In mineral-rich South Africa, mining is an important part of the GDP employing nearly half a million people, notes Vanessa Tyne, Senior KAM & Team Lead at Axis. Considering that the sector consists of diamonds, gold, platinum, and coal, it is easy to understand why local mining operations invest heavily in security technology to protect workers and prevent intrusion and theft during active mining. But what happens when the mine closes?
Historically, it was common practice to simply abandon a mine when it became no longer profitable. In fact, according to a report from the Auditor General, South Africa alone has an estimated 6 000 abandoned mines. And while this number is still relatively small when compared to other major mine producing countries, these do pose significant environmental challenges.
Abandoned mines generate large volumes of acid mine drainage, tailings, waste, and other contaminants that pollute local air, soil, and water sources. They also pose a personal safety risk for anyone tempted to snoop around in the hopes of finding a forgotten gemstone or gold nugget lying about. Just consider risks like falling down a mine shaft, drowning in an open pit, or getting trapped in a sinkhole.
This has prompted much tougher regulation on post-mine closure rehabilitation with the International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) developing guidelines for responsible mine closure to help companies address the economic, environmental, and social aspects thereof.
Adherence to these guidelines and the adoption of progressive sustainability practices in overall mining operations have become a competitive differentiator for an increasing number of environmentally conscious and CSR-minded consumers. Additionally, any major mining-related incident can result in not only financial liability but significant reputational damage as well.
A matter of security
Considering that closed mines pose such a meaningful risk to operations, mining companies must continue their investment in safety and security during post-mine closure rehabilitation. And while the security risks during this phase are like those in active mining (intrusion, theft, sabotage, and personal safety), the technology must be updated to match the change in post-mining focus.
This is particularly true for the video surveillance system.
During active mining, these are designed to monitor a site with a high level of activity. Cameras need to have high resolution in order to clearly identify people and vehicles – monitoring site activity and safety compliance with a high level of detail. Anti-vibration technology is needed to maintain a smooth and steady image as heavy vehicles move large volumes of rock and ore. The infrastructure more readily supports a high level of power and bandwidth consumption, and there are adequate security resources on hand to troubleshoot or re-position a camera if needed.
During the post-mine closure phase, companies become more dependent on technology given how manpower resources are scaled back to skeleton staff. Previously, a high level of activity provided a natural intrusion deterrent, but now companies become increasingly reliant on thermal-based intrusion protection technology to secure vast, remote perimeters. And the quality of the video analytics must be extremely good, as false alarms in these remote areas can be costly.
With the shift in focus from monitoring resource extraction to visualising site rehabilitation, cameras must be re-positioned. Furthermore, low-light, infra-red, and wide dynamic range (WDR) technology are increasingly important to ensure that a darkened mine shaft is properly filled.
And then there are challenges around power supply, bandwidth, and storage that may arise as the site infrastructure is dismantled. It is therefore important to work with vendors and physical security professionals who can provide reliable surveillance in the absence of a physical network, and who offer products that minimise power and bandwidth consumption.
A surveillance solution that encompasses all this not only provides the network infrastructure needed to support effective remote monitoring, its portable design makes it easy to deploy in remote and rugged terrain. It also simplifies relocating or repurposing the hardware to keep pace with the changing monitoring needs of the site.
A new environment
Embracing these more agile technology solutions enable mines to mitigate against much of the risks typically associated with closures. Companies can avoid loss of life and costly downtime. This makes them much better positioned to fulfil their land restoration commitments to support sustainable socio-economic possibilities in post-mining communities.
As mining companies continue to explore innovative ways to increase profits, minimise environmental impact and reduce job hazards, the possibility for automation and video surveillance applications will continue to grow.