Copper thieves target ground vaults for one simple reason: they are a central distribution center for wires where many long runs of large wire come together. When a thief hits a full ground vault, they get the most wire for the least effort. There are many options to prevent this theft, some better than others.
The simplest way to prevent copper theft is to hide the ground vaults which can be done by placing bushes around the vault or letting plant overgrow the vault. The vault can also be covered with a thin layer of dirt or wood chips. However; one problem is, ground vaults must be originally placed in a planter or green belt. A larger problem, coming from my experience as a lighting technician, is these options hide the ground vaults from maintenance personal. When there is a problem with the underground wire, be it a loose wire nut, conduit broken by landscaping, or stolen copper from a light pole, the electrician now must spend hours tracing the runs and digging in the planters to find the vault.
The next option is to fill the conduit with an epoxy to permanently bond the wire to the pipe. This still leaves wire connections vulnerable to be cut and tampered with. Using this method, there are still complaints of thieves cutting the wire and trying to pull it. Hopefully the remaining wire is long enough to reconnect, if not, a new conduit must be installed to replace the epoxied pipe. Similar to epoxy, some contractors have resorted to filling the vault with foam or building a false floor above the wires and filling the box with concrete. We have even seen a city using a front loader to place a boulder over the ground vault. These options prevent outright theft of the wires but make maintenance nearly impossible.
A better option is a pull box or ground vault insert. This is a a secondary lid that secures above the wire connections, but does not impede the traditional lid. Usually, there is a set of brackets that secure to the walls of the box or hook under the shell of the vault. The lid hooks into and secures to these brackets and is secured with some form of a lock. Based on the current market, we found theMcCain, Inc. Vandal Resistant Pull Box Insert. This insert is simple to install with new ground vaults but can dirt or gravel may need to be removed if the vault is already backfilled. They are designed for traffic signal and electric vaults. One problem with this design is that it decreases the available space in the vault. Because the cover fits below the traditional cover, the fit does not need to be perfect, but it will be difficult to use with a shallow or full box.
Another option is simpler than an insert, a locking replacement cover. A locking ground vault lid replaces the existing lid, and engages the incorporated locking mechanism. Within this design we found the Jensen Mattel Tech LockLid. This lid directly replaces the ground vault lid and is secured with a patented locking mechanism. A problem with this design is the need for their special driver key, making it difficult to give contractors access when needed. This can be solved with a key box holding the bit. Because this is a direct replacement, the lid must be an exact match for the box but, most standard sizes are manufactured.
Even with these options, nothing will prevent thieves from digging around the vault to get to the conduit. However the insert and locking lid are the best deterrents on the market. Incorporating a locking solution may be more expensive than filling the box with foam, but it will be greatly appreciated when any maintenance is needed in the future.
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