Technology Gets Wired

Aug 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Stephanie Silk

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A large water treatment facility in Southern California has to protect a 25-million-gallon reservoir with three drinking water walls, 7 tons of chlorine and 10,000 gallons of propane. Vulnerability is extremely high, and a 6-foot wall with barbed wire isn't enough protection.

According to the utilities manager, the facility installed an outdoor perimeter intrusion detection system (PIDS) from Zareba Security, Minneapolis, that integrates with existing security cameras and system controls along with Zareba's standard fencing system, the Guard Tower. Since the facilities are unmanned, the water treatment agency needed a system that pinpointed a problem immediately if it occurred. “Our cameras are now always running, but not recording. So any time there is a [problem], cameras go to that zone automatically and record,” the utilities manager says.

Since installing the system, no one has tried to break in.“We have had one system for a year and a half. We just installed another one and we are installing two more soon,” the utilities manager says. “We are going to secure all 19 facilities that cover a 9-mile area.”

The facility wanted a better “early warning” against intrusion, including detection of movement from several feet away, monitoring outdoor surveillance and taking motion detection photographs. Such perimeter security is an all-important first line of protection for many companies — today more than ever as terrorism scenarios continue to keep security professionals awake at night. Yesterday's no-tech fences and low-tech motion sensors are increasingly giving way to a higher level of innovation at the perimeter.

“We have had one system for a year and a half. We just installed another one and we are installing two more soon,” the utilities manager says. “We are going to secure all 19 facilities that cover a 9-mile area.”

The facility wanted a better “early warning” against intrusion, including detection of movement from several feet away, monitoring outdoor surveillance and taking motion detection photographs. Such perimeter security is an all-important first line of protection for many companies — today more than ever as terrorism scenarios continue to keep security professionals awake at night. Yesterday's no-tech fences and low-tech motion sensors are increasingly giving way to a higher level of innovation at the perimeter.

What the property needs

Perimeter security systems on the market have a variety of features, and system design is specific to the property being protected. Bob Kirkaldie, director of marketing and sales for Southwest Microwave Inc., Tempe, Ariz., a provider of electronic perimeter intrusion detection systems, says there are several technologies more commonly used. “Fence sensors, which have been around since the 1960s, are the most common. There are about 10 different manufacturers of them worldwide, and they use different types of technology,” he says. The kinds of technology used to detect climbing and/or cutting through vibration are acoustic, fiber optic and radio frequency (RF).

“Twenty years ago, fence sensors were zone-based, meaning only a 300-ft. section of the fence was assigned to detect,” he says. “About 10 years ago, Southwest Microwave came out with software to locate intrusions. So now instead of having to buy more sensors to cover more zones, you just have to buy software, making it low-cost.” Users of fence sensors are mainly industrial and commercial properties as well as government and the military.

Fence sensors can be combined with microwave sensors, what Kirkaldie calls the second most widely used form of perimeter intrusion detection. This system dates back to the 1970s and consists of a transmitter that shoots out a pattern like light on a beam. A receiver then looks back in the direction and lines up, captures the signal and detects the pattern's height and width. “This detects people crawling on ground and can cover long distances,” Kirkaldie says. “It is used in military and government applications because it uses a radio frequency as phones do, so dust, sun and heat do not affect it.”

A third commonly used system is buried cables or “leaky coax.” A transmitter and cable are buried, and the cable leaks out RF energy. It's suitable for uneven terrain and because it is volumetric and, not to mention, invisible, it's better for higher security. “With a fence sensor, you have to actually touch the fence. With leaky coax, you can't avoid it,” Kirkaldie says.

Other properties where systems are used include broadcasting and transmitter stations, utilities, water treatment facilities, power plants, car dealerships and truck yards. And now the country is seeing a bigger shift to airports and ports because of the threat of terrorism. Other systems include fiber optic, taut-wire systems and CCTV surveillance.

Intersection of threat, budget and value

Steve Kovacs, director of business development for Zareba Security, suggests a theory for finding the right type of perimeter security system. “You draw three circles intersecting with each other. They represent budget, threat and the value of what you are protecting. Those three things dictate what a customer needs for a system,” he says. For instance, a car lot — whose budget may be low, whose threat is local teenagers and whose value is vehicles — would need a different system than a nuclear power plant, which has an unlimited budget, whose threat is terrorism and whose asset value is priceless.

