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New Cable Designed To Deter Copper Thieves 668

Posted by samzenpus
from the nothing-in-it-for-you dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Pervasive thefts of copper wire from under the streets of Fresno, California have prompted the city to seal thousands of its manhole covers with concrete. In Picher, Oklahoma, someone felled the town's utility poles with chain saws, allowing thieves to abscond with 3,000 feet of wire while causing a blackout. The theft of copper cables costs U.S. companies $60 million a year and the FBI says it considers theft of copper wire to be a threat to the nation's baseline ability to function. But now PC World reports that a U.S. company has developed a new cable design that removes almost all the copper from cables in a bid to deter metal thieves. Unlike conventional cables made from solid copper, the GroundSmart Copper Clad Steel Cable consists of a steel core bonded to a copper outer casing, forming an equally effective but far less valuable cable by exploiting the corrosion-resistance of copper with the conductive properties of steel. 'Companies trying to protect their copper infrastructure have been going to extreme measures to deter theft, many of which are neither successful nor cost effective,' says CommScope vice president, Doug Wells. 'Despite efforts like these, thieves continue to steal copper because of its rising value. The result is costly damage to networks and growing service disruptions.' The GroundSmart Copper Clad Steel cable is the latest technical solution to the problem of copper theft, which has included alternatives like cable etching to aid tracing of stolen metal and using chemicals that leave stains detectable under ultra-violet light. However the Copper Clad Steel strikes at the root of the problem by making the cable less susceptible to theft by both increasing the resistance to cutting and drastically decreasing the scrap value."
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New Cable Designed To Deter Copper Thieves

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:32PM (#38710292)

    Eventually, the thieves will take care of themselves.

    • by sjames (1099) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:46PM (#38710378) Homepage

      Based on the Darwin slush pile, I'd say electrifying them is doing a fair job of it.

      • by Cylix (55374) * on Monday January 16, 2012 @12:06AM (#38710516) Homepage Journal

        I used to work with some fairly high powered transmitters here and there. Funny thing about large antennas is they tend to be located in lovely remote areas. Generally, the places where no one lives and consequently a great target for moronic thieves. Depending your point of you view you could say it was very fortunate our equipment always needed maintenance or was always failing. Consequently, we spent many events at an uncomfortable distance to the population. Being occupied during the day and night was a great deterrent to douche bags. (I know because after we left the thieves moved in like jackals I'm told)

        On one occasion it looked like someone had started to cut the copper from air conditioning unit, but gave up for some unknown reason. Now, what I had been waiting for was an attempted theft at the coax line for any number of transmitters. There was a metric crap ton of this and the word coax does not lend credit to the thickness of these particular runs. Such an act would create an immediate alarm and nor would it be fun to be on the receiving end of the line. The return feedback during the process would disengage the transmission, but not before baking a few fleshy components.

        • by smpoole7 (1467717) on Monday January 16, 2012 @12:24AM (#38710610) Homepage

          Heh. I feel for you. Been there, done it. But I'll tell you this -- we get hit just as frequently at our big 100,000 watt FMs in Birmingham as we do at the remote sites. My colleague at the Clear Channel site right next to our FM on Red Mountain in Birmingham has video of a guy jumping the fence, clipping a handful of copper, and then gracefully jumping back over the fence, into his car and down the hill -- all in less than a minute. By the time the cops arrived, he was long gone.

          The cameras at that same Clear Channel site also provided a (somewhat scary) image of a different copper thief shooting out the lights before proceeding with his theft. He got caught, though, because even though he was wearing a mask, you could see his (unmasked) girlfriend crouching in the trees. She was identified and later sang like a canary when she was brought in for questioning.

          These guys know how long the police response time is and make sure they can grab and scoot before they can get caught. The deputies who investigated our big theft at a 50,000 watt AM a couple of years ago said the best way to catch them was to set a trap (but even then, they got discouraged because the thieves would spend a few months in jail, then be right back out to steal again).

