Adding security to standby1 February 2009
In June 2008, police officers of the Lothian and Borders force in the UK set up patrol checkpoints in a bid to catch fuel rustlers, following a spate of thefts in the area, including more than 2000 litres from a farm near Edinburgh.
With the country in the grip of a recession, the UK’s Home Office predicts that crime levels across the country are set to rise. Remote generators and fuel tanks are seen as easy targets for thieves and last summer’s rise in fuel prices brought a new threat. With prices reaching £6 per UK gallon, fuel became a prized commodity and, unfortunately, thieves are remarkably quick to follow trends in prices and steal goods they can sell-on for a quick profit, particularly when others are working hard to budget in-line with the economic downturn.
The UK has already seen a dramatic increase in fuel thefts over the past year, coinciding with a sharp rise in fuel prices. Industrial diesel thefts had been reported as rising by 30 % compared to the same period the previous year, and in some areas of the country, fuel thefts in general have risen by 75 %.
The generator unit itself can also prove a prime target, particularly smaller sets such as those in the 7.5 kVA range, owing to the relative ease of removal. A decade ago, the Home Office reported that the cost of generators stolen from building sites alone was estimated at almost £4 million. This report has not since been reviewed but at a conservative estimate the total will have at least doubled in real terms across industry during the past ten years.
Previously, incidents of fuel and generator theft or vandalism had tended to be isolated or opportunistic, usually committed by individuals looking for a free, mobile, power supply. However, many police forces and insurers are now experiencing a trend in which organised gangs target fuel tanks which can carry as much as 500 litres of oil. Power4 supplies fuel tanks holding up to 3 000 litres, equating to as much as £3 000 in fuel value.
Out of sight, out of mind
The vast majority of businesses, whether industrial, rural or office-based, require power to operate and a sudden power failure can have catastrophic consequences, draining vital man hours, causing missed business opportunities and loss of valuable or even vital data.
As they are often positioned in remote or hidden-from-view areas, power generators can be a natural target for thieves and vandals. Unfortunately, incidents of crime can go unnoticed until a time when the unit needs to be used. This can cause costly business failure during an emergency and during critical operating times. One recent incident left patients at the Medway Maritime hospital in Kent at risk following the theft of cables linked to the hospital’s emergency generator.
When it comes to securing the generator unit, there are many options available, ranging from simple padlocks or alarms, through to fully-protected containerised units – secure steel containers housing the generator unit and fuel tank.
However, even the best anti-theft or vandalism deterrent can be overcome by enterprising criminals. To address this, expert suppliers are beginning to add tracker units as standard to all generator units and fuel tanks.
The tracker system is a covert transmitter hidden discreetly on the unit, which works like an electronic homing device if the unit is moved. A movement sensor sends a signal to the unit operator to confirm if the movement is scheduled or a possible incident of theft. When confirmed as stolen, the tracker hidden in the stolen unit is activated and emits a silent land-based radio signal. This signal can be picked up by police within the area and they can then be directed to the location of the stolen unit.
One such success story involves a generator stolen from a pub, The Mulberry Tree in Surrey, belonging to a well known radio presenter, Chris Evans. The unit was recovered within hours at a site approximately 15 miles away.
Operators are also advised to use signage to advise potential criminals of the security measures in place, which can act as an instant deterrent.
Regardless of the measures in place, incidences of theft do still occur and the importance of monitoring should not be overlooked.
However, in some cases it may not be possible to physically monitor generators on a daily basis. To overcome this, Power4 works with customers to implement measures to ensure that any incidences of theft are highlighted immediately via remote monitoring solutions. For example, a well-managed fuel management system can make operators instantly aware of any sudden or unexpected reduction in fuel level.
The catalyst for remote monitoring came with the arrival of the GSM modem and mobile phone technology. This enables real-time reporting of alarms, such as the sudden loss of fuel, via a mobile phone or to a remote PC. Using the technology allows generator equipment to be constantly monitored. This avoids the potential for any unwanted events at power generators situated in remote locations to go unnoticed until the next physical maintenance check. Depending on the location and operation, this could be several days or weeks.
The kind of remote surveillance can do more than monitor fuel levels, it can also accurately relay oil and water levels, and confirmation of test runs, helping to ensure that the unit remains in prime condition by preventing generator failure and minimising risks to operational uptime in the event of a mains power outage.
With the tough times expected to continue throughout 2009, there’s no doubt that we’re going to face new challenges, and, unfortunately, not all businesses will survive. With November’s pre-budget report in the UK announcing that fuel duty is set to increase in order to offset cuts in VAT, it is probable that incidences of fuel crime will increase. Businesses that do survive will need to do everything in their power to maximise assets and combat crime. Every penny spent to deter crime is a penny well spent.
Paul Wilson is the managing director of specialist generator hire and maintenance provider Power4