Senior Risk Consultant
HUB International Inc.
This Copper is One Good Deterrent
Consultant comes up with markings on copper piping to deter would-be thieves.
The theft of copper installed in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems of commercial buildings is getting so rampant, Stan Turbyfill had to think of something to deter the expensive crimes for his commercial property owner clients--something as simple as marking their copper with the properties' name and contact phone number.
Turbyfill, a senior risk consultant in the Dallas office of HUB International Inc., last year convinced a Northeast vendor to create a Copper Guard kit, consisting of bottles and spray cans of blaze orange ink, stencils, stamps and stamp pads.
"HUB had been struggling with this issue and in a brainstorming process, we began to discuss some traditional security solutions--cameras, alarms systems--all of which were higher-cost solutions," Turbyfill said. "The problem with any security solution is that any single solution can be defeated. So one of the things we discussed is coming up with a way to brand the copper, like the cattle guys did with their steers."
If thieves try to scrub off the indelible ink, the markings still leave a "ghost image" of the property's name and contact phone number.
"That at least requires the thieves to do something else before they dispose of the product, so it might deter them from stealing the product at that property and try to hit another property instead," he said.
Copper theft is becoming a significant problem because copper prices have risen by more than 300 percent during the last 10 years, Turbyfill said. Combined with stressful economic times, thieves are resorting to new targets of opportunity by stealing copper pipe, coils and wiring from large industrial and commercial air conditioning, HVAC systems and electrical power transmission and distribution equipment causing thousands of dollars of property damage and business interruption.
"In some cases, the perpetrators are hitting fully occupied properties posing as maintenance crews," Turbyfill said. "Within minutes they can open and gut a three- to five-ton commercial HVAC unit, causing thousands of dollars in property damage and loss."
One of Turbyfill's clients, Cencor Realty Services in Dallas, marked its 150-some commercial properties in the area, and since then no copper or HVAC units have been stolen from its buildings, said Lewis Hoppen, vice president and director of property management operations.
"We can't definitively say that this alone deterred crime, as we also have security guards walking our properties, but we're going on the theory that it certainly can't hurt," Hoppen said. "If thieves see that you're being proactive and taking care of your materials, they'll go someplace else."