A Better Line of Defense

How to ensure perimeter security meets your expectations

On the heels of the government’s reassessment of the SBInet program, or the virtual fence as it’s been called, officials from Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection have decided that there are better ways to deal with the needs for perimeter security at the U.S.-Mexican Border. These officials know that using advanced technology is part of the answer, but seamless integration and ease-of-use are also necessary for security management.

Just as at a country’s borders, perimeter security is at the top of every security operation’s list of priorities, whether it’s for a military base, stadium, housing complex, office park or school campus. Although the market provides numerous innovative technologies to address perimeter security, it’s important to determine the project’s needs and vet what should be implemented to achieve the desired results.

The perimeter is the first line of defense. As such, it should include both physical and psychological deterrents, and points of vulnerability should be as high priorities. This will all be operationally driven based upon your specific security programs.

How Important is Your Perimeter?
As with any security measure, you have to first define what level of assessment and response you hope to achieve at the various points at the perimeter. Do you want to:

  • Simply monitor the area?
  • Detect and deter potential threats?
  • Identify threats?
  • Have recognizable detail for proactive defense and forensic evidence?

At the very basic level, monitoring a perimeter ensures you have the ability to watch or observe the perimeter, whether that’s by a guard patrol or through technology. Monitoring also alerts you when there is an anomaly at or outside your perimeter. Additionally, deployment of noticeable physical security deterrents such as access control, surveillance cameras, thermal imaging, fencing, buried detection solutions, lighting and signage thwart most basic-level threats.

While monitoring and deterrents at your perimeter should be the foundation of protection, they alone do not provide the detail often required to improve your operational response effectiveness. In some extreme, high-security scenarios, knowledge of and response to every incident may be crucial to any perimeter security program. Fortunately, in today’s IT-focused world of efficiency, accuracy and accountability, intelligent solutions can take monitoring and detection to the next level, with identification and even recognition.

Today, security managers, CSOs and CIOs face numerous tools and solutions that include more efficient and sophisticated imaging and detection sensors that combine with advanced analytics and other algorithm- driven programs to improve response efficiency and help provide advanced perimeter detection. By assessing your perimeter protection needs, you can determine which technologies and solutions should be deployed to achieve success.

What are Your Limitations?
If every property, building, campus, base and country were uniform and standardized, then perimeter protection programs would be straightforward, with little change based on individual security policies. But as every application is different, perimeter security is presented with additional challenges based upon other variables:

  • Proximity of the perimeter to the operational response location(s);
  • Type of communication infrastructure between perimeter devices and operational locations;
  • How responses are handled, either from an on-site central location or a remote response and monitoring solution; and
  • The role that redundancy and backup strategies play in the perimeter policies.

Technology can easily be deployed based on the level of security need, so the common denominator comes back to location. In most cases, perimeter solutions are deployed far from the operational center responsible for coordinating any type of response.

While it is possible to install detection devices and video surveillance at a central location from which they can monitor the perimeter, the amount of equipment needed and the high-powered lenses required may not provide an efficient or cost-effective way to address the solution. As quality of the response and images are paramount these days and are compounded by the need for better identification and recognition, it’s likely you will need to move any detection solution as close to your actual perimeter as possible, making it farther away from your central operation location.

If you are fortunate to have a usable infrastructure in place, you are in the minority. Due to distance and obstacle limitations, most programs must look to wireless methods to pass the necessary data from the perimeter devices to any operational centers. Wireless radio links, microwave and sophisticated wireless mesh networks are all options, and while each has its advantages and disadvantages, it’s important to ensure you have stable, consistent communication from the perimeter to the response center.

Wireless communication solutions that can communicate on startup and that provide adaptability and backup communications paths -- that is, “selfhealing” systems -- can be crucial to ensuring you have the ability to respond. Activation and adaptation without manual user intervention could be the key to ensuring communication with your perimeter when unforeseen circumstances affect your site -- such as extreme weather or power failure.

Location, Location, Location
After you’ve determined the level of response required and the central operations location that will receive the data and communications from fieldbased perimeter devices, the next step is to determine which devices to add and then decide where they should be located.

Traditionally, most responses to perimeter detection and violation are handled at a central operations location via client applications to the various systems that are deployed. Advances in analytics and PSIM solutions have alleviated much of the response burden on the first-responder because the user is presented with information that has been pre-screened or filtered based upon the criteria defined under the user’s specific security program and policies. PSIMs also can manage data from multiple systems and help implement specific screening rules and reactionary system functions relative to your perimeter policies.

However, these types of systems must be seen as an enhancement to the effectiveness of the security personnel and programs, not a replacement for human efforts.

Your security programs also may include oversight response by senior staff or roving staff who are not at the operational center. Once again, technology has advanced to provide remote access to many perimeter solutions through the Web and smartphone applications.

With remote access to view the perimeter event both live and after an event, users have the flexibility to improve the level of response and communicate in a more interoperable manner.

Of course, in all of the above, IP technology provides open standards and off-the-shelf capability that enhance any perimeter solution and provide better response and review tools for operations and facility managers.

The limitations of traditional low-voltage power legacy devices and communication methods have given way to a growing breed of intelligent technology advances that are an absolute must-have to implement short- and long-term strategies for perimeter protection.

These newer IP technologies are also more adaptable to change with your organization as its policies and needs grow and change.

If you find you are faced with decisions about perimeter protection but your perimeter program is built on a foundation of legacy devices and outdated communications methods, take a hard look at which infrastructure you can change; otherwise, you could be left with disparate systems that can neither communicate nor be scaled for the future. Make your first line of defense your first priority.

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Security Today.

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