          The deputies told me that on a slow day, they'll actually cruise the neighborhood with the windows down, sniffing for the smell of burning plastic. Whenever thieves steal telecom cable, they often try to burn off the insulation before scrapping it to get a better price.

      • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@NOsPAM.gmail.com> on Monday January 16, 2012 @06:27AM (#38711900) Journal
        The sad part is for this to actually be effective the thieves have to be smart enough to know the difference and when you are talking copper thieves you are usually talking methheads....not the brightest bulbs on the best of days. All they are gonna get is a shitload of cut lines followed by finding the line half melted in a ditch somewhere when brainiac figures out it isn't worth scrapping.
    • by kimvette (919543) on Monday January 16, 2012 @12:38AM (#38710702) Homepage Journal

      Plutonium is only mildly radioactive thanks to its long half life. Cesium-137 would be a far better deterrent.

    • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Monday January 16, 2012 @12:46AM (#38710748) Homepage
      Unfortunately, a combination of desperation and ignorance does make thieves sometimes go after radioactive materials without realizing. And sometimes people die. The most severe such incident occurred in Goainia in Brazil in 1987 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goi%C3%A2nia_accident [wikipedia.org]. Multiple bystanders were hurt. Four people ended up dying, and many more developed radiation sickness and had long-term health problems as a result. Plutonium would be a particularly bad choice in this context even if it were cheap because it looks just like a regular metal in most conditions. (And yes, I know your comment isn't really serious.)
      • by Frangible (881728) on Monday January 16, 2012 @08:37AM (#38712412)
        ... and that's not the only one. Here's another example [iaea.org] of thieves merrily plasma torching their way through radiation warning signs and tungsten / lead shielding to get a source to sell to the disreputable scrap metal industry. Did I mention the GIANT RADIATION WARNING SIGNS?

        There are many such noted incidents, but there are many that go unnoticed. A worker at a French nuclear plant [iaea.org] bought a watch using steel pins mixed with a Co-60 source one of these idiots stole, and this was only found when he wore it to work where radiation monitoring is required. No one knows who was exposed or killed earlier in the supply chain.

        As far as the poster blaming Brazil below, this happens here [nrc.gov] in the good ol' USA as well.

        And this will keep happening, as long as laws are not enforced and thieves continue to have such a willing market in disreputable scrap metal dealers

        More than the guilty parties have been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation in every single one of these incidents. Scrap metal thieves literally kill people.
    • by jimmydigital (267697) on Monday January 16, 2012 @07:27AM (#38712114) Homepage Journal

      Eventually, the thieves will take care of themselves.

      I'm sure that in 1985 plutonium is available in every corner drug store, but in 2012 it's a little hard to come by. Just ask Iran... plus their scientists have a tendency to spontaneously blow up.

  • by Dyinobal (1427207) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:35PM (#38710302)
    Steal more copper cable. Less monetary damage in goods loss, more damage paying people to replace stolen cable.
  • This won't work (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mattventura (1408229) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:36PM (#38710308) Homepage
    It might stop them from being able to get money from the cable, but it's not like it's going to deter them from stealing the cable in the first place under the assumption that the cable is copper.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      All they have to do is include a few thousands signs with each order that says "This cable is GroundSmart Copper Clad Steel Cable and is worthless to scrap yards"... sure, some would ignore the sign, but after a few batches would fail to get sold for much, the signs suddenly become an even better deterant than the actual cable.

      • Re:This won't work (Score:5, Insightful)

        by afabbro (33948) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:52PM (#38710420) Homepage
        You assume the thieves can read, are operating in a clear state of mind, and/or are operating in a lighted area.
      • Re:This won't work (Score:5, Interesting)

        by smpoole7 (1467717) on Monday January 16, 2012 @12:31AM (#38710656) Homepage

        We have signs like that. Our signs also point out that stealing from a federally-licensed facility could result in a federal investigation. Shoot, the Birmingham Police have their antennas on one of our big FM towers, and the thieves DON'T CARE. They get hit all the time.

