Keeping intruders off the site

Every station chief dreads that unwelcome, but almost in- evitable, telephone call telling him that someone has hung something — a fraternity flag, a piece of unmentionable clothing or something equally inappropriate — on the station tower.

A chain-link fence topped with barbed wire can effectively deter casual would-be intruders. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Corporation.)

The first worry is whether the fool who was on the tower is now on the ground in the immediate vicinity of the tower. Thankfully, some kind spirit seems to watch over these idiots to protect them from their own stupidity. Usually, the culprit is unharmed and disappears without further ado. But sometimes he doesn’t disappear, and instead must be carried away in a bucket.

The problem is that the station’s tower can present an attractive challenge to a testosterone-filled and chemically-enhanced individual. Towers bring up the challenge of expressing one’s manhood by performing a feat of derring-do — much as the knights of old would attempt to poke someone with a big stick while riding a horse — just to prove their bravery. It is even more likely to occur when the performer’s peers are present, usually equally chemically-enhanced, to cheer on the performance. Unfortunately, if some drunken fool is able to get on the tower without any difficulty and is harmed, the station may be found to be at fault.

Seek counsel

The process of securing a site and making sure that it doesn’t attract nuisance trespassers is beyond the scope of this small article. If you remember only thing at all from this article, remember to discuss the issue with the station’s local attorney — not the FCC attorney in Washington, but the local guy who is familiar with state and local laws concerning liability and how to avoid it.

These laws and regulations vary from state to state — even from city to city within the same state — and the chief engineer should make sure that the station fully complies with all laws that apply to his station. A representative of your liability insurance carrier should inspect your plant to be sure that you meet all of the requirements of the fine print on your policy. Then, get a letter from the insurance company stating that you fully meet all required security and protection requirements. This doesn’t guarantee to keep the station out of court, but it should at least give you and your insurance carrier a fighting chance.

Fence them out

FCC regulations require standard AM broadcast stations to have the towers fenced and locked. Stations can also fulfill that requirement by installing a single fence surrounding the entire site. While that will satisfy the Commission, it really isn’t enough to protect the station. A simple farm-type fence is not a significant obstacle to even the most routine attempts to enter the site, although it should discourage our nation’s youth from using the site for drinking or recreational sex. If kids really want to break into the site, they will. Such fences do little more than mark a border which, when crossed, establishes that those who have crossed it have committed the crime of trespass.

A simple farm-type fence and gate do little more than mark the border of trespass. The warning sign may offer a modicum of deterrence, or it may invite challenge, depending on the reader’s frame of mind. Photo courtesy of Richland Towers.

The usual solution is to put a chain-link fence around the base of the tower. The problem with this is that a physically capable teenager can climb such a fence easily. Placing razor wire around the top of the fence would afford a more imposing impediment. But razor wire is really nasty stuff, and using it may be questionable in some areas. At one site, the station’s attorney advised it not to use razor wire because an intruder might be significantly harmed trying to get over the fence. While the threat of serious harm might seem to be the wire’s intended deterrent, the station’s attorney worried that an intruder thus harmed might sue for damages and that a jury might award significant monetary damages. After considering this possibility, the station decided to use plain old barbed wire. This can also injure an intruder, but the attorney was much more comfortable with defending such damages.

You must make a full effort to keep people off of the tower. That includes fencing — not just the base, but also the guy points. Sufficiently motivated idiots have been known to try climbing up a guy wire. The result is always nicely ripped-up hands, sometimes arms and legs. If he — not being sexist, but girls seem to have more sense than to try this stuff — makes it far enough up the wire, the injuries can be far more serious.

Install climb guards

Any tower company will build climb guards that will make it extremely difficult for unauthorized people to get on the tower. One very simple method is to simply cover the tower faces with sheet metal to a height above which a person cannot reach from the ground. With no handholds, it is essentially impossible to climb the tower. When workers need access, they can use a ladder to reach above the guards. Stations have used various other methods over the years, primarily barbed wire and lockable gates to allow access to the tower.

Protecting the building

At a remote site, the building itself should have the normal security precautions. That should include, at least, heavy doors (preferably steel), good locks, barred windows and a good security system. Many services can provide window and door sensors that will send an alarm back to the studio through the remote-control system.

Such services can also notify local law-enforcement officials. But the problem with these services is the delay between the time the incident occurs and the time that a person arrives at the site to investigate the incident. The alarm service first notifies some far-off computer. After someone at the alarm service duly notes the alarm, he attempts to call the station to remind you to turn off the alarm. Finally, either someone at the alarm service or someone at the station calls some police-type person who will, in turn, notify some other police-type person to wander by the site at his convenience — especially if the site is miles out in the boondocks. The result is that the intruder will have enough time to haul off the transmitter, if he wants, not to mention tools, test equipment, etc. Fortunately, this doesn’t really happen often. Kids know that there is nothing to eat, drink, smoke or become friendly with in a transmitter building. And, professional thieves usually know that there is little or nothing inside the building they can fence. So the best security solutions for the building are simply good locks and bars, and a good insurance policy.

The bottom line

The goal is to provide enough security to deter someone from trying to get onto your tower and/or into your building. You cannot keep a determined and well-equipped person from breaking into a local site — much less at a remote, isolated site where the trespasser has plenty of time to work. But you can, and must, make it so difficult for entry or access that it won’t happen from a casual attempt. You might consider using razor wire, but you could end up with an intruder who bleeds to death from the cuts. This can create a far more costly situation than simply calling a rigger to remove a new flag from the tower. The decision to use razor wire is not one for the chief engineer to make alone. The station management must make this decision with full advice of legal counsel. Then, if something does go wrong, the CYA measures you’ve taken will at least keep you out of the line of fire.

Don Markley is president of D.L. Markley and Associates, Peoria, IL.

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