Perimeter defense

Features - Operations Focus

Sims Metal Management opts for electric security fences at three of its California operations to guard against theft.

April 6, 2015

Theft can be a pervasive problem for metals recycling companies. Usually situated in commercial and industrial zones that are sparsely populated at night, scrap yards commonly find themselves targets of opportunistic and even relentless theft because the inventory is vast, visible and instantly resalable. Perimeter security options can prove challenging and costly, however, in light of the size of the scrap yards and depth of the problem.

That’s why electric security fences are rapidly becoming a popular solution for many in the industry: Electric security fence company Electric Guard Dog, Columbia, South Carolina, says its customer base in recycling has grown 25 percent annually since 2010.

An electric fence was ultimately the solution of choice for three of the California yards belonging to the western regional business unit of Sims Metal Management, a leading metals recycler with headquarters in Sydney and New York , after one of its yards experienced nightly theft.

History of theft

In 2013, theft was a nightly problem at Sims Metal Management’s Sacramento, California, yard. Frank Barbeau, the company’s regional operations manager, says, “Prior to the electric fence, thieves would break in at night, every night. Inventory was routinely stolen. There were a few times they didn’t even wait for the crew to get out of the yard before they were jumping in. The situation created multiple safety and security issues.”

Sims Metal Management tried multiple security options at the yard before investing in an electric security fence. Among the solutions the company tried were installing cameras and pruning the shrubs along the chain-link fence so trespassers would be more visible. Sims Metal Management also hired guards to walk the 2,500-linear-foot perimeter of the yard every night. None of these efforts was enough to contend with the sheer volume of the problem, however.

The western regional corporate office finally proposed an electric security fence. Sims Metal Management representatives met with several suppliers before signing a contract with Electric Guard Dog, Columbia, South Carolina, which claims to be the largest and oldest provider of electric security fences in the U.S.

Fencing out theft

Electric Guard Dog’s value proposition states advantages such as:

  • theft deterrence – Instead of catching thieves in the act, electric fence customers say the warning signs are often sufficient to discourage attempts.
  • cost-savings – Renting an electric fence is significantly cheaper than hiring guards, and solar power ensures company electric bills are unaffected.
  • vigilance – The fence is operational 24/7/365. Solar power renders it impervious to power outages or cuts.

An electric fence system has three layers of security and operates under certain parameters. The electric fence is:

  • situated inside a nonelectrified perimeter fence to prevent incidental contact;
  • posted with multilingual warning signs to alert would-be trespassers;
  • armed with pulsed electricity that is “safe but effective” (The supplier’s fence has been tested and certified to be within the standards of the International Electrotechnical Commission.); and
  • wired alarms to prevent scaling, cutting or spreading of the wires.

Companies that use electric fences say these systems are remarkably effective, while the shock is medically safe for anyone who comes in contact with it. It hurts enough to ensure even the most intrepid thief usually will only attempt it once, if at all.

Safety was an important consideration for Sims Metal Management. While the company had a pervasive theft problem at its scrap yard, it wanted to make doubly sure a supplier was equipped to not only install a safe and effective fence but also to provide ongoing, routine testing and maintenance. As a result, the company chose a vendor with 24 years’ experience ensuring its product continuously meets the international safety standard.

Satisfied with the supplier it selected, one more consideration still had to be taken into account, as Sims Metal Management soon discovered.

Permitting issues

Like most security systems, electric fences often require a permit from the city or county. Obtaining a permit can prove challenging, time-consuming and costly.

Sims Metal Management included permit requirements in its research of potential suppliers. The supplier it selected had a dedicated permit compliance department at no extra fee, so the only challenge was the wait.

While the company’s two other California yards sailed through city permitting processes, the Sacramento process stalled.

“This one was an exception rather than the rule; it was one for the books,” Electric Guard Dog Compliance Executive Michael Pate acknowledges. “Most of the time when there’s a permit issue, we can still get the job done in four months. And we were initially told that’s what it would take; but, some cities like to be extra careful. In this case, they had multiple review boards, some of whom wanted more than one review. Sometimes that happens.”

There was no cost to Sims Metal Management for the delays and plan rewrites, nor was the company required to be involved in the process of getting the permit.

But the company was in a hurry. Electric Guard Dog CEO Jack DeMao flew out to California to see what could be done.

He says, “We couldn’t do anything about the city’s time frame, except accelerate our response times. We met their requests with a 48-hour turnaround.

“In any case, we are always sympathetic to our client’s needs. The Sims Metal Management Sacramento facility needed our fence, so we accepted a very uneconomic path for us, in order to get Sims Metal Management the protection they needed. We honored our quote and ate the cost. We always do,” DeMao says.

“I’ve been in security sales for 20 years,” one security sales representative says. “I’ve sold alarms, cameras, you name it. Most security options will require a permit from the city, but usually the supplier will just leave you to deal with it.” He adds, “It’s amazing when you can find a supplier that handles compliance.”

Deterring theft

Installation at the Sims Metal Management Sacramento facility began within five days of the permit being issued. But the question remained: Would it solve the theft problem?

Barbeau says, “The thieves and trespassers leave that fence alone. They’re still out there, I’m certain. But they know that fence is electrified, so they leave it alone.”

How many thieves have made it over the fence?

Barbeau, says, “None! [It] feels good! I actually get to sleep at night now. We’re getting ready to put in another electric fence at our Richmond (California) facility.”


The author is a communications specialist whose clients include Columbia, South Carolina-based Electric Guard Dog,