        The thieves will destroy the cable to determine if it's clad or pure copper, then throw aside the stuff they don't want. It still leaves *ME* with a ton of cleanup and repair to do.

        That's what I love about this crap: they steal $20 worth of copper and do $10,000 of damage in the process. They'll take the three ground cables from a 700' tower (worth about $10 for scrap) -- and those grounds are what keep lightning out of my equipment. A storm rolls along and I get hammered, while they sit back with their six pack of beer and think they've done well for themselves. (Whimper.)

        • $10 bucks doesn't sound worth the effort and risk. If your numbers are right and they really only get $10 bucks for the cable, then that speaks to a frightening level of desperation on a part of your populace. Maybe instead of making cables harder to steal we should make citizens that don't want to steal them...
          • by Relayman (1068986) on Monday January 16, 2012 @01:30AM (#38710912)
            They just need enough money to buy a rock of crack. Tomorrow is another theft for another rock.
          • by TheLink (130905) on Monday January 16, 2012 @01:42AM (#38710950) Journal

            Maybe instead of making cables harder to steal we should make citizens that don't want to steal them...

            At a certain point having a "welfare state" might become cheaper overall. Then most of them won't bother to steal if you provide them with food, shelter and tv/"youtube"/game consoles/parks.

            Not a big difference if you're going to put those you catch in prisons where they are fed and housed...

            Of course you'd also need to fix the education side to it, compulsory education for kids, free education (maybe even up to undergraduate level), free meals for school-kids. That way you don't get stuck with 20% or more of your population being under-educated and not very competitive with the rest of the world in terms of cost/ability.

            • by spokenoise (2140056) on Monday January 16, 2012 @02:11AM (#38711068)
              Wish I had mod points. Pity the social policy says you're shit unless you can pay for your health and education. A healthy and educated population wouldn't need to steal $10 worth of copper. Side effect from screwing the population.
              • by TheLink (130905) on Monday January 16, 2012 @03:07AM (#38711282) Journal

                http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2620558&cid=38698508 [slashdot.org]

                That said, perhaps they should also do a test of the teachers, perhaps the direct reason for the difference is Finland has better teachers ;).

                BUT even so Finland might have better teachers because the teachers were once students themselves, and if most of the students were well-educated, then most of the teachers would be too...

                Whereas if you have crappy students each generation and most teachers coming from the "crappier end" of very unevenly educated students, you're not going to get very good results.

                In a democracy if you leave too many people "behind", unless you're at the very top, you're still eventually going to pay for it one way or another, as long as those behind can still vote ;).

              • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday January 16, 2012 @04:23AM (#38711502) Journal

                Then why do north european countries with socialized healthcare and education AND social security still get hit by copper thieves?

                There are always people who want still more. Claim social security and go out stealing copper to get more money. Or do you think thieves are such noble people they don't claim social security because they got another source of income?

                • by sosume (680416) on Monday January 16, 2012 @06:05AM (#38711828) Journal

                  Because we have open borders. People from former eastbloc states, who do not have any social welfare, come in and steal the copper. This must look like a harsh statement but the statistics do not lie; 90% of copper theft in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium is performed by people from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria etc. (I know, missing reference)

            • by sFurbo (1361249) on Monday January 16, 2012 @02:59AM (#38711236)

              At a certain point having a "welfare state" might become cheaper overall. Then most of them won't bother to steal if you provide them with food, shelter and tv/"youtube"/game consoles/parks.

              I'm not sure that works as well as you would imagine. Theft is still a problem in Denmark, where we do have a welfare state (of course, one should really do a comparison of Northern European countries, and try to correlate the degree of welfare state to the crime rate, but even there, ause and effect might be hard to tell apart). It seems to be mostly drug addicts and Eastern European gangs doing the theft.

