All eyes on the yard

Features - Scrap Metals Supplement

The evolution of camera technology allows scrap yard operators to feel more secure about theft prevention during and after operating hours.

January 5, 2017

© Joseph Gough |

Security concerns at a scrap yard go beyond the cliché image of someone jumping over a fence in the middle of the night to collect valuable scrap metals—they include ensuring employees and customers aren’t engaging in theft, whether individually or in collusion with one another, and verifying the events that led to a worker’s compensation claim. With the technological advancements in security cameras and remote monitoring, catching these instances has become more viable.

“There’s always a game of cat and mouse going on with thieves and security companies—they will always find a way around security measures,” Ron Jones, plant manager at Akron, Ohio-based City Scrap & Salvage, says. But, he adds, “There’s going to be evolutions [in security technology] to come on board.”

Getting to know what the bigger threat is in a scrap yard—whether it’s employees, outside intruders or an alliance between the two—is the starting point for picking the best security system.

Day and night

WatchDog Security, based in Southfield, Michigan, has customers that use its services for night and day surveillance. While cameras can capture a person jumping or cutting through a fence during the night, during the day is when live cameras are looking for activity such as employee theft, workers’ compensation claims or customer complaints.

Scrap yards can address these daytime instances by considering video monitoring during operating hours as well as when the yard is closed, says Jeff Purtell, vice president of sales at Eyewitness Surveillance, Hanover, Maryland. “We’re moving away from the physical guard and moving toward cameras,” he says.

Yard size also can make cameras a better option. Purtell says scrap yards usually are large spaces with plenty of places for potential intruders to hide away until nightfall or even to scope out spaces for a potential entry later in the night.

“I have 15 acres, and how can you watch that?” David Guz, president of H&H Metals Co., Inkster, Michigan, asks. “A guard can’t watch 15 acres. Numerous guards would be expensive, and the liability would be crazy—I’ve had guards steal before,” he says.

Archived digital recordings from a yard’s cameras can be viewed to see if a suspect is visible.

As the quality of the cameras available to scrap yard operators has increased, so has the degree of security at their facilities. For instance, high-definition cameras can allow a person to “see every freckle” on a subject, according to Gladstone. Before picture resolution got so high, it was difficult to tell what a person looked like.

“At first, you couldn’t be able to determine things like race, what color a person was wearing or what their face looked like, but now you can completely see who it is,” Gladstone says.

In 2016, WatchDog updated its cameras with color vision during nighttime hours. Described as a “step up” from thermal cameras for theft detection by Lindsey Scharg, business developer at WatchDog, who says these cameras allow monitors to see as if it “were a sunny day in dark conditions.”

Advancing technology

While the use of high-resolution cameras is an obvious security enhancement, system analytics have advanced further in terms of day-to-night surveillance, sources say.

“Seeing where most people are and what people are most interested in during the day can allow you to monitor popular areas at night,” Purtell says.

While Gladstone says WatchDog’s cameras are mostly being used to replace security guards, Eyewitness Security says it works with security guards to ensure a quicker response to a trespasser.

“If you’re in a high-crime area, police dispatch times will not be in your favor because there are issues going on that are more important to them,” Purtell says. “There’s absolutely still a role for [security guards]; it’s a tailored situation—how big the yard is and how frequently they are needed,” he adds.

The company supplies iPads and mobile access to security guards, who will be alerted if an intruder is on the property. The security guard has the ability to pull the camera’s footage up on his or her screen to see where the intruder is, go straight to the scene and detain the perpetrator.

With WatchDog Security, a member of the live monitoring team will “talk down” the intruder and get him or her to leave the property, Gladstone says. If the intruder doesn’t leave, the team member will call the local police.

“Our first goal is for them to leave,” Gladstone says. “If they don’t, we’ve had lots of people dragged out by police.”

Gladstone says the purpose of getting potential threats to leave rather than having them arrested is to prevent others from attempting to break in to the yard. The idea is to have intruders leave the premises with the knowledge that security is present at the yard, so they will no longer return and possibly will spread the word to others.

City Scrap & Salvage hasn’t had a theft at its facility since January 2013, Jones says, crediting the yard’s security system for warding off potential perpetrators.

Guz says would-be thieves have less incentive to steal from scrap yards because of declining metals prices. He also points out how materials theft from municipalities and other businesses also has declined because of low scrap pricing.

However, Jones says he believes the deterrent was City Scrap’s security system. “I don’t think it had anything to do with scrap pricing,” he says. “I thought it was our security system that deterred people.”

WatchDog works with local police in various ways to help apprehend intruders. Police can confer with surveillance team members at WatchDog about what the intruder was wearing and where he or she was within the scrap yard in an effort to catch the intruder. WatchDog can place a lock box on the yard’s front gate so local law enforcement can unlock the gate to gain access to the facility.

Fenced in

While most scrap yards do have perimeter fencing surrounding their operations, there has been a move away from the use of electric fences toward fiber optic versions, Purtell says.

According to Guz, scrap yard operators view nonelectric fences as defining the property line rather than as security.

“There can be a lot of legal issues when it comes to traditional electrical fencing,” Purtell says. “If someone grabs the fence and gets shocked, it can be a liability issue should they be hurt instead of just jolted.”

The fiber optic fence removes a liability issue without sacrificing security, he says. The alarms trigger and alert companies like Eyewitness Surveillance that a person is on the fence. The technology also tells the surveillance company where the intruder is on the fence, which allows a monitoring team member to zoom in on the intruder and decipher his or her exact location and possible intent.

“I know electrical fences are a popular solution for scrap yards, but there are positives and negatives to be considered in each case,” Purtell says.

For scrap yard operators such as Guz, fences aren’t viewed as a security measure anymore. While it can be a small deterrent, he says, using cameras ensures the yard is secured.

“Anyone can jump a fence; that’s not the problem,” he says. “It used to be that we had five guys [breaking in and] running scrap out the back door—that’s not the case anymore.”

Partnering for success

When it comes to successful scrap yard security, Purtell says experienced live monitoring teams should be a priority. Without the knowledge of how to address a situation, the scrap yard operator is not guaranteed security.

“We have our own tactical operations center, so when those signals are triggered, it’s coming right here to our people, who have specialized training and know what is taking place,” he says.

Purtell says, “Working with someone that has the end-to-end solution—that has a monitoring and protocol-driven solution—is an important question” for scrap yard operators to ask potential providers.

Showing a security company where in the yard nighttime and daytime surveillance should occur also is important. Different cameras are needed for different situations—where a high-resolution camera would make sense during the day, a thermal camera can provide better surveillance at night. Some areas, such as the scale, may present a concern only during business hours.

Gladstone says, “We know where the crooks are coming at night; we need help to know what they want to see during the day.”

The author is assistant editor in the Recycling Today Media Group and can be reached at