A third of the world’s mineral reserves can be found in Africa – making the continent a key player in the global mining sector. Incredible natural wealth coupled with poor living conditions of the majority of the African population foster a worrying reality. Mining projects throughout Africa are under ongoing threat. Nevertheless, the industry is constantly active and growing. As a result, mining security, which is complex, risky and multifaceted by nature, has been forced to evolve to meet demands.
To get a perspective on the importance and size of the mine security industry on the continent, let’s take a look at some numbers. The private mining security industry in South Africa alone is valued at around ZAR40 billion (approximately US$3 billion). It’s difficult to offer exact numbers, but according to expert estimations, the mining industry in the country spends roughly ZAR180 million on protection and security every month and employs around 23,000 security officers for the protection of almost 300 mines.
As the race for diminishing natural resources accelerates, mining companies are taking on more and more challenges. Physical and cyber-crime have drastically increased in the past couple of decades. Between 2007 and 2008 Shell spent nearly US$400 million securing its operations in Nigeria alone after suffering vandalism, theft, and the loss of staff members who were kidnapped and killed. In January 2013 terrorists killed 40 workers of a BP/Statoil gas installation in Algeria.
Despite the onslaught, there is a growing demand for raw materials and Although Africa’s lack of infrastructure has created a bottleneck on growth and opportunity for decades, necessity is the mother of invention and the continent is rapidly becoming a catalyst for innovation. Modernization in the mining industry is powering growth.
Mining concerns in African countries like Nigeria and South Africa have extremely high levels of production and technical proficiency, and this success is underpinned by mining security service providers. Security companies are working towards delivering broader, more cohesive and sustainable solutions to meet security risks head-on. Nigeria’s private security sector, for example, has begun working in collaboration with the local police and military forces, offering levels of safety that could not have been imagined, let alone provided in the recent past.
As for the actual mine security practices, it is safe to say that there is no one answer. The secret to top security lies in bespoke solutions that are based on rigorous research of each mine’s specific conditions, and these include much more than geography and climate data. Local culture, political tensions, crime rates and the state of the economy must also be considered in order to accurately assess probable dangers and devise effective strategies.
To deal with the complex reality of this sector security companies are increasing their investment in new technologies that are helping them refine strategies and implementation alike. They are purchasing and developing systems that enhance their officers’ ability to foresee threats and react quickly and accurately. The field devices, many of which are mobile, digitally monitor guard tours, alert the officers to perimeter violations, improve communication with on and off-location security headquarters and upgrade check-in verification. Emerging technologies like advanced GPS systems, embedded logic, smart sensors, big data based simulations and 3D visualizations are being utilized in order to tighten mine security strategies and prepare ahead.
It is an exciting time for the mining industry of the African continent, and maintaining its security is paramount to continued economic growth. In these circumstances, innovation is vital and inevitable.
Eyal Mesika is the CEO and founder of EMI Systems Limited – Security company that operates in Nigeria and Ghana