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Remote Monitoring technology: Tackling South Africa’s cable theft problem
Remote Monitoring technology: Tackling South Africa’s cable theft problem

For decades, cable theft has caused disruption to infrastructure across South Africa, and an issue that permeates the whole supply chain. Here, Ian Loudon, international sales and marketing manager at remote monitoring specialist Omniflex, explains how new cable-alarm technology is making life difficult for criminals and giving hope to businesses. In November 2020, Nasdaq reported that, “When South Africa shut large parts of its economy and transport network during its COVID-19 lockdown, organised, sometimes armed, gangs moved into its crumbling stations to steal the valuable copper from the lines. Now, more than two months after that lockdown ended, the commuter rail system, relied on by millions of commuters, is barely operational.” Private security firm Despite this most recent incident, cable theft is not a new phenomenon to sweep South Africa Despite this most recent incident, cable theft is not a new phenomenon to sweep South Africa. In 2001, SABC TV broadcast a story following two members of a private security firm working for Telkom, a major telecoms provider. In the segment, the two guards, working in Amanzimtoti on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal, head out to investigate a nearby alarm that has been triggered. They reach a telecoms cabinet and discover that it has been compromised, with the copper cable cut and telephone handsets strewn across the ground. In the dark, they continue to search the area when one of the guards discovers the problem: 500 metres of copper wire has been ripped out. In their haste, the thieves have dropped their loot and fled. Widespread cable theft Had they managed to get away, they would have melted the cable to remove the plastic insulation and sold the copper to a local scrap dealer for around 900 Rand, about $50 US dollars. For the company whose infrastructure has been compromised, it may cost ten times that amount to replace and repair the critical infrastructure. The disappointing takeaway from this story is that two decades on from this incident the country still faces widespread cable theft, whether it’s copper cables from mines, pipelines, railways, telecoms or electrical utilities. In fact, the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimates that cable theft costs the economy between R5–7 billion a year. The answer to the problem must go further than the existing measures used by companies. Detect power failure Most businesses already invest in CCTV, fences, barriers and even patrol guards, but this is not enough. Take the mining sector, for example. These sites can be vast, spanning dozens of kilometres - it’s simply not cost effective to install enough fences or employ enough guards or camera operators. As monitoring technology gets better, the company has seen site managers increasingly use cable alarms in recent years that detect when a power failure occurs. The idea is that, if one can detect a power failure, they can detect whether the cable has been cut The idea is that, if one can detect a power failure, they can detect whether the cable has been cut. The problem is though: how does one distinguish the difference between a situation where a cable has been cut intentionally and a genuine power outage? Power outages in South Africa are an ongoing problem, with the country contending with an energy deficit since late 2005, leading to around 6,000 MW of power cuts in 2019. Remote terminal units Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., the company that generates around 95 per cent of South Africa’s power has already warned of further blackouts as the company works to carry out repairs to its power plants. According to a statement on the company’s website, “Eskom spends in the region of R2 billion a year replacing stolen copper cables." The result is that criminals take advantage of the gaps in power to steal cable, timing their robberies to coincide with the published load shedding schedules. The basic alarms used to detect power outage won’t recognise the theft because they register a false-positive during a power cut. By the time the power comes back on, the deed has been done and the criminals have gotten away with the cable. The good news is that recent breakthroughs in cable monitoring technology are helping tackle just this problem. New alarms on the market now combine sophisticated GSM-based monitoring systems that use battery powered remote terminal units. Legitimate supply chain Unlike the basic alarms that look for the presence or absence of power, these new systems monitor whether the cable circuit is in an open or closed state. In the event of a power outage, the unit continues to run on battery power and can detect if a cable has been cut, sending a priority SMS alert to the site manager immediately, giving them a fighting chance to prevent a robbery in progress. Beyond the opportunistic theft carried out by petty criminals, the theft of copper cables forms a wider problem Beyond the opportunistic theft carried out by petty criminals, the theft of copper cables forms a wider problem across the supply chain in South Africa. In recent years, the combination of unscrupulous scrap dealers, the alleged involvement of large scrap processing companies and lax penalties meant that much of the stolen copper ended up back in the legitimate supply chain. However, recent changes in the law have sought to take a tougher stance on copper theft. Alarm monitoring technology According to the Western Cape Government, “The Criminal Matters Amendment Act, regulates bail and imposes minimum offences for essential infrastructure-related offences." The act, which came into effect in 2018, recommends sentencing for cable theft, with the minimum sentence for first-time offenders being three years and for those who are involved in instigating or causing damage to infrastructure, the maximum sentence is thirty years. It seems to be working too. In January 2021, the South African reported that a Johannesburg man was sentenced to eight years behind bars for cable theft in Turffontein. While the longer-term outlook is a positive one for industry, the best advice for businesses seeking to alleviate the problem of cable theft in the immediate future is to invest in the latest cable-theft alarm monitoring technology to tackle the problem and make life difficult for criminals.

