Eye in the Sky

Features - Safety Focus

A new security system that includes remote video monitoring helps to reduce theft at a Michigan scrap recycling company.

January 7, 2013
DeAnne Toto

A Michigan scrap metal recycling business that dates back to the early 1950s had been struggling with the issue of theft for years. The unfenced three-acre property is adjacent to a rail spur, which the company’s vice president describes as a “highway for thieves.” Prior to the installation of the company’s current security system, he says theft had reached “epidemic” levels at the yard, which handles ferrous and nonferrous metals as well as some automotive parts.

A Different Approach

The property houses a 50,000-square-foot building for processing nonferrous metals, including copper, brass and aluminum, while processing of ferrous scrap takes place outdoors. The company handles roughly 3,000 to 5,000 tons of ferrous scrap per month for total sales of $8 to $10 million per year.

Theft was not the only issue that prompted the company to look into updating its security. In 2006, an employee was shot while opening the front gate in the morning. While the employee survived, the incident led the scrap recycling company to re-evaluate its security measures. The company eventually added video cameras to its existing burglar alarm system. A security guard also was hired to patrol the perimeter of the facility after hours.

However, neither addition was extremely effective, the vice president says. “All the cameras did was let us see how much was stolen,” he says, adding that employee theft was not an issue. And one guard patrolling three acres could easily miss a theft in action.

Fire Averted

It was in the early-morning hours of late September 2012 when an auto hulk at an Ohio scrap yard began smoldering. The hulk was positioned near the company’s auto shredder and a newly acquired material handler. This expensive equipment could have been engulfed by the growing fire had it not been for the intervention of the yard’s security firm.

The scrap yard uses a security system from Southfield, Mich.-based Watchdog Security that includes 22 cameras, 25 percent of which are capable of panning, tilting and zooming, enabling the viewer to get a closer look at suspicious activity. The scrap company’s plant manager says nearly every square inch of the property is under video surveillance. After hours, the cameras are monitored by the yard’s security company.

While the scrap yard’s previous security company offered after-hours video monitoring, the plant manager says the resolution on these earlier security cameras was poor and the images were only in black and white, making it difficult to interpret the video.

The high-resolution color cameras used by the new security company left no question that what the monitor was seeing was a fire. After alerting the plant manager, he notified the local fire department. When the plant manager got to the yard, he says, firemen had extinguished the fire.

The plant manager says he was skeptical about purchasing an expensive security system and needed to be talked into it by the scrap company’s former owner. “I know I made the right choice. You get what you pay for.”

The yard’s security system paid for itself in less than a year by preventing a larger blaze and reducing theft.

In late 2008, Southfield, Mich.-based Watchdog Security, the company that supplied the video cameras for the yard, proposed upgrades to the existing security system, which included motion detectors and virtual monitoring.

At $50,000, the revamped security system was not an inexpensive proposition; however, the company’s vice president says, it was a relatively easy decision to make. As a result, theft is no longer an issue at the yard. “In a year’s time, the system paid for itself,” he says, noting the drastic reduction in theft and the elimination of the company’s on-site security guard.

“I consider it an investment in my business,” the company’s vice president says. “I don’t take that worry home with me anymore. I’ve grown to really rely on the system because it works.”

Security & Operations Improvements

The yard’s system includes an array of cameras, numbering nearly two dozen. They include motion-sensitive, low-light cameras to enhance night vision, interactive dome cameras with 360-degree rotation and high-resolution cameras to capture details.

The feeds from these cameras are recorded and stored for at least 30 days in addition to being monitored live after hours at the system supplier’s facility. The video also is fed to monitors in the scrap company’s scale house and executive offices. Additionally, the scrap company’s vice president and president can access the video feeds remotely using their smartphones or over the Internet.

The company’s vice president says this particular feature has uses beyond security. For instance, if an employee has a question about incoming material, he can hold it up to a camera, allowing the vice president to identify it no matter where he might be at the moment.

They also help with legislative requirements pertaining to material purchasing, he adds, and serve as a backup for the company’s scrap purchasing software with its integrated scale camera.

The company’s vice president says he was somewhat reticent to install cameras at the facility initially, worried about how the employees might react. He says even he was a little uncomfortable with the thought of being watched. That apprehension soon disappeared, however, when he saw the efficiencies and security benefits their installation and live monitoring could make in the company’s operation.

The cameras were strategically placed throughout the operation, including at the scale house, near the company’s ATM machine and throughout the processing locations. The company’s vice president says the cameras monitor nearly 90 percent of the property.

The yard also is equipped with a loudspeaker system that enables the remote monitor to speak directly to individuals who may be trespassing on the property. The scrap company vice president says this loudspeaker system can be very intimidating to would-be thieves.

If the trespasser does not heed the monitor’s warning to leave the property, the monitor will contact the police, providing specific information about the person’s location in the yard and access information for the company’s lockbox.

“Word gets around that you have security,” he says. “The system has helped to make theft a nonissue for us.”

The author is managing editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at dtoto@gie.net.