Friday, April 6, 2018

Tracking in industrial security - terrorism, espionage, and theft

Resource based corporations, especially potentially contentious businesses such as oil and gas plants, pipelines and open pit mining, are at risk from home grown terrorism, corporate espionage and theft.

Training security teams in man tracking makes a tremendous difference in recognizing observable clues that could indicate potential threats. If tracking skills are applied consistently, many of the operations targeting industrial sites can be recognized and stopped in the beginning stages – often before serious damage or losses can occur.   

One technique is to create a “track trap” area paralleling the perimeter fencing that shows tracks and disturbances (sign). A track trap is simply an area of soft material that takes and holds a footprint. Traps are often naturally occurring with material like sand or soft dirt but may have to be worked up with hand tools or heavier equipment to be able to “take” a track. Regular perimeter checks, followed by brushing out the track traps as required, will enable security teams to be alerted to the presence of potential infiltrators. If foot traffic tracks are found, tracking teams can often “back-track” the line of sign to the insertion point – either a drop off site or staging area where vehicles are parked. Information such as “how many people were involved,” the time of the activity, and the number of vehicles involved, etc. can often be figured out. With this knowledge, a threat assessment can be made, and a plan of action developed...such as setting up surveillance, perimeter hardening, law enforcement involvement, etc.  

While working as a Loss Prevention Officer at an open pit coal mine in south eastern British Columbia, I discovered two uncontrolled entry points providing unauthorized access to the mine property.  With either route, anyone could gain access from a public paved highway to the mines’ service roads. Once inside the perimeter, trespassers could move about largely undetected. Especially if they had inside knowledge on where to go and how to act.

Once the unauthorized access points were identified, it was relatively easy to determine the types of vehicles gaining access to the mine property and the volume of traffic. On every shift I would count tire tracks and photograph the tread patterns in the soft dirt (track trap). By raking the area clean of tracks and disturbances each time, I was assured of fresh details every day. It was truly amazing the amount of unauthorized traffic using these routes. Based on the identified tread patterns, there appeared to be a few regular users and numerous random trespassers. As well, most of the tracks indicated light duty pick up style vehicles - not heavy transport types. This information helped us determine the activities of the infiltrators.

At another mine site in Canada’s Yukon Territory, prior to being trained as a tracker, I was involved in investigating substantial financial losses by what appeared to be systematic looting of mine property. Coincidentally, an observation post (OP) was found just outside the perimeter fence at a natural vantage point. It appeared that the OP was not connected to the theft ring but was part of a separate industrial espionage operation. The investigation team did not find the observation post; it was reported by a hunter with keen observation skills. However, if any of the investigators had tracking skills at the time, we may have been able to learn a lot more about the espionage group from the tracks and disturbances at the observation post. As a post script, this mine site was under siege from more than one group. Continued investigation also uncovered internal sabotage and agitated worker unrest. 

The bottom line is that tracker training provides industrial security personnel a huge advantage. Trackers are trained to establish a “base line” – a visual impression of what is normal, then observe and identify disturbances and anomalies (clues). Once the clues are identified, trained trackers can often follow the line of sign, providing the security teams with the information required to help prevent bad people from causing mayhem or loss to legitimate industry.

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