We have the technology to make society safer – how long can we justify not using it?
We have the technology to make society safer – how long can we justify not using it?

While the application of facial recognition within both public and private spheres continues to draw criticism from those who see it as a threat to civil rights, this technology has become extremely commonplace in the lives of iPhone users. It is so prevalent, in fact, that by 2024 it is predicted that 90% of smartphones will use biometric facial recognition hardware. CCTV surveillance cameras  Similarly, CCTV is a well-established security measure that many of us are familiar with, whether through spotting images displayed on screens in shops, hotels and offices, or noticing cameras on the side of buildings. It is therefore necessary we ask the question of why, when facial recognition is integrated with security surveillance technology, does it become such a source of contention? It is not uncommon for concerns to be voiced against innovation. History has taught us that it is human nature to fear the unknown, especially if it seems that it may change life as we know it. Yet technology is an ever-changing, progressive part of the 21st century and it is important we start to shift the narrative away from privacy threats, to the force for good that LFR (Live Facial Recognition) represents. Live Facial Recognition (LFR) We understand the arguments from those that fear the ethics of AI and the data collection within facial recognition Across recent weeks, we have seen pleas from UK organisations to allow better police access to facial recognition technology in order to fight crime. In the US, there are reports that LAPD is the latest police force to be properly regulating its use of facial recognition to aid criminal investigations, which is certainly a step in the right direction. While it is understandable that society fears technology that they do not yet understand, this lack of knowledge is exactly why the narrative needs to shift. We understand the arguments from those that fear the ethics of AI and the data collection within facial recognition, we respect these anxieties. However, it is time to level the playing field of the facial recognition debate and communicate the plethora of benefits it offers society. Facial recognition technology - A force for good Facial recognition technology has already reached such a level of maturity and sophistication that there are huge opportunities for it to be leveraged as a force for good in real-world scenarios. As well as making society safer and more secure, I would go as far to say that LFR is able to save lives. One usage that could have a dramatic effect on reducing stress in people with mental conditions is the ability for facial recognition to identify those with Alzheimer’s. If an older individual is seemingly confused, lost or distressed, cameras could alert local medical centres or police stations of their identity, condition and where they need to go (a home address or a next of kin contact). Granted, this usage would be one that does incorporate a fair bit of personal data, although this information would only be gathered with consent from each individual. Vulnerable people could volunteer their personal data to local watchlists in order to ensure their safety when out in society, as well as to allow quicker resolutions of typically stressful situations. Tracking and finding missing persons Another possibility for real world positives to be drawn from facial recognition is to leverage the technology to help track or find missing persons, a lost child for instance. The most advanced forms of LFR in the market are now able to recognise individuals even if up to 50% of their face is covered and from challenging or oblique angles. Therefore, there is a significant opportunity not only to return people home safely, more quickly, but also reduce police hours spent on analysing CCTV footage. Rapid scanning of images Facial recognition technology can rapidly scan images for a potential match Facial recognition technology can rapidly scan images for a potential match, as a more reliable and less time-consuming option than the human alternative. Freed-up officers could also then work more proactively on the ground, patrolling their local areas and increasing community safety and security twofold. It is important to understand that these facial recognition solutions should not be applied to every criminal case, and the technology must be used responsibly. However, these opportunities to use LFR as force for good are undeniable.   Debunking the myths One of the central concerns around LFR is the breach of privacy that is associated with ‘watchlists’. There is a common misconception, however, that the data of every individual that passes a camera is processed and then stored. The reality is that watch lists are compiled with focus on known criminals, while the general public can continue life as normal. The very best facial recognition will effectively view a stream of blurred faces, until it detects one that it has been programmed to recognise. For example, an individual that has previously shoplifted from a local supermarket may have their biometric data stored, so when they return to that location the employees are alerted to a risk of further crimes being committed. Considering that the cost of crime prevention to retailers in recent years has been around £1 billion, which therefore impacts consumer prices and employee wages, security measures to tackle this issue are very much in the public interest. Most importantly, the average citizen has no need to fear being ‘followed’ by LFR cameras. If data is stored, it is for a maximum of 0.6 seconds before being deleted. Privacy Privacy is ingrained in facial recognition solutions, yet it seems the debate often ignores this side of the story Privacy is ingrained in facial recognition solutions, yet it seems the debate often ignores this side of the story. It is essential we spend more time and effort communicating exactly why watchlists are made, who they are made for and how they are being used, if we want to de-bunk myths and change the narrative. As science and technology professionals, heading up this exciting innovation, we must put transparency and accountability at the centre of what we do. Tony Porter, former Surveillance Camera Commissioner and current CPO at Corsight AI, has previously worked on developing processes that audit and review watch lists. Such restrictions are imperative in order for AI and LFR to be used legally, as well as ethically and responsibly. Biometrics, mask detection and contactless payments Nevertheless, the risks do not outweigh the benefits. Facial recognition should and can be used for good in so many more ways than listed above, including biometric, contactless payments, detecting whether an individual is wearing a facemask and is therefore, safe to enter a building, identifying a domestic abuse perpetrator returning to the scene of a crime and alerting police. There are even opportunities for good that we have not thought of yet. It is therefore not only a waste not to use this technology where we can, prioritising making society a safer place, it is immoral to stand by and let crimes continue while we have effective, reliable mitigation solutions.  

