When Dan Jenkins, CPP, talks about copper thefts, his descriptions conjure up the Old Testament story of how a plague of locusts descended on Egyptian fields. Only in this case, it is hordes of thieves who descend on anything made of copper. “The appetite for it is insatiable,” says the corporate security director for Dominion Virginia Power.
Copper thefts have a cascading effect on operations, because many are from grounding conductors in electrical substations, Jenkins explains. That creates public safety problems for the regional power company, says Mike Helck, Dominion’s director of electrical substation and transmission reliability. By breaking into the substation and removing the copper grounding, thieves increase the likelihood that they, Dominion employees, or even a curious passerby who wandered into a vandalized substation could be hurt or killed by an electrical charge.
Another, though more remote, danger is that damage from copper thefts could result in widespread power outages, says Jenkins. He notes that copper thefts have led to small outages in the past. And because the problem is not confined to Dominion, it’s a fear that is shared by the FBI. In 2008, the FBI published a report stating that copper thefts jeopardized U.S. national security.
Fighting the problem has not been easy. In Virginia, however, Dominion’s relationship with the Virginia Fusion Center has given the power company a new tool to help it position its security resources more effectively to help deter further thefts and prevent harm to critical infrastructure. In September 2010, after hearing about copper theft frequently during monthly discussions with critical infrastructure owners and operators, the Virginia Fusion Center introduced Dominion to GeoEye, a geospatial software company it had begun working with a month earlier as part of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate pilot program.