Another example: “For a prison, there are layers to keep people out and stop people from leaving. If there are three fences, one needs to identify boundary, another can detect escapees and the last can be electrified,” Kovacs says. On the other hand, for a simple gate or driveway, a photobeam system may be sufficient. A photobeam — which consists of a tube that has light rays that release an alarm when one is broken — works for areas of 20 or less feet and is a useful tool to detect vehicle movement in or out of an area.

Arthur Birch, president and CEO of ECSI International Inc., Clifton, N.J., says that no matter what system is chosen, each property needs a threat assessment first. “No system will act the same from one site to another. Each site should be assessed before an installation is recommended to address a perceived threat because every site is affected by environmental conditions that vary from area to area,” Birch says.

Addressing environmental conditions

False alarms and nuisance alarms, including those caused by environmental conditions, are a perpetual challenge facing perimeter intrusion detection systems. A false alarm, which may be electronic or weather-induced, may be avoided using systems appropriate for various regions of the country. For example, in the Southern United States — below the “snow belt” — users do not have to worry about snow, ice and other inclement winter weather affecting fencing systems. For these areas, Kovacs says, companies have developed fence alternatives that do not require strong weather-resistance. But the infamously snow-clad Minnesota, where Zareba is headquartered, needs a different system.

Nuisance alarms are apparent intruders that are harmless (e.g. animals, maintenance workers) and are a little harder to avoid. “We can't solve the problem of determining whether or not an alarm was generated by a deer or a person,” Kovacs says. “But where our technology falls short, we integrate another technology to combine and form a better product.”

Picking a product: What's best

The Zareba Guard Tower is a matrix wire array guard system suitable for a situation where an intruder might climb in or an escapee might climb out. It offers detection and deterrence by taking four wires and stretching them into a line, with each wire being 3-in. apart. The wires attach to a vertical post, which senses for deflection of the wire. When the wire is deflected to around two to three inches, the alarm will sound. It sends a signal back to the control system that is manned by security guards, identifying where the intrusion took place within 40 ft.

The system, which can attach to a wall or stand alone, is broken into three categories of security, based on the three-circle system, Kovacs says. “Category 3 is for someone with a limited budget. Category 2 jumps up to the next level and identifies a breach point within fewer feet. Category 1 will tie in a CCTV system so that we can identify an exact place. In Category 1, we can also electrify the fence,” he says.

But Kovacs says the most constant challenge for an effective perimeter detection system is trying to get people to keep it on at all times. “Your guards are only going to put up with turning off an alarm because of a bird a few times before they are tired of running out to verify that it was just a bird. I would say probably 70 percent of systems have been turned off for these reasons. In the end, people pay a lot of money for better systems for this reason,” he says.

Keith Harman, vice president of engineering for Senstar Stellar Corp., Carp, Ontario, says a company studying their budget before implementing a perimeter intrusion detection system should consider the option of buried cable protection.

Senstar offers OmniTrax, a covert outdoor perimeter intrusion detection sensor consisting of an electromagnetic cable a quarter-mile long that is placed in two 9-in.-deep trenches filled with soil and sand. A signal goes down the cable, and energy leaks out and creates an invisible electromagnetic field. A parallel receive-cable then receives the energy, and when a person walks in proximity to cables, it causes a reflection, telling the guard in the command center how far down cable that intruder is. The accuracy of location is within a little over a yard.

OmniTrax is used in federal prisons in Canada to stop people from leaving, and on military bases to stop people from coming in. Senstar's first customer was Correctional Service Canada, and Harman says that prior to installing their systems, they had guarded everything with people. “When they installed our buried cables, they removed all guards from towers. They moved guards to control rooms and to roving perimeter vehicles. An official for them has said in almost 30 years of experience, there has not been one undetected escape. [The criminals] may have gotten out other ways, but not through our system,” he says.

When using OmniTrax, guards in designated command centers can use software to turn on “zones” within the cables. The software provides a graphic map of the perimeter. When an alarm goes off, the intruded zone goes from green to red, and a dot is placed where the intrusion is taking place. “The threat is detected and located, then we point cameras, and the guard assesses,” Harman says. “On the screen, there are softkeys that guide the guard through how he/she should respond. If he sees an intruder, he can alert a response force and take appropriate action. If he sees it's just a maintenance man, he'll typically put the zone in ‘access,’ meaning it is okay for that person to be there and the zone turns yellow. If he can see that nothing was there and there was no threat, he can press ‘reset’ and the red line turns green,” Harman says.