Securing empty premises: Product performance is everything
Securing empty premises: Product performance is everything

Since the start of the pandemic, almost a quarter of UK businesses have been forced to temporarily close, pause trading, or work remotely, with very little notice. Now nearing the 12th month of the crisis, the country is currently enduring its third national lockdown, with an unspecified timeframe. Most workers are being urged to remain at home and only venture out for essential travel. This means a huge number of premises across the board, from recreational venues such as theatres, pubs and leisure centres, to office buildings, and storage facilities, will remain empty. It’s likely that security has been scaled back, so many buildings could be vulnerable to attack for the foreseeable future. Just recently we’ve seen empty pubs in London targeted by opportunistic illegal rave organisers. Physical security strategy Even rural areas aren’t exempt from the problem, as burglars have reportedly targeted beauty salons, etc Even rural areas aren’t exempt from the problem, as burglars have reportedly targeted beauty salons, food stores and vehicle hire premises this winter. Vandalism and burglary remain very real threats, therefore it is vital that facilities managers and property owners ensure the physical security of these empty buildings is maintained to the highest standard to protect property and the assets within. Below we outline key considerations when evaluating a physical security strategy for an empty building. Assess the risk We would urge facilities managers and building owners to carry out regular, thorough checks of the building and the perimeter to assess any obvious factors which would elevate the risk of attack. This includes assessing the location. Is the crime rate high? How visible is the property? Are the contents of the property on show? How secure is the access or perimeter boundary? View the premises from a potential intruder’s perspective, and when you can’t be at the site in person, use photographs, notes and drawings to identify potential weaknesses. For example, there may be high security fencing at the front of the premises, but make sure it is not at risk of being compromised at the back. Conducting regular maintenance Retain and maintain quality Inspecting the fence line may seem obvious and straightforward, but it needs to be a deliberate, scheduled event Conducting regular maintenance is even more essential while premises are left empty, as it is much easier for any issues to appear and escalate undetected. We highly recommend regularly inspecting your fencing for disrepair or damage as this can affect the perimeter’s integrity. Alternatively, choosing high quality galvanised and preferably powder coated steel fencing with a 25-year guarantee will offer longer-lasting protection against rust and corrosion. Inspecting the fence line may seem obvious and straightforward, but it needs to be a deliberate, scheduled event. Take time to check the perimeter on both sides. As you inspect the fencing, keep an eye out for any attempted breaches and note if foliage, weather conditions, or topography changes have affected security integrity. Check all fixtures and fittings are in good working order, look for damage and corrosion, and clear all litter and debris away. Huge security risk Quality investments In a time when businesses are already stretched, it can be tempting to opt for quick, inexpensive fixes. However, poorly executed design or cheap, low quality products can lead to costly, long-term remediation or worse, significant loss to the business. Make wise, informed decisions and specify solutions based on your organisation’s security needs first and foremost. While generic steel palisade is a popular option, owing to its intimidating aesthetic, it is easily compromised. Steel palisade fencing has inherent weaknesses that undermine performance. Its wide pales can obstruct surveillance, while the bolted construction is a huge security risk. Simply removing or breaking the lower fixing on one or two pales would allow them to swing aside to give repeated access to the site without leaving an easily visible sign that the perimeter has been breached. It’s a false economy, as the initial lower price is offset by the costs and inconvenience incurred by regular repairs. Performance classification system The standard works via a performance classification system, and even considers the tools that an intruder may use Specifying a higher quality product that’s fit for purpose makes more sense both in the short and long term, and it adds little to the original cost. Fortunately, there are a number of security accreditations that facilities managers and building owners can refer to when specifying security measures at their site, helping them choose effective solutions to combat the risks the property faces. Proven performance Certifications and approvals, such as The Loss Prevention Certification Board’s (LPCB) LPS 1175 and the British Standards Institution’s (BSI) PAS, prove a product has been thoroughly tested to a specific standard. They prove the strength and durability of the item in multiple different situations. It is worth noting also that investing in effective perimeter protection can actually deliver a positive return by reducing the incidence of burglary and vandalism, and their associated costs. The technical evaluation work carried out by LPCB is extremely thorough. The product is subjected to rigorous quality audit processes, to certify the security products tested by BRE deliver verified levels of protection. All LPS 1175 rated products are vigorously tested before receiving an accreditation. The standard works via a performance classification system, and even considers the tools that an intruder may use. Intrusion detection system Our law enforcement teams are stretched to capacity and coping with reduced workforces due to illness By predicting a likely toolset, specifiers can construct multiple defensive layers to maximise how much time a facility has to respond to an attack. Different levels of security are crucial for the ‘5D defence’ concept, whereby a quintet of security assets work together to prevent access to your site, resulting in a strategy that will: Deter, Detect, Deny, Delay and Defend unwanted access from intruders. 360° security There is no single solution when it comes to securing a building. Every situation must be considered on an individual basis, starting with a full risk assessment. We recommend an integrated approach where appropriate. Along with a secure perimeter, this might also include effective lighting in shaded areas and at doors, gates, and vulnerable windows, Perimeter Intrusion Detection Systems (PIDS) and well-placed CCTV. These measures can hinder entry and escape, or increase the chance of discovery and detection. Domestic burglaries While domestic burglaries have become less attractive as many of our homes are now occupied around the clock, commercial properties have become increasingly more vulnerable. Our law enforcement teams are stretched to capacity and coping with reduced workforces due to isolating and illness. Therefore it has never been so important for building owners and facilities managers to assess the properties they’re responsible for to ensure they’re protected effectively in the event of an attack.

