Wichita’s High Tech Solution to Preventing Copper Theft

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The City of Wichita, Kansas had a problem with copper being taken from street poles and underground conduits in city-owned facilities and public parks, according to GovTech Biz. City leaders turned to an Internet-of-Things device to remedy the situation: sensors in the poles for around $30 per site. It’s an idea that other markets might consider as more small cell infrastructure is installed on poles.

“People would come in in the middle of the night, cut the main service lines where the power companies would drop off the main connection point, and then … they’d either clip the other lines and then pull by hand, or they’d hook up a Jeep or truck winch and pull the copper by force,” Smart City Coordinator Michael Barnett said. Barnett told GovTech Biz, the level of theft around Wichita would increase in proportion to tariffs on copper and the subsequent rise in its price. He said the larceny cost the city over $100,000 in damages in 2018.  

A local IoT company, Viaanix, was contacted by the city and provided the installation of sensors costing $25-$35 placed on underground junction boxes and street lights at common theft locations. The city and Viaanix worked with local emergency dispatch to connect the sensors to a 911 line, so they’d automatically call police when one of the boxes or light poles was opened without authorization, GovTech Biz reported.

Viaanix CEO Jatin Talreja said the city used VE LoRa Beacon and VX-BLS, both anti-theft devices with onboard sensors to detect movement, orientation change and vibrations. They detect movement and offer algorithms that can sense if it is being done with a theft-like motion. If so, the sensor automatically contacts 911 with the time, nature and location of the incident.

“You can use them indoors or outdoors to detect all kinds of theft. You can also do corrective maintenance for machinery to see how many hours it has run … and the devices could be retrofitted with any sensor needed,” Talreja told GovTech Biz. “If someone needed to see how much their air conditioner is running, we could do that … or if somebody wants to know how fast a motor is running. All of our hardware is modular, which means the customers can get their IoT solution packaged in one total solution.”

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