Because his product isn't based on acoustics, Harman says weather isn't an issue. “Frost, snow, ice and rain have no effect. Buried cables based on acoustic properties are less successful because those environmental conditions may change the sound,” he says. But there are situations to avoid. “We don't like standing water or water running over cables. There is a place for all of these, but the trick is to know the benefits and features of each of them and work accordingly.”

Kirkaldie says that though there are a few acoustic buried cable products on the market, they aren't usually the best route to take. “They tend to have application difficulties. [Southwest Microwave] used to offer one, but even if truck drives by, it will detect that. Most of it has fallen out of favor of general market, and that's where RF cable comes in because it's not strictly pressure-based,” he says. “[Acoustic systems are not] sold much in the United States, and unfortunately, those who do purchase them probably weren't informed of the downsides of the product.”

A major component of perimeter detection — CCTV — is still high on the most-wanted list of security systems. Larry Barfield, vice president of Government Programs for SightLogix Inc., Princeton, N.J., says there is no question of its importance. “Automation is more and more important as we move into future,” Barfield says. SightSensor — SightLogix's 3rd generation video analytic perimeter detection system — is just entering the marketplace.

The goal of SightSensor is to create a stable image. This, according to Barfield, is the biggest struggle with outdoor video analytics. “Sudden wind or even a train vibration can shift the stability of the platform. We understood that from day one, and we now provide an image stabilization routine that is built into the camera,” he says.

SightSensor also corrects for lighting and shadows, often a problem with outdoor recording. Everything from car headlights to clouds casting shadows can be corrected. Yet one of the most innovative features is that it geo-registers the camera, the scene and the policies. Providing those locations in GPS format opens up a wide methodology of deployment. “It can be parallel to a fence line, looking down from fence line, looking at fence line from building — we place it wherever budget provides. And with the command center connected to it, it's a new step for video analytics because it is operable with existing security systems.”

SightSensor is usually deployed in critical infrastructure properties, such as facilities for telecommunications, energy, financial services, manufacturing, water, transportation, healthcare and agriculture. “It's mostly used for unmanned locations without great signals. With our product, we don't care how it gets back to the control center, the quality of the network isn't an issue,” Barfield says.

ECSI's product, FOIDS, a CCTV-integrated fiber-optic intelligence system that has been around for 12 years, is another option for critical infrastructures. Birch says his company's product was originally developed for the military community. “The government wanted a perimeter security system that had no power on the fence to eliminate any possibility of a spark that could result in an explosion,” he says.

The system works by mounting an inert fiber-optic cable on a fence and installing cabling from the fenceline back to a control center. The fiber-optic processors are mounted in rack assembly, and then integrated with a computer that has software used to train each of the fiber-optic zones at the perimeter to detect only the lifting, cutting or climbing of the fence. This is done by developing algorithms and signatures for each environmental condition that could adversely affect the performance of the system. The only signature the guard then looks for is lifting of the fence.

“This system can be applied to any type of fence, wall or ceiling and can be buried in ground. It works for being mounted on fencing because it is specially designed to prevent climbing,” Birch says.

Seeking a change at the border

Perimeter security is in the news as border protection along our Southern border with Mexico dominates headlines. Does technology have a role to play? “The big challenge with border security is cost,” Kovacs says. “[Zareba's] system would work well, but I don't know that it would fit the bill. Low-cost solutions exist, but hundreds of miles is a lot,” he says. He also says it's all about the layered approach, too. “Just a single fence will not do a good job. Beefy fencing isn't working in spots already. [Immigrants] cut or burn through it.”

Harman is confident that buried cable could work for the border, but contends it can't stand alone. “You would need fence sensors as well, and you would need to demark the border so that casual persons don't affect the cables.”

CCTV is a viable option too, Barfield contends. “Our product would fit in at borders with no existing infrastructure. It would also work at ports with complex environments and moving things and people.”

Up and coming

In the world of technology, progress often offers benefits of simplicity, cost-effectiveness and classification. Zareba is working on a simpler approach to physical barriers and trying to incorporate wireless technology that requires less power. Senstar Stellar sees a need for integrated sensors to make cost-effective solutions more prominent.

And SightLogix is looking for facilities to have a more active role in detecting breaches before they occur, as opposed to during. But Barfield says it will take human judgment, not a computer, to do that. “What we have learned is that classification in targets is the next big thing. Right now, we can do some classification of objects based on size, shape and speed. But there is a big consensus that a machine will not ever be able to do what a human can do. Is what your machine detected an actual bear — or a terrorist dressed as a bear? Humans exercise judgment, and we will always need that,” he says.

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