High Value Assets

High Value Assets

Finding a cost-effective perimeter solution

Perimeter security: Just the words conjure-up visions of horror. In a presentation at an AIA/CAJ conference, Robert Glass and Alan Latta described perimeter detection as an integral part of the perimeter security system. As such, it should provide minimal nuisance (false) alarms, a relatively easy installation and low cost. At the time of their presentation, taut wire, infrared, microwave, fence-mounted “shaker” systems and electric fences were the most common perimeter detection systems surrounding our high value assets. All of these proven technologies are installed at numerous locations throughout the United States. Although these technologies are “proven,” they are also prone to frequent false alarms.

Then, fiber optic cable became commercially viable.

Early versions of the fiber proved to be unsuitable for the rigors of security applications. It wasn’t until BEI Communications of Stafford, Texas developed the patented process of encasing the optical fiber in water swell-able Kevlar, then wrapping it in a UV and flame resistant, polyurethane jacket, that fiber optics was ready to challenge the unforgivable environments of real-world security applications. The process was so successful that you could tie the fiber in a knot and it still worked.

The first applications were simple: attach a fiber optic cable to a chain link fence, run it the length of the fence then loop back to the controller. If anyone tries to come through the fence and cuts the fiber optic cable: the alarm sounds. The limitations of this application are obvious: you can cut the fence anywhere you want as long as you don’t cut the fiber. BEI engineers then came up with the idea of “knitting” the fiber into a net or mesh configuration. This required development of the technology which would allow the “knitting” of the fiber without significant db loss (transmittance). The fiber net could then be attached to a fence or wall. An attempt to violate any area of the net would result in an alarm.


BEI Communications approached The Texas Department of Criminal Justice and received permission to conduct a “real world” test of the fiber mesh technology at the Pack 1 unit in Grimes County, Texas. The test went well and a year later, prison officials decided to install fiber mesh at the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, Texas.

The Darrington Unit is a maximum-security facility with 1610 inmates inside a fiber mesh perimeter detection system, and 321 inmates outside of that perimeter. The unit is a red brick building in a telephone pole design; it was built in 1966.

After the system had been installed for roughly five-and-a-half years, the Correctional News interviewed prison staff and the CEO of BEI Communications.

Sgt. Laurence Ching, who oversees perimeter security, described his facility’s fiber mesh system as easy to maintain. “It is a very simple system and that’s the beauty of it,” Ching said. “Overall, maintaining this system requires minimum support. The parts are very few when compared to, say, a taut wire system.

“Most other perimeter protection systems are dependent on the environment heat cold and other natural environmental conditions that have little effect on fiber optics.”

Warden David Stacks concurred with his sergeant. “The fiber mesh system is very low maintenance, efficient and effective in letting us know if we have any breach.” Stacks noted that no inmates have attempted to outwit or violate the system.

The company that designed the perimeter detection system also installed other electronic security system components including CCTV color cameras with video motion detection to view inmates as they approach the fence. In addition, a patrol vehicle has a wireless remote to view the cameras placed along the perimeter. The warden’s office has the same technology available as the roving patrol vehicle.

The TV monitor integrated with the fence system has a great psychological effect on the inmates,” Stacks said.


The product is not a sensor per se, said David Iffergan, CEO of BEI Communications. An inmate cannot go through the mesh because the holes are very small, so he would have to cut it, which in turn would generate an alarm.

The mesh is divided by two sections, the upper and lower sections. Iffergan said that from the ground, up to about 10 feet high the fence is fiber mesh only, but at above that height to about 14 feet high the mesh is supported on a fiberglass rod.

On the top of the fiberglass rod is a different fiber optic sensor which will generate an alarm when bent. The pressure-sensitive upper part is designed for inmates who climb the fence.

The fiber mesh has a threshold of pressure which can be adjusted to account for humans climbing the fence as opposed to birds perched upon it.

Fiber mesh is ideally suited for perimeter protection as it is impervious to the environment, is not affected by electro-magnetic interference (EMI) or radio frequency interference (RFI). Because it doesn’t generate EMI of RFI, it is totally passive to the environment which makes it the ideal solution for military and airport applications.


A primary consideration for any large expenditure is return-on-investment (ROI) which is largely determined by the life cycle of the product. Forty-two km of fiber that fiber mesh can meet all of those criteria: of a barrier, high probability of detection and low maintenance— seems like taut wire, only it can do it at half the price,” Latta said. “That’s the one I am presently looking at real close. Just because it’s the most bang for the buck.”

The system at the Darrington Unit cost about $75 per square meter, installed. Today, thanks to improvements in manufacturing and advancements in the science of fiber-optics, fiber mesh can be installed for considerably less. Fiber mesh systems developed specifically for under-water applications are also more affordable.


The lessons learned from the manufacturing, installation and maintenance of the Darrington fiber mesh system have helped the fiber mesh technology evolve to meet the increasing challenges of perimeter security.

The 10 + 4 configuration with 8 feet of fiber mesh on the fence and 4 feet of hybrid mesh on the barb arms has given way to the Smart Fence technology where the 10 foot fiber net is attached to the fence and addition fiber optic cables are run along the top and the bottom of the fence. These additional cables are sensitive to stress and vibration and detect any attempts to go over, under or through the fence.

The technology is also highly adaptable. The mesh can be “woven” into customized shapes, allowing it to be contained or encased in atypical structures.

  • In a “super-secure” facility, the fiber mesh was encased in the walls, ceiling and floor, making it impossible to make a non-detected penetration of the facility.
  • At nuclear generation facilities, the cooling ponds and water inlet pipes are protected with fiber mesh.
  • Rural Automobile Dealerships, whose lots back up to fields and/or wooded areas have eliminated theft and vandalism by installing fiber mesh on their back fences.
  • Middle-East countries are using fiber mesh (MarineNet) to surround entire islands. The mesh extends 6 feet above the water and goes all the way to the sea bed. Any attempt to go over, under, around or through is detected.
  • The Department of Homeland Security has identified several “high risk” industries (including local water treatment facilities) that need additional security. Fiber mesh is the logical choice.

What is the future of fiber mesh?

Where ever there is a need for perimeter detection requiring maximum protection with minimal false alarms, easy installation and low cost, you’ll probably find a fiber mesh solution.

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Security Today.


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