Whilst it may seem obvious that on a gold mine the highest priority and focus is on the protection of gold, however, there are numerous other areas, activities, and assets that need physical security considerations. Sometimes, even greater priority than the gold itself.
The very nature of a gold mining site means the there are many and varied geographical locations ranging from above ground, below ground, accommodation areas, the mill, stockpiles and many more. The problem with many sites and security management plans is that they treat all these geographical areas the same, regardless of the criticality or continuity metrics such as minimal permissible outage time.
All gold mining sites should have a master security overlay, highlighting exactly where the high, medium and low-value assets, activities and resources are located This should be compiled with consultation from operations, admin, finance and senior leadership. Only then should the commencement or improvement of an overall master security plan be undertaken. This will ensure that the highest attention and resources are concentrated where they are most valuable and will ensure the reduction of unnecessary and costly countermeasures in other areas.
At some point, management like to buy “toys”. Those items that have a high visibility footprint, people can proudly point to and say “I recommended that” but limited security management value. This can range from fencing, bulletproof refuge huts, guard towers, CCTV and other technical and non-technical means. These purchases or approvals are not supported by a security management plan and are rarely proposed by security professionals. They are “comfort” decision, in the wake of a concern, blood rush or incident that makes the management reconsider its own safety, etc. This can be compounded by new management that consistently refer to “how we had it at XX site”, resulting in the procurement of equipment possibly required at the past site but not this one. If you want to save money and improve security management on a gold mine/site, eliminate these impulse purchases.
The manner in which gold is produced will also influence the physical security design and composition. Ensure that the plan supports the business operations and functionally required, not simply transposed over a physical area. Nothing upsets employees and management faster than having to succumb to yet another frivolous security countermeasure for the sheer purpose of demonstrating physical security visibility over impact and benefit. The loss time sacrifice should also be calculated, which may result in a less intrusive solution but which is more cost effective.
In the review and development of a large-scale gold mining operation in Africa that I was supporting, there was consistent theft, illegal access, and ingress issues. The solution introduced and subsequently followed for many years, almost to the point of “but we have always done it this way” was robbing operations and contractors of up to 30 hours of production operating time….each day! However, the alternatives were far superior from the perspective of security management, less costly to acquire and run, not to mention improving safety monitoring and support for personnel in the field. Senior management didn’t understand the folly and were determined to stick to the “old plan” even though everyone had long forgotten why it was done this particular way in the first place. All industrial and commercial security actions should be measured in economic terms, to CAPEX and OPEX.
There is always a temptation to fill natural areas with fences. Sharp fences, high fences, dual fences and big solid gates. The problem with this “build a wall” and siege mentality is that fences quickly deteriorate, get overgrown, can be walked around, climbed under or erosion following rains leaves them meters above the ground anyway. If any physical security countermeasure is not monitored and/or checked routinely then it will be far less effective. When it comes to the cost appreciation process for fences, the question should always be “what are the most critical resources I need to protect”, then consider a fence just for that area.
The final physical security management plan should be documented, outlining all the critical and valuable areas, the stationing of personnel, standards for procurement/construction, supporting operational procedures and even the appreciation/assessment that went into the development in the plan in the first instance. It should then form part of the gold mining operations risk management resources and business continuity guides.