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Member since May 2011 · 2461 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Subject: Stealing manhole covers: A worrisome shift.
Bruce Schneier writes about security and related topics.  Recently he posted an article he wrote for The Guardian, about how rising commodity prices (lead, copper etc) are making our infrastructer attractive to thieves.  The important bit from Schneier's article:

Quote by Bruce Schneier:
These crimes are a harbinger of the future: evolutionary pressure on our society, if you will. Criminals are often referred to as social parasites; they leech off society but provide no useful benefit. But they are an early warning system of societal changes. Unfettered by laws or moral restrictions, they can be the first to respond to changes that the rest of society will be slower to pick up on. In fact, currently there's a reprieve. Scrap metal prices are all down from last year's—copper is currently $1.62 per pound, and lead is half what Berge got—and thefts are down along with them.

We've designed much of our infrastructure around the assumptions that commodities are cheap and theft is rare. We don't protect transmission lines, manhole covers, iron fences, or lead flashing on roofs. But if commodity prices really are headed for new higher stable points, society will eventually react and find alternatives for these items—or find ways to protect them. Criminals were the first to point this out, and will continue to exploit the system until it restabilizes.

Everything changes when you can't leave your infrastructure unguarded.  Forget terrorists and important points of failure, our roads become incredibly dangerous without manhole covers.  Recently some new power lines were run near my father's place, and they had 24/7 security to prevent people from stealing the copper wire before it was installed.  Even after it was installed, the power lines were ensconced in concrete and laid a metre underground.  There's no way that's doing anything good to the cost of installation.

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BLEARGH
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Member since Oct 2007 · 310 posts
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The manhole cover problem is easier to address than you might think. Who would buy scrap wood that came from a coffin? Most criminals don't own wood pulpers, and most won't own smelting equipment either. The legality of buying a piece of metal that's obviously round and stamped with the name of a municipality would ordinarily be a deterrent.

I remember in the 80s that there was some talk about using a specific wavelength of microwave radiation to transmit electricity without a conductive medium. That way you would get electricity into the middle of the bush without having to lay big thick wires. If I remember correctly, the cost outweighed the possible benefits by like a factor of fifty. Maybe now that mines are running dry, that ratio is more realistic today.
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Member since May 2011 · 2461 posts · Location: Brisbane
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The article addresses both points.

Basically, there will probably always be unscrupulous buyers.  The article suggests a sting op to try and uncover any who might be buying important infrastructure.

As for the cost of raw materials, it's dropping again.  For the time being the idea of cooking animals in the bush with long-range microwave ovens is still more expensive than its worth. =)
BLEARGH
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Member since Oct 2007 · 310 posts
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At this point I wish to clarify that 'the bush' refers to a geographic area of Australia that is sparsely populated, as opposed to being a anatomical colloquialism. :)
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Member since Jan 2009 · 4 posts · Location: New Cumberland, PA USA
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[...] as opposed to being a anatomical colloquialism. :)
:-( Clicked on this for nothin'.
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