Latest Oncam news

Will the new decade represent a ‘Roaring Twenties’ for security?
Will the new decade represent a ‘Roaring Twenties’ for security?

The “Roaring Twenties” was a decade of economic growth and widespread prosperity, driven by recovery from devastation, a construction boom, and welcoming of new technologies such as automobiles and electricity. As we look ahead to the big picture of the 2020s, 100 years later, are there parallels that suggest a successful decade ahead? Might recovery from the devastation of COVID-19 help to drive even higher levels of economic growth and technical innovation? We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: Does the new decade represent a new “Roaring Twenties” for the physical security market?

Oncam announces the launch of C-Series camera line, including C-12 Indoor and C-12 Outdoor Plus 360-degree video cameras
Oncam announces the launch of C-Series camera line, including C-12 Indoor and C-12 Outdoor Plus 360-degree video cameras

Oncam, the globally renowned provider of premium 360-degree video capture technologies, has announced the introduction of its powerful and compact C-Series camera line and the first two cameras of this line, the C-12 Indoor and the C-12 Outdoor Plus cameras, both featuring a 12 MP sensor and powered by advanced video technology from Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. 360-degree fisheye solutions Designed to support mission-critical video surveillance and security deployments, the Oncam C-Series camera line provides the performance, resilience, scalability and ease of use required of advanced 360-degree fisheye solutions. Built on Oncam's expertise spanning more than 15 years in 360-degree video technology, the C-Series delivers higher frame rates, crisp images and bandwidth reduction technology, increasing functionality, as well as ensuring the creation of products that are both intuitive and user-friendly.   C-12 cameras Oncam C-12 cameras feature the company’s award-winning de-warping technology The Oncam C-12 cameras feature the company’s award-winning de-warping technology, seamless ONVIF implementation, and integration with the major VMS (Video Management System) platforms, with superior processing power from Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. that enables this next generation of high-tech video surveillance solution from Oncam.   The company’s C-Series cameras use cutting-edge algorithms and advanced technology to deliver access to reliable, secure, and clear images that provide organisations and government agencies with enhanced situational awareness. Oncam's commitment to open solutions and the C-12 camera's advanced, intuitive user interface also delivers the freedom to configure and tailor the camera to specific requirements, making it ideal for a variety of markets. Harnessing the power of video Oncam’s C-12 cameras enable users to harness the power of video with innovations pioneered by the video surveillance company, including:   Market-renowned frame rates: Oncam C-12 cameras stream 55 fps at full resolution, significantly outperforming other 360-degree cameras in the market currently. This superior performance allows for the capability to maintain the chosen frame rate up to 30 fps on the primary stream, even with up to three other streams running. The benefit of this technology is that it offers full frame rate video without sacrificing the flexibility for secondary streams. Alternatively, users will get to experience best in class performance and image quality of 25 fps with TrueDetail HDR. StreamLite Compression: The C-series camera line comes integrated with advanced real-time adaptive video encoder enhancement technology, applied to both H.264 and H.265 video compression technologies. StreamLite reduces bandwidth and storage space required by the camera by more than 50% and in scenes with no motion, it minimises the encoded stream by more than 90%, with minimal impact on the final image quality. Additionally, the C-series does all this without