              Of course, if we are talking about the price of a welfare state, be sure to include the lesser amount of work hours being produced. Higher taxes means less incentive to work, and higher social benefits means lesser incentive to work. Even though people are not only economic creatures, that reduced incentive does have an effect on the amount of work people are willing to do.

            • Or it doesn't matter. Opportunistic thieves come from all classes.

              I believe that many of the people involved in this kind of theft are drug users of the heavier variety. You'd do more to cut down on this problem by allowing pharmacies to administer a patient's drug of choice at market prices, as opposed to street prices. Just a hypothesis, anyway.

        • Re:This won't work (Score:5, Insightful)

          by AmiMoJo (196126) <(mojo) (at) (world3.net)> on Monday January 16, 2012 @02:50AM (#38711188) Homepage

          That's what I love about this crap: they steal $20 worth of copper and do $10,000 of damage in the process.

          If this happens regularly wouldn't it be worth investing in some better security, or even a security guard? Doesn't your insurance company insist on it?

          From the stories people are posting here about thieves jumping over chain link fences I can't help but think some barbed wire and a high concrete wall might help. Or am I missing something?

      • Re:This won't work (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mpe (36238) on Monday January 16, 2012 @03:03AM (#38711252)
        All they have to do is include a few thousands signs with each order that says "This cable is GroundSmart Copper Clad Steel Cable and is worthless to scrap yards"

        You have to ensure that the signs are in all appropriate languages and that they themselves have no scrap value.
        • Re:This won't work (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Lumpy (12016) on Monday January 16, 2012 @07:52AM (#38712232) Homepage

          How about FIX the problem by requiring all scrap yards to hold scrap cable for 7 days before payout and require a real drivers license or ID. the scrapyard then posts the cable turned in to a police website so the cops can cross reference a theft with a scrap drop off, and then wait for t he guy to show up to collect his payout.

          but no, we cant do that. Just like how we cant require this to happen at pawn shops.

    • Re:This won't work (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki&gmail,com> on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:45PM (#38710370) Homepage

      Too true. They'll still try to cut and strip cable, if they think it's valuable. There's been a lot of cases not only in the US but in Canada where these jackasses have cut fibre links thinking they were copper.

      While copper coated steel is a good idea, steel still has a market value. So these guys will simply strip the copper off, either by shaving or electrolysis. And then sell both. After all they wouldn't steal manhole covers if steel(and iron) had no value either. Really though, as long as scrap dealers are willing to look the other way for where metal is coming from it'll be easy.

      Though you can bet that once the job market picks up, this type of stuff will become rare again.

      • Re:This won't work (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mysidia (191772) * on Monday January 16, 2012 @12:00AM (#38710482)

        Really though, as long as scrap dealers are willing to look the other way for where metal is coming from it'll be easy.

        I'm all for the government increasing regulatory burdens for scrap dealers and coming down on any scrap dealers caught "looking the other way", by throwing the scrap dealer in jail if necessary

      • by Cylix (55374) *

        I don't think they are going to actually strip it.

        These guys basically destroyed tens of thousands worth of property to make twenty dollars at the scrap yard.

        On a bit of a karma note I once heard about a scrap yard theft. The guys would pull up next to the yard in a boat (it was next to the river) and haul in a bunch of copper. The next day or so they would come back to the scrap yard and sale the theft back to them.

        Unfortunately, that trick only works so many times.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by gzipped_tar (1151931)

          They must be very good at NetHack.

        • by plover (150551) * on Monday January 16, 2012 @02:25AM (#38711100) Homepage Journal

          Another scrapyard karma story:

          Many, many years ago my mother worked at an iron foundry. One day she transferred a call from a scrap dealer to the president, and afterward he told her the story. The scrap dealer had called to ask if the foundry really had sent these guys to sell the pig ingots back that they had just shipped the previous afternoon, and the answer was of course "no." The dealer knew exactly who to call because several of the ingots still had his chalkmarks indicating which foundry he had sold them to!

