As of February 2011, the price of copper peaked at over $10,000/ton, and precious metal experts expect this value to continue climbing over the next few years. While copper theft used to be fairly negligible in the United States, the US Department of Energy currently estimates total copper theft related losses (including stolen copper and damages amassed from ripping wires and pipes from walls) at over $1 billion per year.
Copper’s value does not only relate to its economic status, but its regular industrial use. As an efficient conductor of electricity, Copper is used in the production of cables, wires, and electric products, in addition to pipes, HVAC units, building wire, and sheet metal facings. Since copper is commonly found in construction sites, vacant buildings, communication towers, electrical sub-stations, and foreclosed lots, these properties are especially vulnerable to copper theft.
If you own one of these high-risk properties, or even a home or business, you might want to consider some (or all) of the following copper theft precautions:
Keep an eye out for local copper theft by creating a “copper theft” Google alert for your local area. Be sure to read your local paper regularly for any signs of suspicious activity in your neighborhood.
As the bulk of copper-related crimes occur at night, it’s a good idea to begin your security efforts with a late night investigation of your property. This will allow you to assess which areas (dark spots, unenclosed spaces) are the most susceptible to copper theft.
An effective live surveillance system will not only record thieves in action in hopes of identifying a trespasser, but will allow for proactive video monitoring while an incident is in progress. This is a cost effective way to keep an eye on your property all night long and dispatch police or activate speakers during suspicious activity. An analog camera system that is not being watched often frustrates property owners as the recordings simply can’t identify a criminal and the owner has blurry footage of someone ripping and tearing from metals from the property. Live video surveillance can stop the criminal before the crime, preemptively protecting your assets.
Security lighting has a proven track record of deterring crime. In addition to encouraging criminals to go elsewhere, security lighting creates better views for your monitoring system and any potential witnesses. Bright white lights are recommended for optimal recognition of criminal faces and license plates. Be sure to position the lights directly towards the areas of most concern, to avoid glare in the spots where you need the most visibility.
Fences provide both physical and psychological barriers for criminals, particularly “impulse” criminals. Of course, higher fences offer better protection. Security experts recommend at least six feet of fencing but eight feet or higher is ideal. Barbed wire adds an extra level of protection, in addition to security monitoring signage.
The mesh on your fence is also important to consider. Smaller mesh will be harder to climb or cut. Industry standards define extremely high security as 3/8” mesh 11 gauge, very high security as 1” mesh 9 gauge, high security as 1” mesh 11 gauge, greater security as 2” mesh 6 gauge, and normal industrial security as 2” mesh 9 gauge.
Of course, none of these precautions will be effective if you don’t make sure they are actively in place every day. At the end of each visit to your property, personally take the time to lock up, examine possible entry points, and make sure all surveillance technology is functioning properly. Reliability is an important factor when partnering with security companies to ensure as much longevity for the system as possible.
Taking these precautions may seem expensive and time consuming, but they can ultimately save you from thousands of dollars in losses and immeasurable distress as a result of copper theft. As the price of copper continues to climb, vigilance for your property is more important than ever.