KEEPING ENEMIES AT THE GATE
 
KEEPING ENEMIES AT THE GATE

Jan 1, 2003 12:00 PM
by RANDY SOUTHERLAND

At a time when the "war on terror" has made everyone feel more vulnerable, the idea of perimeter security suddenly makes a lot of sense.

Constructing a system that can deter invaders at an outside fence ! before they gain entry to people or vulnerable equipment ! is the hallmark of good perimeter security.

Products and approaches for perimeter security abound. High-end volumetric sensors generate an unseen detection field that sounds an alarm when an intruder enters an area. Another option can be buried cable that is less susceptible to environmental damage or detection.

A less expensive option can be sensors that are attached to existing walls or fences. Usually made of fiber-optic cable, they can generate a "trip wire-type" field or can be set off by movements created when a fence is cut or disturbed.

Other options include video motion detection sensors that incorporate CCTV. In this case, alarms are set off when an object passes across the camera's range of view, but these systems are most effective in areas where there is no expected traffic or movement.

Some facilities choose to install a system that incorporates sensors with video and concrete barriers to create a highly effective perimeter. Perimeter sensors can be linked to an interior system or they may form the first or only line of defense at some facilities.

Sellers of outdoor CCTV, fence sensors, barriers and a host of other products say they are busier than ever. While demand is rising, however, there is more talk about strengthening perimeters than specific action ! particularly when it comes to the private sector. Government is taking the lead for now, as least as long as money for Homeland security flows from Washington.
The Basics

In many organizations ! particularly local government and infrastructure such as water treatment plants and power stations ! security is only now getting off the ground.

At a recent water infrastructure conference, Bill Evenson, president of Fremont, Calif.-based Senstar Stellar Inc. remembers telling a participant, "Before Sept. 11, we probably couldn't have interested you in an intercom for your front gate." According to Evenson, the reply was: "Before Sept. 11 we didn't have a front gate."

Evenson, like many providers of perimeter security, says that facilities and organizations are "starting with the bricks and mortar stuff ! putting padlocks on gates and putting up fences ! the very basics, initially."

Federal funding issues are prompting water districts throughout the country to take a harder look at security. Each district can receive $130,000 in grants to do an initial vulnerability analysis ! do they need more fences and gates, or more cameras and sensors? For many, the first task is evaluation of security needs and potential threats.

"The money is being allocated to start the process of, first, 'let's find out what these sites need to do,'" Evenson says. "The stumbling block has been (that) we've got a list of things that we should be doing, such as cameras and sensors, but no one has said who's paying for these next steps. So they're moving very cautiously."

With states and local governments strapped for cash, massive expenditures on security are unlikely ! particularly in the absence of a clear and present danger to a particular location. Terrorists may be launching attacks in Bali and the Middle East, but to many, Des Moines still seems an unlikely target.

While many are waiting to see where funding will come from, others are moving ahead. Water districts in Maryland, Washington D.C., and New York ! all potentially higher priority targets than the Heartland ! are soliciting bids for high-end security system upgrades that include outdoor sensors.

In Florida, Aressco Technologies Inc. is busy installing its solar-powered adjustable sensor systems around electrical sub-stations between its Homestead headquarters and Key West, according to company spokesman Miguel Perez.

Several of the state's prisons have also made the switch from hard-wired systems to wireless equipment that is less susceptible to damage during electrical storms, he added.

While security providers are reluctant to turn away business, many agree that if every government and utility were to rush to upgrade, the industry would be hard pressed to keep up with the demand.

"That happened in the 1970s and '80s when the nuclear power plants were mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to install very sophisticated security electronics, such as computers, sensors and cameras," Evenson says. "There was only a handful of companies that could really do the work, and their customers queued up for two-to-three-year waiting lists to get their equipment installed."

A similar shortage doesn't seem likely this time around. The Federal government has yet to mandate a particular kind or level of security or to provide the funds to install the equipment.

Currently, local governments and infrastructures are moving at their own pace. Those with funds and motivation are forging ahead, while others are either studying the problem or doing nothing.
Feds, Military Lead the Way

The Federal government, and particularly the branches of the military, seem to have the green light to move ahead. At Fairfax, Va.-based ARMR Services Corp., a steady supply of traffic barriers is being shipped to government customers around the country.

