High Value Assets
Finding a cost-effective perimeter solution
- By Dale Climie
- Aug 01, 2015
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
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.
A CASE STUDY: THE DARRINGTON UNIT
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.
HOW IT WORKS
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
HOW LONG WILL IT LAST?
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 FUTURE OF FIBER
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
- 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.