Guarding against the theft of survey equipment

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 19

The high value of survey equipment used to collect geospatial data on the railways is increasingly attractive to opportunistic criminals. The Survey Association (TSA) is leading the fightback against the thieves, as manager Rachel Tyrrell explains.

Theft of equipment has been a pressing problem for the survey profession for a long time, but has seen an unprecedented rise in the last two years. Figures just from the period of September 2017 to February 2018 puts the estimated cost of stolen equipment to TSA members at £1.8m, an average of £300,000 per month.

The Crossrail project, for example, has proved particularly rewarding for thieves, with 30 total stations stolen over a single 18-month period. One was recovered in Russia, another traced to Iraq. A further series of linked thefts, occurring over several months, involved specialist static survey equipment used to monitor movement in track and buildings. These were taken from trackside locations on the Docklands Light Railway network, with each unit valued at £23,000.

Organised gangs that operate on an audacious, ‘theft by appointment’ basis have been known to return to a site hours after the first theft to snatch the replacement equipment.

The statistics are shocking in themselves, but they mask the impact of theft on businesses and employees. Some TSA members have been threatened with violence and have even had equipment wrestled from them in broad daylight. Personal safety must be the main consideration in these situations, and we know that the knock-on impact of employees becoming victims of crime can be great. Downtime and delay results in losses in revenue for businesses and some insurance providers may set restrictions or even decline cover if site risks are judged too great.

As a result, TSA has made it a priority to work with surveyors, insurers, equipment manufacturers, crime analysts, and the police at the highest levels to find the best way to support site staff and managers, both in terms of crime prevention and equipment recovery.

With sponsorship from the leading equipment manufacturers, TSA entered a three-way partnership with crimefighters SmartWater in 2018. An intelligence portal was established to record detailed information for every incident of equipment theft, both recent and historic, enabling SmartWater analysts to liaise with the police and assist with enquiries on behalf of TSA.

As a result of this partnership, Supt Tom Harding, a member of the National Acquisitive Crime Group, raised the issue of stolen survey equipment with the Home Office. At a recent briefing he attended, the discussion centred on how stolen survey equipment is disposed of, the effectiveness of tracking devices, and how resources might be focused nationally to address this issue.

The captured data continues to provide the most accurate nationwide picture of survey equipment theft to date. Detailed reports, statements, timelines, association charts, and maps shed light on the pattern of criminal activity, including links between individual unsolved incidents of theft and organised crime gangs, and to similar crimes reported by other SmartWater clients.

Information submitted through SmartWater’s intelligence portal is shared with the police to identify crime hotspots, emerging crime trends, and possible links to current investigations. TSA members receive regular briefings on the risks of theft in certain areas and advice for crime prevention for those likely to be a target.

It became clear to us that obtaining the fullest possible picture on equipment theft across the wider construction and engineering industry would further help to deter opportunistic crime and aid the recovery of stolen instruments.

Theft of equipment is not limited to the surveying profession, which is why we are sharing crime prevention advice with the wider industry. TSA members and non-member companies can report incidents of theft through the intelligence portal to ensure the whole picture is captured.

In addition, TSA has produced two new documents, endorsed by SmartWater, to help companies review their security. The first is a free-to-download briefing note with advice on safeguarding high-value survey instruments routinely targeted by thieves. It includes strategies to protect equipment from theft whilst on site and when transported in a vehicle.

The second, also free to download, is a checklist for employees that could be shared on staff notice boards. If a theft occurs, personal safety and obtaining good evidence should be the main considerations.

TSA produces a range of free information documents, designed to provide members, their clients, and the wider industry with guidance on aspects of surveying and updates on the procedures and regulations which may govern how a particular aspect of a survey is carried out.

The Guidance Note on Railway Surveys was compiled by members of TSA’s Technical Committee, in association with Chris Preston of Network Rail. It includes information on the necessary planning and certification required to carry out survey work safely and to the required detailed specifications and standards set by Network Rail.


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