To the outsider, the protection and preservation of gold may seem obvious when it comes to gold mining security. However, the issue is far more complex that you might initially perceive, with gold and other valuable metals found in varying forms, concentrations, and accessibility throughout the gold mining enterprise. It is also worth remembering that gold and the resale of gold product is a relatively technical skill, so there are many other items, resources and “stuff” on a gold mine that are just as, if not more “valuable” than gold, therefore requiring a commensurate amount of consideration and supporting security management.
The mining lease and geographical area of a gold mine is most likely expansive, with main and secondary gold deposits located around the area of operations. Not all these areas may be accessible or currently being mined, but they are there, which is the primary reason for a gold mine being there in the first place.
It is rarely a coincidence that illegal miners and other stakeholders happen to be accessing, digging and even mining in exactly the locations considerate valuable to the gold mining entity. They may even be the first to mine an area as it is not yet on the mining schedule for extraction and access. These types of activities may also be undertaken in the what the experts consider “illogical” locations too. The main factor to consider is economics and concentration. It may not be profitable for the gold mining company to mine a location or specific deposit because of their economic model and profitability from such small, disassociated locations. However, it could be very, very profitable for a few individuals to extract just what they need, with less operational overheads, in order to be extremely profitable. If everyone also pools their results or the activities are run by a cohort, the percentage returns and profitability can even be higher than that of the gold mining company itself. This is why illegal mining in low economic areas/countries will always have an element or desire for digging where they might find a high-yield, low-cost expenditure, means of putting food on the table.
The security strategy needs to evaluate all these factors and geographical considerations in order to determine an effective, commercial response to the threat. However, caution is advised on just focusing exclusively on this one facet or over capitalizing on the threat, relative to the returns and benefits of doing so.
How convenient, the mine went to all the time, cost and effort to pile the gold-laden dirt where it is much easier to access and steal. This is how some perceive the opportunity, depending upon where the stockpile reserves are held in relative terms to the physical security of the site.
Stockpiles are traditionally based upon concentration or forecasted yield such as “low” and “high”, with the latter usually placed under enhanced scrutiny or security measures. The problem is that this yield forecast and valuation is purely internal and often relates to the “production” volume of gold to soil, not taking into consideration that there can be very high concentrations, even large nuggets present in both low and high-value stockpiles. This is not measurable or considered by most gold mining sites as they deal with such big numbers but it is exactly the economic consideration taken by thieves and profiteers.
Never assume your highest value and greatest losses are most probable, just in your “high” grade stockpiles. You could be losing thousands, even millions of dollars of profit, all because your calculations rate the soil as less than profitable per ton, whereas illegal miners and thieves can make tidy profits, even from just a few minutes around stockpiles with alluvial and large gold vein deposits.
Tailings and Other Deposits
Slurry, liquid gold deposits, and even waste are routinely pumped around the site. Again, just a little bit of this product can be very profitable for thieves and illegal miners. Entire criminal enterprises may even be configured just to focus on this aspect of the site, as it requires little to no gold exploration, mining or identification expertise. I have experienced entire villages spring up on or around pipelines, dams and other liquid deposits, with individuals making significant monies from cutting or illegally accessing these pipelines.
Pipelines can be long, complex, interwoven and be placed either above or below ground. This makes for physical security management challenges, not to mention the terrain may be less than ideal and the protective requirement is for both night and day, not just during business hours. Ensure you evaluate the problem sufficiently before engaging and deploying personnel, technology, systems and other protective security measures as you may yet again overcapitalize or merely transfer the risk/problem to another area.
If the gold mining enterprise has adequate security control measures than the volume and demographic of those with access to anywhere within the mill or processing areas should be significantly reduced and at least “controlled”. This is not always the case though. This includes any and all laboratory or quality control/checks throughout the process.
Gold and other valuable metals are present from the crusher, roaster, conveyor, drum mill, gravity feed all the way up to the time it is channeled into the gold room. Operations, maintenance, contractors and other personnel have valid and approved access to many of these areas on a daily basis, with the opportunity for not just a single theft of gold product but the establishment of a longer, more strategic approach of siphoning off small amounts over a prolonged time, for very high returns. This means that the security effort is not just in place for single, large loss events but often very small, even minute losses over longer periods. This requires different systems and mechanisms to protect against both options.
Given the technical and complex nature of gold extraction, it requires a degree of the technical comprehension of both security management and security guards. This is mandatory. The threat that then needs to also be countered is that with greater, more detailed knowledge, an insider threat may present from your security and guard force management also.
Gold rooms are a strange beast. So much time, money and focus goes into these things when so many have basic, even simple flaws that can and often do result in loss. The gold room is in essence, where the gold, silver, etc comes into the operational confines of a facility best designed to extract, refine and prepare the gold for shipment in the form of dore/gold bars. As a result, there is gold and gold residue all over the place, in addition to high concentrations of gold and precious metals both inside and outside the facility until a pour is conducted. However, humans have to come and go on a routine basis, including toilet breaks, in order to operate the facility. It isn’t and can’t be fully automated. So many “security purists” all but lock these facilities down with the notion that not even a cockroach can get in without detection, but as I noted before, simple procedures, maintenance, technical reviews and even human error account for most of the actual threats or risk. Despite the “security theater” that is visible or on display.
Better comprehension and review of gold rooms is often required, to fully understand the workflow, gold concentrations, operational process and how all of this can be best supported with ‘smarter’ security designs, management and strategy.
Once the gold is refined and ready for transport in bars/dore, everyone gets excited. It is the monetary result of all the hard work and efforts to date. It glitters! When laid out in all its glory, some people get “gold fever” and their basic thinking is altered. The fact remains that you have to transport it now to get it to where it can be refined and ultimately sold or valued according to market prices.
Gold transportation can be an easy fix, with numerous outsource providers that assume the liability and risk, the problem however, is that a lot of people become complacent with the process, which invites exploitation. The whole “pomp and ceremony” is also a great way to undermine all your security efforts by clearly stating to the world you are about to ship your prize asset.
Gold transportation is particular and specific part of the security management agenda. It needs to be adequately segmented, prioritised and manage. If not, what is the whole point of going to all the effort to only loose the finished product due to laziness or rudimentary mistakes.
The higher the value, the better class of criminal you attract. Beware.
Nearly everything in varying quantities is “valuable” to poor people in poor economies. It isn’t just cash or gold that is worth value to humans; it can be fuel, batteries, light globes, food, tools, scrap metal, vehicles, computers, copper wire and even the rubbish can and have all been targets of thieves or profiteers on sites I have supported.
Consumables and all goods/resources need to be accounted for and inclusive of the security management agenda. This goes for services and other commercial agreements. You might be too busy celebrating your supposed physical security success, only to be hemorrhaging operational cash flow on consumables and other ‘valuables’, not covered in gold.
Most gold mines become like a Tesco/Walmart/Supermarket to local populations. Everyone wants to shop there and if they can get it for free…all the better. It all adds up and it affects your bottom line. Don’t just focus on the shiny product.