No Disruptions

No Disruptions

Protectors deliver the power to protect security systems

Power surges and lightning strikes can disrupt the operation of security and surveillance systems, or even worse, destroy them completely. In addition to leaving facilities unprotected, the cost can be substantial; easily reaching into the millions depending on the severity of the disruption and the size of the systems affected.

There are numerous causes of power surges that can stem from both internal and external sources. Internal surges can result when a single piece of equipment with a large power draw is turned on, and externally via a disruption in service from the grid itself. In either case, the timing of these disruptions can come at any hour of the day with sources unknown to security personnel. However, the worst scenario is typically caused by a lightning strike, which can have a widespread effect as a split second large surge of electricity finds its way through your infrastructure.

In any of these scenarios, there are costs involved due to physical damage, loss of business revenue due to lack of security and surveillance (especially in applications like gaming where security and surveillance is mandated for operation), and in manpower hours to remediate the situation and get systems up and running again.

As simple as it sounds, surge protectors can alleviate these vulnerabilities. They can be easily and cost-effectively added to almost any electronic system or wired network. But it’s important to note that all surge protectors are not created equally. Surge protectors designed for professional applications can absorb multiple hits and remain operational and can alert personnel of a surge event so they can be checked or replaced to maintain protection.

It makes sense for security professionals to investigate surge protection solutions to protect the integrity and investment in security, life safety/fire and surveillance systems. All of these systems can be easily and costefficiently protected.

How Surge Protection Works

The concept of surge protection is simple— when voltage increases beyond a device’s acceptable operating range, the excess energy is safely diverted to ground. This prevents the surges from flowing through and damaging the equipment while at the same time allowing the normal voltage to continue along its path so the equipment continues working without interruption.

There are two types of voltage surges. The first is a power spike where the electrical voltage and/or current rises for a short period of time, often less than a thousandth of a second. Power strikes can contain very high voltages and the most costly result of these small surges is the wear and tear on electronics and gradual degradation and eventual failures over time, affecting productivity and racking up expensive repair bills.

The second type is a power surge. A surge is caused by a temporary increase in powerline voltage, usually 10 to 35 percent above normal and can last from 15 milliseconds up to several minutes. The sudden jump in electricity spreads instantaneously, briefly exposing electrical devices to increased voltage. Surges can occur due to faulty wiring, lightning strikes or sudden changes in electrical current such as devices being turned on or off—and they can badly damage the electrical system.

Simply having a surge protector however doesn’t guarantee that your equipment is safe. The surge protector needs to deliver the right level of electrical absorption to handle regular spikes and surges. Commercial use surge protectors specify how much energy the surge protector can absorb and a higher number indicates greater protection. A listed maximum surge current rating will also confirm that the device is a surge protector and not simply a power strip.

Surge protectors are usually divided between power and data/telecom devices. Surge protection for electrical power follows the ANSI/IEEE C64.41.2-2002 industry standard, which divides a building into three categories—A, B and C. Category C is defined as the service entrance or main disconnect. Category B is at the distribution and sub-panel environment and Category A is at individual equipment or wall outlets. Maximum protection requires a surge suppressor at each one of these locations (A,B,C) and minimum protection requires a surge suppressor at two (B,C) of the locations that feed the sensitive load.

Nothing can give a 100 percent guarantee of protection when dealing with transient surges. Lightning does not follow UL approved waveforms, and when an open neutral event occurs at your local utility, line voltage can remain at more than twice nominal for several minutes. Given a proper installation (short, straight leads and a good ground) one level of protection should stop at least 90 percent of a major surge. The subpanel protector will see only 10 percent of the original surge. With a 90 percent dissipation, there is now less than 1% of the surge left. A third stage of protection will increase the dissipation to 99.9 percent.

Spikes can easily enter data/telecom lines, just as they can electric power lines, and damage sensitive electronic equipment. In these instances, it is necessary to know the maximum continuous operating voltage and the allowable resistance of the data lines; the data line speed and the type of connection before applying a suppression solution.


Surge protection can be added easily and cost-effectively to almost any electronic system or wired network, stopping these power surges from causing damage to important security and operational systems.

At the lowest price points, surge protection devices absorb the excess energy on the line to save the protected systems. Higher quality devices can absorb multiple hits and remain operational. Some surge protection devices have the capability to alert operations staff that they have performed their function and may need to be checked or replaced to maintain protection. This is the best approach, because staff may not be aware of recent power surges and thus that the protection may be compromised.

Surge protection devices have been successfully deployed to protect physical security systems with access control or video surveillance systems, including a regional airport in the southeastern United States. To enhance facility security, airport management installed a new access control system with 144 access points to airport secured areas. Shortly after installation, the airport began experiencing access control panel and card reader failures.

Lightning activity was not the main cause of failures but rather static generated by dry winter air was forcing controlled doors to malfunction, causing damage to their internal circuitry.

Eventually the access control system suffered a major surge event, causing card reader and mag lock failures. Door solenoids failed, and the entry/egress doors in secured areas would not open. Employees could not enter or leave secured areas until the problem was identified and the access control system was manually overridden. Airport management had to pull security personnel from other areas of the airport to guard the secured areas until the access control system was repaired, reducing the overall physical security of the airport.

The failures were a result of there being no surge protection which was corrected with the installation of surge protection devices for each controlled door panel. Since that installation was completed, there have been no further reports of malfunction or damage to the access control systems.

In video surveillance applications, surge protection is vital because the video images are an invaluable tool for exposing false injury claims, theft and other accusations or incidents. However, power outages, surges and voltage transients on network data lines can leave video surveillance systems inoperable when they are needed most. It is recommended that surge protection be installed at every external camera, including outdoor PoE or PoE+ IP cameras. This is recommended because a surge can travel through the cabling from a remote device, damage or destroy a network switch, and possibly cause further issues with other switch-connected devices such as servers running VMS software.

Moreover, equipment and cabling are not the only costs from power surge incidents. From a business perspective, the potential loss of data and downtime could be far costlier than the cost of the damaged equipment. Facilities must be evacuated when the fire alarm systems stop functioning. When security systems are out of service, parking lots, doors, and secure areas need to be covered by temporary guards at an additional cost. There is also a loss of productivity if staff is delayed by congestion and manual processes at entrances, or if their work equipment and/ or work data is damaged or lost. Downtime can also cause a potential loss of customer confidence or business. If a customer uses social media to complain about a website being down for a few hours, the resulting negative impact can be detrimental to a business for an extended time.

If you are responsible for an important electronic system, it makes sense to speak with a surge protection expert who can review your situation and make suitable recommendations. There are many surge protector models that are designed for specific applications, from fire alarms to IP networks to HVAC systems and more. Reputable companies that specialize in surge protection may also offer free site surveys to help achieve the most effective protection solution.

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Security Today.

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