Keeping massive mine sites secure from intruders poses large logistical and technological challenges for northeastern Nevada miners.
Mark Lee, regional security director for North America for Newmont Mining Corp., says the vastness of northeastern Nevada mine sites creates operational barriers to normal security measures, such as regular patrols. It's not economically feasible to have a security force constantly patrolling mine sites, Lee says; instead, security personnel rely on a variety of technologies and access controls to ensure the safety of mine site facilities and workers.
A primary challenge is to ensure that technology, safety procedures and mine site personnel all are integrated in every facet of a security program no small feat considering the hundreds of personnel on site each day and the varied operations of a working mine. Site security measures also are different for the many on-site facilities, such as crushing and refinery areas.
In some ways, keeping the more sensitive areas, such as refinery operations, secure is much easier because they are limited in size and can be wired for alarms and cameras and are constantly monitored.
"If someone tries to access a certain area that alarm activates a jammer and the control room becomes aware," Lee says. "But we keep a good handle on the folks coming in. One of the biggest things is keeping people off site because of the hazards and chemicals."
Randy Reichert, chief operating officer of Yukon Nevada Gold Corp. of Vancouver, which operates the Jerritt Canyon mine in Elko County through its subsidiary, Queenstake Resources, says the biggest challenge for most mining companies is internal theft of small amounts of gold before it gets into the fold for transport by armored truck. It's much less of a risk for Carlin-type operations, which mine tons of ore for millimeter sized-flakes that are recovered through cyanide leaching operations.
Refinery operations have thorough security checks, such as metal scanners, security wands and multiple layers of security checkpoints. Jerritt Canyon is in the process of installing significantly more equipment, such as cameras, alarms, and magnetic logs to beef up its security system, Reichert says.
Hunting season brings additional security risks at the Jerritt Canyon mine site, Reichert notes, since portions of the Jerritt Canyon mine are located on land operated by the U.S. Forest Service and are open to elk and bird hunters each season. Security teams focus on outlying roads and barricade sensitive areas.
Just getting on a mine site is no mean feat, notes Mary Korpi, communications director for Newmont. Workers and vendors must have an ID card and complete a 40-hour training course administered by the Mine Safety and Health Administration and an annual refresher course.
Mine sites also follow strict security measured outlined by the Department of Homeland Security for the Critical Manufacturing Sector, Lee says.
"We do have critical assets," he says. "We have a 243-megawatt power plant and substations, rail assets and other transportation assets. We have a wide array of assets that we protect. You design protective measures around those assets that are critical to business."
It's also quite difficult to ensure company-wide security, Lee says. Newmont has four major operating mine sites, many with multiple mines such as its Carlin, Twin Creeks, Midas, and Phoenix operations running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The company employs several thousand workers.
"One of the biggest challenges is making sure we are staying in tune with the operations," Lee says. "We need to be aware of changes so we can adapt to operations and make sure system integration is functioning 100 percent of the time. We are moving so fast and have so many facilities throughout Nevada that it's difficult staying abreast of all the numerous projects."
Like a covert operation, intelligence-gathering helps define security risks that could affect business, Lee says. Part of the training Newmont's security force receives comes through an partnership with the Nevada Threat Analysis Center in Carson City. Newmont employees are drilled in terrorism threat analysis, surveillance and protection methods over a two-day course conducted on site.
"It's a great benefit to the security department," Lee says. "Without information, as a security function, you might as well bury your head in the sand because you can't see what is out there. It starts with information, and from that information you get an idea of what the threat landscape and risks are, and you develop a security program based off those risks.
Jim Lopey, terrorism liaison coordinator for the Nevada Threat Analysis Center, says training includes teaching Newmont staff about pre-incident indicators, or things to look for if someone is planning some type of attack.
"If there is someone that is coming onto the property or surveying the property and is attempting to plan a criminal or terrorist event, they know what to look for and know if they do see something suspicious to report it to the proper authorities," Lopey says.
Yukon Nevada's Reichert says security measures are self-policing as well. The threat of losing a lucrative mining salary keeps employees honest, he says. However, employees who deal with millions and millions of dollars of gold on weekly or daily basis are always staring at temptation, he says.