Reducing cable theft effectively

Protect against intrudersCable theft incidents are increasing, so how can you deter perpetrators? Clive Baker, chairman of the Physical Security Equipment section of the British Security Industry Association, reports

An increase in the number of cable theft incidents in recent months has been having devastating effects on the railways industry, costing the UK an estimated £770 million a year and causing major disturbance to train lines across the country. These thefts also have a negative effect on the reputation of railway companies, with consumer confidence shrinking as a result of the disruptions that commuters have to suffer.

According to the BBC, there were more than 200 cable thefts in the UK during the first three weeks of 2011. The sudden increase in this type of criminal activity has been associated with the rise in price of copper and metal in recent months. Cables are currently being stolen when underground and when stored in compounds, and the financial and logistical repercussions of such incidents are starting to become considerably more onerous to railway companies.

Though it is difficult to completely overcome the problem, due to the large scale of the UK’s railway networks, luckily, there are many ways in which companies can ensure their cabelling is protected against the threat of theft and damage, and although it may be expensive to adopt these throughout the transport system, minimal security measures can significantly reduce the likelihood of such incidents occurring.

Securing compounds
Contrary to general belief, the majority of cable theft incidents occur when the cable is stored in compounds. When in compounds, the item is easier to transport in large quantities as it is already arranged on reels. In addition, cables stored in compounds are not as dangerous to tamper with – as they are not ‘live’ and therefore do not carry high voltage – so securing these deposits is the first way to lessen the impact of cable theft.

As compounds are often located in isolated areas, security measures need to be sturdy to ensure their protection throughout the day and at nighttime, when staff are not on site. The most basic and yet the most effective of security measures is to invest in high security locks that will not only deter criminals from their intent, but also prove virtually indestructible. Recent developments in high security products mean new locks can look similar to traditional ones, but are engineered so that their weakest part – the shackle – is hidden inside the rest of the mechanism. Breaking the shackle is usually the most common way to force open a lock – and one that can be achieved by utilising fairly standard equipment – so by making this part inaccessible to criminals, the lock is successfully secured.

There are a number of security locks and padlocks available on the market, and to the inexperienced buyer the task of purchasing an effective and value for money solution can seem like a daunting one. BS EN 12320 is the British Standard for building hardware such as padlocks and padlock fittings, and specifies the performance requirements and testing methods for padlocks, by grading them on a scale of one to six, six being the highest. The standard allows buyers to identify the sturdiest equipment and make informed decisions.

Monitoring systems
CCTV systems could also be effectively utilised to monitor compound areas. According to research carried out by the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) in 2010, the transport industry ranked third amongst the sectors which members of the BSIA CCTV section most frequently supplied BS8418 solutions to, demonstrating the growing influence of this technology.

First introduced in 2003, BS8418 is the British Standard for remotely monitored, detector-activated CCTV systems. When deployed, BS8418 compliant solutions consist of cameras and detectors placed strategically around a site, linked together by specialised transmission equipment to a Remote Video Response Centre (RVRC). Here, operators can visually confirm what is happening, call up on-screen plans of the site and even issue verbal warnings to intruders via on-site speakers. If necessary, the RVRC operators can also alert the police who, as the incident is confirmed visually and is associated with a Unique Reference Number (URN), should provide a rapid response.

This technology is applied to the transport system particularly when it comes to securing large and vulnerable sites out-of-hours. The crime-stopping capability of BS8418 solutions is clearly what makes them more and more popular.

Underground cabling
Although compounds are particularly vulnerable to criminal activity, underground cables are often also tampered with and stolen, causing immediate disruption to the transport system. Although it is possible to minimise risks, there are many issues associated with securing underground cables.

Underground cables can be easy to remove if these have not been correctly secured, however, they are very dangerous for thieves as they carry high voltage. The tougher the security measure – for example padlocked secondary plates that will cover the cables when underground or use of fences, gates and locks to secure access points to railway sites – the less likely it is for a thief to access the copper.

