When demolition contractors work a temporary job site, one of the most important responsibilities they have is to keep the general public out. For years, demolition contractors have installed temporary fencing, posted “Do Not Enter” signs and set up barricades to prevent the public from wandering onto the site.
However, as scrap metal prices have surged over the last decade, so too has the number of job site security measures that contractors use daily. Demolition contractors say theft of high-value scrap metals has become so prevalent in the industry that owners have had to expand security efforts at job sites in order to protect their assets.
Mike Casbon, senior demolition/construction manager of Environmental Resources Management, a global demolition and environmental remediation company based in Carmel, Ind., says the industry is integrating more security measures at job sites than in years past as a result of increased thefts.
“There is definitely more security now than there’s ever been because of the value of the commodities on site,” Casbon says. “The upsurge in copper and brass prices and the downturn of the economy has turned more people to try to recover things where they can, a reason there has been a large upsurge in job site theft of these types of materials.”
Casbon as well as others in the industry say theft at job sites is extremely common and contractors are employing various security techniques to protect their scrap metals, fuel, fleet, equipment and other valuables.
“If you don’t have control of your site, you don’t have control of your job,” Casbon says.
Site security starts with perimeter fencing, says Rick Givan, special projects manager of Fiore & Sons, Denver. The demolition firm sets up a secondary fence, a “compound,” inside the general perimeter site where the company’s trailer, computers and other electronics as well as any specialized machinery are housed throughout the job.
It is in this fenced-in compound where Fiore & Sons houses one of its security tools: a guard dog. Givan says the guard dog is used in limited applications, mostly when the company is working with high-valued assets in poor neighborhoods, but it is practical. Fiore & Sons does not let the dog roam around the job site and leaves it out at night, he adds.
“The compound within the compound is a limited area where we can secure our assets. Often times if we have highly specialized equipment or attachments, we’ll also put a guard dog in the compound,” Givan says. “If your intent is to penetrate the outside fence and do something that is a crime, you have to climb two fences to get there and you’re the one at fault. You made the mistake,” he says, referring to the guard dog.
John Adamo, CEO of Detroit-based Adamo Group, says even if a site does not require temporary fencing, his company installs it anyway. Adamo Group offers demolition, environmental remediation consulting, real estate adaptive reuse and site preparation services. “We get it because it keeps the general public out,” he says.
Temporary fencing also protects the company’s custom-built portable trailer system. Some of the trailers are self-sufficient with solar panels while others are connected to portable light plants, another deterrent, Adamo says.
Adamo Group typically erects light plants at each job site to ensure the location is illuminated, he says. The company, which sees copper and aluminum targeted most often, is currently working on a 2-million-square-foot industrial site where workers installed nine temporary lights, Adamo adds.
To further protect nonferrous metals at night, Adamo Group usually hires a security guard, who may or may not be armed, Adamo says. He explains that he has heard horror stories of security guards at other contractors’ sites having a shootout with potential copper thieves. Stories such as those, Adamo says, show how times have changed. In the last 10 years, the value of nonferrous metals and the awareness of that value have escalated, he says.
“When the values weren’t as high 10 to 15 years ago, there wasn’t that much of a need to protect your investment,” Adamo says. “It was a progression of things; the security guard and the fencing have been something we’ve almost always done, but now we’ve done it at a much greater level.”
He likens it to a grocery store. “You certainly don’t want to leave the cash register open because someone is probably going to grab a bill or two. That’s how we look at these jobs. We’ve got these sites, people know they are being demolished, and if they believe they can go in and take the goodies out of it they will and we have to be mindful to protect that investment.”
Deterrent and aide
Adamo says other than having a full-time security guard on its premises, the second most effective security measure the company uses is cameras. The web-based cameras, which are installed on top of a pole or trailer, allow Adamo Group officials to view the site at any time from any device with Internet access. The company’s superintendents have portable tablets that give them the ability to check a job site at all hours, Adamo says.
Cameras have come a long way in terms of quality, he adds. Pictures from the camera used to appear choppy and the camera lens would often get fogged up from dust, he says.
Adamo says, “When we first started implementing web-based cameras about six years ago, the technology wasn’t there. We sunk a lot of money into doing this, and I thought we were on the losing end of it.” But, he goes on to say, “Over the last few years, the technology has improved the connectivity speeds and uptime that as long as we can keep our cameras running, we get good signals back.”
The company has not received good-quality pictures from its latest experiment: Adamo Group tested out fairly new and unfamiliar drone cameras. A camera sits on the helicopter-like robot that hovers throughout the site, snapping photographs as it flies over the job site, Adamo describes. The drone camera is not web-based but it is technology that Adamo Group may consider in the future, he says.
For Fiore & Sons, cameras act as a deterrent and an aide in preventing crimes, Givan says. The Colorado company sometimes positions a camera to monitor the site entrance as well as an overview of the location.
Givan says that cameras serve as an activity monitor; when a different company he worked for hired additional subcontractors to demolish a power plant in Texas, workers realized the subcontractors’ reports weren’t matching up. “After going back and reviewing the camera, you can see these trucks coming in and going out absolutely loaded with copper,” Givan says.
He adds, “Internal theft is an issue. Some of the greatest thefts that occur on the job site are done by the personnel or subcontractors to the contractor, which goes back to the cameras. If you have a suspicion, you can see.”
Casbon says camera technology has advanced significantly as he has witnessed cameras catching internal theft as it happens. Some workers stash metals in their lunchboxes while others sneak pieces in their trucks. Anyone who has been caught stealing has lost his or her job, all the way up to superintendents, officials warn.
“With the prices of copper and brass so high, your own employees may be involved in theft of these materials, and they think no one will notice these things going out. It’s a very big problem industrywide. We’re all searching for answers,” Casbon says.
To stop just about anyone from getting away with stolen equipment, Givan points to GPS-embedded equipment. Some machinery today is equipped with GPS coding so that if someone tried to get away with the high-dollar equipment, the owner could easily locate it. While equipment theft is less common, he warns that it does occur.
“There is a general knowledge of being more security conscious for two reasons: First, shear liability if there is an accident, and second, you have high-value equipment on the site,” Givan says. “If you come up short, then you want to know why.”
To keep track of materials as a building is being demolished, demolition contractors segregate salvageable materials into separate piles at each job site. Casbon says it is ideal for recycling as well as getting the high-value metals off-site as soon as possible. Contractors work with scrap dealers to remove those assets as quickly as possible at the beginning of the job, he adds.
Casbon says, “If you know you have a lot of high assets in a building, you’re going to do anything you can to protect those. During the removal process, instead of the open roll-off box, [demolition contractors] have gone to locked containers, heavily locked and armored, to keep people from stealing materials.”
Adamo says one locked container could add up to several thousands of dollars in value, so “any high value metal you would see accumulated throughout the day is put in a box and taken off-site by the end of the day.”
To protect piles of material that do sit overnight, Adamo says he has buried them with brick and concrete; hidden them in basements of buildings on-site and covered them with yellow caution tape. He has heard of others painting a stripe across the pile or placing heavy machinery buckets on top.
“It’s very difficult to monitor everything, but it helps when you have controls in place. People see a camera and a light plant going and they stay away,” Adamo says.
The author is associate editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.