          Seems these enterprising thieves broke into the back gate from the railroad tracks, saw a large number of shiny pig ingots stacked on the back dock, and thought they were valuable (probably not knowing that pig iron was going for about $20/ton.) They must have sweated all night carrying these forty pound pigs a block and a half down the railroad tracks, then up a railroad bridge embankment, to their waiting truck. The scrap dealer also told the president that these guys had broken the springs on their truck by overloading it. Since he was keeping the thieves busy outside by having them unload the ingots from their busted truck, he asked the foundry president if he should call the police for him. The president was laughing by this time and said as long as he got his iron back, they'd been punished enough. "Hell, if they hadn't stolen from us, I'd hire them! Nobody around here works that hard!"

      • Re:This won't work (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gman003 (1693318) on Monday January 16, 2012 @12:15AM (#38710572)

        It's a cost-benefit thing.

        Right now, stealing copper is easy, and gives a high benefit. Attempts to make it harder to steal have failed, as they profit outweighs the cost. This simultaneously makes it harder to steal (steel cable is harder to cut) and sell (the average *person* doesn't even know how to do electrolysis, let alone the average thief), while also decreasing the profit (copper is about 10x as expensive as steel by mass).

        This may also be worth it simply as cheaper cable - while I expect manufacturing costs are a bit higher, material costs would be far lower. If you can buy "theft-resistant" cable for half the price of pure-copper cable, why the hell wouldn't you?

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          the average *person* doesn't even know how to do electrolysis, let alone the average thief

          The average scrap-metal salvager does, and that's all that's important. Are you operating under the flawed assumption that scrap-metal dealers will turn away obvious thieves? That's most of their business.

          while also decreasing the profit (copper is about 10x as expensive as steel by mass).

          Yes, so the thieves will steal more of it, or switch to something else. They're already stealing manhole covers (causing auto cra

    • Re:This won't work (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:55PM (#38710442)
      I'm from a third world country and I can tell you that we haven't seen copper power lines in decades. They're all made of some form of aluminium-steel combination for precisely the same reason the article is talking about. Thieves leave them alone.
  • by icebike (68054) * on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:38PM (#38710320)

    Removing the market for scrap copper cable might also work. Typically this stuff flows thru metals recycling yards who are only too happy to look the other way when white-van-man shows up with a half ton of scrap copper. If these recyclers. or the smaller number of up-stream buyers, had to have paper work from licensed demolition companies or power utilities tracing the copper they buy you could stop the theft very shortly, without having to wait till every mile of copper is stolen and replaced before your deterrence sets in.

    • by theycallmeB (606963) on Monday January 16, 2012 @12:08AM (#38710536)
      A partial solution that seems to be working here in Oregon: for all scrap sales over a certain (relatively low) amount, the scrap dealer has to mail you a check rather than paying cash on the spot. Having to provide a working mailing address deters thieves, and the time delay discourages the druggies.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:39PM (#38710330)

    Copper clad steel has been used by hams for decades. It is most effective at radio frequencies, where the "skin effect" causes the current flow to exist primarily in the outermost regions of the cable. 50 or 60 Hz AC current is not high enough frequency to have much of a skin effect, so it will consequently be a poor conductor compared to solid copper. There's no doubt that it is harder to cut, though.

  • by Leuf (918654) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:48PM (#38710394)
    Pirates use the copper in the lines to steal trillions of dollars worth of copyrighted materials. By stealing the copper, you are stealing the copyrighted materials that were transferring across them. Since we can't determine exactly how much copyrighted material was in the copper at the time, we need to assume it's at least 10 million dollars worth per foot. Since we'll never be able to recover this money from thieves desperate enough to steal copper, we simply need to authorize the RIAA and MPAA to shoot anyone suspected of stealing copper on sight.
  • by smpoole7 (1467717) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:55PM (#38710440) Homepage

    As someone who has been hit repeatedly by these morons, a few thoughts. Radio in general offers a very attractive target to these thieves, especially (believe it or not) older installations like AM radio stations. (At low frequencies like AM, the tower itself is actually the antenna -- that's why there are insulators in the guy wires -- and the tower field is laced with gobs and gobs of soft copper that acts as the ground plane.)

