electricity, break into yards and touch energized lines, risking electrocution, to insiders at utility companies who, having access to the site, may borrow their company’s forklift and take copper from the copper dumpster for an “unofficial bonus program.” Other thieves might take material that has been salvaged or is found on the ground. Or, what has become prevalent is the stealing of large rolls of uninsulated or insulated copper wire and burning the coating off and selling the exposed copper wire for salvage.

The FBI, scrap dealers, and the various utility companies that use copper have taken a variety of steps to guard copper and lessen the likelihood of thieves’ success. The measures counter every step of the pathway thieves have to take to pilfer: from detection of thieves’ entry and prevention of access to the copper, to making scrap dealers who may receive stolen copper aware that the copper was indeed stolen. Security officers, motion sensors, alarm systems that sound when somebody tries to climb or cut a fence, locking up the spools in sealed containers that have some kind of access control, and accurate daily inventories are all employed to reduce the risk of theft.