compromising on the details that matter the most. Integrated VMS (Video Management System)/NVR (Network Video Recorder) partners have access to StreamLite+ technology and they can achieve an additional 20% compression, thanks to the advanced capabilities of Oncam’s ColourMap Compression technology. This patented pre-compression color optimisation technology works with other Oncam compression technologies to reduce bandwidth and storage, with no perceptible impact on the image quality. TrueDetail HDR: This feature allows both dark and light areas within the same image to be visible and captured, while also revealing critical details in both dark and bright areas of a scene. TrueDetail HDR feature facilitates capturing two frames concurrently and by minimising the time lag between short and long exposures, it delivers bright and sharp images with minimal motion blur. Advanced Light Management Technology: Integrated with advanced light management technology, the C-series camera dynamically manages the available light to achieve the best results, in every corner of every 360-degree scene. Whether it be extreme low light or a complex mixed lighting environment, it automatically optimises image quality with whatever light is available to produce clearer, full-colour, lower noise surveillance videos, while also maintaining the sharpness of static or moving objects, even in very low-light or dark conditions. C-Series Indoor and Outdoor Plus camera models Oncam's C-Series cameras are available in the market through a network of trusted Strategic Alliance Partners Oncam's C-Series cameras are available in the market through a network of trusted Strategic Alliance Partners, including some of the largest and trusted brands across the globe. The C-12 cameras are available with multiple accessories and mounting options for both the Indoor and Outdoor Plus models. “We are proud to be collaborating with Oncam on the launch of its C-Series cameras, their first portfolio of products powered by Qualcomm Technologies,” said Jeff Lorbeck, Senior Vice President and General Manager, IoT, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. Jeff adds, “As the Oncam product portfolio grows, our shared vision of delivering innovative camera solutions will enable us to continue unlocking the ‘Internet of Things’ potential for a variety of applications from enterprise, education to smart cities and beyond.” Qualcomm Technologies chosen as Oncam’s SoC vendor Qualcomm Technologies, a globally renowned video technology solutions provider with innovation and collaboration at their core, was chosen as Oncam’s System on a chip (SoC) vendor to ensure the market-renowned performance of the C-Series and beyond. “We are entering a new era for our industry so we have focused our efforts on building and nurturing a world-class team that centers on innovation through collaboration both internally and externally with the C-Series being the first tangible result of that mindset and approach,” said Scott Brothers, Chief Operating Officer (COO), Oncam. Scott adds, “Qualcomm Technologies’ investment into IoT and the ever-increasing use of IP video as a key element within the IoT ecosystem makes the Oncam/Qualcomm Technologies relationship a fantastic fit both now and in the future as we build out our product roadmap.”

How do hardware improvements drive better physical security?
How do hardware improvements drive better physical security?

New software developments have dominated technology innovation in the physical security industry for years, making more things possible to the benefit of integrators and end users. However, hardware is another important piece of the puzzle. No matter how great your software, the system doesn’t perform unless the hardware works too. In our enthusiasm over software developments, let’s not overlook the latest in the hardware world. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: How do hardware improvements drive better physical security?

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