    1. Copper-clad steel is nothing new. Some of this is just marketroid hype (though to be fair, I don't think anyone has ever made clad *telcom* cable before). But other types of clad conductors have been common for some time -- not just to deter theft, but because of the price of copper.

    2. The real problem is the scrap metal dealers. You can't tell me that they're not suspicious when a couple of teenage guys come dragging in the core from a big honkin' three phase HVAC unit. But THEY want the copper even worse than the thieves, because they turn around and sell it in ton lots at a huge profit.

    3. Copper is considerably more conductive than steel. We can get away with it at RF frequencies because of skin effect (i.e., the signal travels through the "skin" of the conductor, rather than the center), but it's not a perfect solution. It's much more difficult to work with and it's easy to accidentally strip off the copper cladding, leaving you with far less desirable steel at the connection point.

    4. These thieves really are morons, and yes, most are repeat offenders. They even talk to one another in jail and compare notes. When we were hammered in February of 2010, the deputies who investigated our incident told us that they even knew who most of these people were. We had video cameras and they scoured the images to get a clue as to who it was.

    But sometimes I have to laugh. One of our FM stations here is in the huge metropolis of Pumpkin Center, Alabama, which defines "middle of nowhere." The house up the (dirt) road from the transmitter site has been hit repeatedly; I drove to the site to do routine maintenance a couple of years ago and noted that the air conditioner had been ransacked. But they won't mess with the FM site.

    I guess the fact that our landlady likes to go out and there and shoot with her boyfriend gives them pause. The sight of all those targets with bullet holes all around the center makes them think twice. :)

    Then some thieves tried to cut the gigantic, 6" copper coax going to our 100,000 FM in North Central Alabama. I posted a note that said, "Dear morons, if you try to cut this line, please have your life insurance paid up .... "

    They've stolen our grounding several times since, but they haven't touched that big coax again. :)

  • by Gim Tom (716904) on Monday January 16, 2012 @12:00AM (#38710466)
    Uh, the article does not explain what is new about this. Copper clad cable has been around forever. It has been used for High Frequency antennas where the tensile strength of the steel is important and the skin effect keeps the RF currents near the surface. I don't think there is much skin effect at the frequencies they are promoting this cable to be used for. As others have already pointed out, the problem is not limited to electric or communications cable. Plumbing, and HVAC systems are also prime targets. Better regulation of metal recycling and the prosecution of those recyclers who do "look the other way" would go a long way to stopping this problem.

    Of course a few more charred bodies like was found on a building roof near here recently when a copper thief THOUGHT the 660 volt power line to the chillers was disconnected and it wasn't could also be a deterrent
  • Legalize Drugs... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Monday January 16, 2012 @12:14AM (#38710570)
    Where I live (Vancouver, Canada) the copper is largely stolen to fund drug addiction. Legalize drugs (and give away the hard stuff under prescription) and lots of this theft goes away...
    • And they are still addictive. There's arguments to legalize drugs. This isn't one of them. In fact, you'll discover that some of the addicts that do this are alcoholics, their drug of choice is perfectly legal.

      When you combine a messed up mental state with a desire for money to pay for the addiction, you'll get people doing stupid shit. Legalization won't change that. It isn't as though someone doing legal drugs will suddenly be clear of mind and a productive member of society.

      Now don't misunderstand this a

  • Article (Score:4, Funny)

    by vencs (1937504) on Monday January 16, 2012 @12:53AM (#38710774)
    Thief: Let's steal copper cables!
    GSmart: Let's steel copper cables!
  • Simple solution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PPH (736903) on Monday January 16, 2012 @01:06AM (#38710824)

    No cash for copper. ID required and a direct deposit to a bank account.

Pause for storage relocation.

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