By the same token, however, the more secure a cable, the more difficult it will be for engineers to access it should maintenance or emergency repair works be required. Engineers and railway staff may, for example, face difficulties carrying out the work should they not be able to quickly access the keys to the padlock which the secondary plate is secured to. This issue can, however, be overcome, provided clear and effective key control strategies are in place.

Key control
Key control strategies are essential not only to ensure that engineers and authorised staff have immediate access to effected areas, but also to avoid the risk of unauthorised people getting hold of a key. An unauthorised person gaining access to an area or premises using just a key has the advantage of leaving no evidence of a forced break in. Therefore it may be a considerable amount of time, if ever, that the unauthorised access is detected.

There are two main ways of ensuring key control is achieved, firstly by strictly controlling the issue of keys, particularly sub masters and masters. It is good practice to record the key references against the individual who has been issued the key and record when they are returned.

Secondly it is equally important that an individual cannot get a key duplicated at a local heel bar or locksmith without the appropriate authorisation from the owner of the master keyed system. In order to implement this it is crucial that the key profile should be protected by a manufacturer’s current patent and if the patent has not been successfully defended in a court of law then the cylinder manufacturer should have a reputation for defending their patents in the UK. Manufacturers who are not prepared to inform locksmiths of patent numbers and patent expiry dates should be viewed with suspicion.

Tracing cables
Property marking is becoming increasingly used in all industries to protect all types of items, and its effectiveness lies in the fact that it allows companies and police to trace back any lost or stolen piece of equipment to its original owner. The marking of cable is therefore increasingly being employed by railway organisations, as it provides value for money protection and allows for the cable to be secured and traceable, whether it is stored in compounds or underground.

This type of forensic property marking is used to prove the origin of stolen cables by painting or labelling them with a solution of coded particles, modelled on the principles of human DNA. The virtually indelible mixture is visible only under ultraviolet light, but when analysed, it shows a unique profile, proving beyond doubt who owns the property. Once applied, it is not only invisible to the naked eye, but virtually impossible to remove, with even the tiniest trace sufficient for identification purposes.  

The effectiveness of such initiatives is based on the sound principle that marked property is easily traceable and difficult for criminals to explain away. This level of deterrent is growing as the technology continues to prove its cost-effectiveness.

Although this is a highly effective security measure that can help overcome some of the issues related to cable theft, due to the scale of the transport network in the UK it is only possible to mark some parts of the cable.

Not just a transport issue
Cable theft is a growing concern not only for the transport industry. The telecommunications sector is heavily targeted as well, due to the high value placed on the fiber optic cables employed, making them attractive to thieves. In January 2010, customers of a global media and telecommunications provider were left without broadband when thieves stole a mile of fibre cables. Criminals dug two holes in the ground in Sutton, Greater London, and, according to the Sutton Guardian, around 1,500 meters of fibre optic cable was taken, disrupting broadband, phone and television services for up to 48 hours.

The fact that this issue is not bound to only one sector proves its scope, and puts additional pressure on service providers to ensure disruption to customers is kept to a minimum.

Duty of care
Despite the number of security measures available on the market to ensure cable theft is kept under control, these will prove ineffective unless their weaknesses are given careful consideration and clear strategies are in place. Key control and making sure the security equipment is well maintained and monitored will result in a decrease in the number of incidents, whilst still ensuring the smooth running of operations.

It is also important to remember that security considerations are essential not only in the fight against cable theft, but also to minimise the risk of Health and Safety breaches. Organisations have a duty of care towards the public, so they need to ensure that no unauthorised person is able to easily access their sites, regardless of their intentions. Companies, in fact, may be held liable should a member of the public injure himself or herself after entering the railway area without exerting too much force. This issue further highlights the importance of having effective security measures in place.

Companies in the BSIA’s Physical Security Equipment section have specialist knowledge in their own field, but are also aware of how their unique solution needs to integrate with other security measures depending on the nature of the threat. One of the section’s main objectives is to persuade end users to place proper value on products tested and certified as conforming to market-recognised standards, and to reject non-compliant products. For this reason, when sourcing locking equipment it is always advisable to seek expert advice.

For more information:
For more information about any of the systems described in the article, visit the BSIA’s Physical Security Equipment website

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