While the barriers have become a familiar sight on Washington, D.C. streets, keeping traffic away from federal buildings, other locations are buying them as well, ARMR's Scott Rosenbloom says.

"My clients are still 99 percent Federal government or a related agency" Rosenbloom adds.

Barriers ! particularly the more architecturally compatible bollards ! are being installed at the Pentagon and the Pearl Harbor Naval facility.

Each terrorist incident has ratcheted up the demand for security. The military and Federal agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Secret Service and State Department, have driven the high-end side of the perimeter security market since Sept. 11.

"The Air Force and Army are ramping up for the protection of everything from chemical weapons storage sites to military bases, and the product of choice from our inventory has been our buried cable system," Evenson says.

In addition, the military has stepped up the demand for portable perimeter systems that can be loaded and dropped at a site, and then quickly deployed to provide surveillance of a perimeter area against a hostile force.

"The system may only sit there for six months or a year, but they don't have to spend a lot of money doing civil engineering work on what is going to be a temporary site," says Bob Kirkaldie of Tempe, Ariz.-based Southwest Microwave.
Combining Systems

These agencies are seeking highly sophisticated systems that have a high degree of dependability in intrusion detection; usually a combination of technologies is needed. Cameras such as the high-speed domes provide more precise detection and identification of intrusion.

"We're seeing it being driven by the military as well," Kirkaldie says. "They want precise GPS (global positioning system) location of intrusion. That's a change from the past where you basically had a zone that was 300 to 400 feet long."

Southwest Microwave products take advantage of this technology and allow detection within 10 feet of the fence intrusion. When combined with CCTV, this system is highly accurate and reduces false alarms. The best systems, however, are still expensive both to operate and maintain. After all, they have to be durable enough to function outdoors in all weather and temperatures. Volumetric terrain-following sensors that consist of buried cable require extensive trenching to install and may be impractical for protecting large areas.

Considerably less expensive are monophonic intrusion detection systems of fiber-optic cable that can be mounted on fences.

While the best systems combine several modes of detection, the first choice of those who cannot afford everything tends to be cameras. While these devices allow for direct monitoring of areas, they are also dependent upon human eyes seeing and responding to an outside threat.

"History has shown that cameras without some signaling or alert system don't get watched," Evenson says. "The operators can't be expected to stare at (monitors) for 24 hours a day and look for activities."

A better approach is to use sensors as a trip wire to alert a security official, who can then confirm the situation using CCTV.

While cost is less of a concern to the government, budgetary constraints may explain why perimeter security has not been embraced by the private sector.

"For quite a few years, especially in the middle (range) of the markets at the commercial and industrial sites, many of the users wouldn't pay for the cost of perimeter security in combination with video assessment," Kirkaldie says. "So they did one or the other. In those cases false alarms were a huge issue with sensors because you couldn't tell what was happening."

Nobody likes false alarms on outdoor detection systems and often, central monitoring stations would not even bother to hook them up to their systems. Sometimes the alarms became such a nuisance that frustrated companies simply shut them off.

In the corporate and industrial sector, the question of cost may also lead companies to purchase cheaper and less reliable sensing devices, according to Larry Thomas of Reno, Nev.-based Protection Technologies Inc.

More expensive sensors tend to be much more accurate. They can often be adjusted, for example, to only detect an object moving at the pace of a human rather than a swiftly moving bird or animal.
More To Come

The increase in sales of perimeter technology is a reflection, at least in part, of efforts that were already in the pipeline, Rosenbloom says.

"The government normally has a process of three to five years to buy something," he says. "What I've seen is that I'm selling to people I would have sold to anyway."

The difference is that the time frame has been condensed as agencies have moved security near the top of the priority list. The normal process of doing surveys, formulating a budget, and making a request that is approved only after the second or third try has been shortened, according to Rosenbloom.

"They're getting this portion of their budget approved, and they're buying barriers rather than, say pencils or computers," he says. "I don't think their pool of money has increased. It's just been redirected."

The slow trickle of security spending may increase to a flood as the Federal government's Homeland Security Department begins releasing more funding for upgrading perimeters. In addition, as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) turns from screening passengers and bags to hardening the perimeters around runways, a large, new market may open.
Randy Southerland is an Atlanta-based writer and regular contributor to Access Control & Security Systems


 
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