Connected Doesn’t Mean Protected
When it comes to device and systems connectivity, surge protection solutions can mitigate risk
- By Chris Ralston
- May 20, 2021
Connectivity is more than just a buzzword to those who design and install security, communications, fire alarm and other electronic systems. It is a necessity for today’s commercial and multi-residential facilities that feature sophisticated electronics to control building access, lighting, emergency safety systems and data networks. This evolution of connected devices represents a huge change in the capabilities of our systems, and how this wide range of technologies is supported. The landscape now includes myriad technologies including wireless networking, new and improved smaller sensors of all kinds, an expanding array of software analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Capabilities and Benefits
While we welcome all of these great new capabilities and the benefits they provide, we should also remember that they all rely upon sensitive electronic circuits. Thus, as we increase our dependence on these systems, we also need to implement backups and protection to help ensure that they are working when they are needed most. The trend for increased networking and connectivity must also bring about a trend for increased power and network protection.
Every networked sensor that provides input to a security system requires power and some form of communication – whether wireless or wired. Even wireless networks depend on wired connectivity to function, since network access points always have both power and wired network connections.
Because of the wired connections throughout every security system, each system is vulnerable to the damaging effects of surges and spikes from the supplied electrical power. They are also vulnerable to electrical disturbances transmitted via communications and signaling cables that can carry unwanted voltages directly to sensitive electronic circuits. Systems that have outdoor components, including outdoor cameras, campus-wide systems, and devices connected to outdoor antennas and communication devices, are particularly vulnerable. They are exposed to the elements and can suffer water leaks and wind damage, among other hazards.
While our dependency on these electronic systems has been increasing, there has been a parallel growth in the sources of electrical disturbances that can cause power surges and spikes. Electrical power surges can be considered a “silent killer” of electronic equipment because most surges are small enough to remain undetected by organizational staff. Even though they go unnoticed, they slowly and steadily damage electronic equipment, reducing product lifespan and reliability.
Damaging surge events affecting your business is not a question of “if”, but “when”. Protecting these systems from potential damage must be a high priority for business management to ensure organizational continuity and appropriate risk management.
Surge Protection Solutions
A common misconception about power surges is that electrical and electronic devices are only at risk during thunderstorms. It is certainly true that in addition to causing property loss, lightning can damage robotics, communication lines and computer equipment and result in extended downtime for an organization. However, most experts agree that lightning strikes account for only 2% of all surge-related damage, meaning that 98% percent of the damage usually happens during these “unnoticed” events.
Power surges caused by everyday occurrences from external sources such as powerline switching on the grid; as well as internal sources such as powering up HVAC systems and other pumps and motors that are often present in commercial and industrial facilities. These minor power surges and spikes may not be noticed in real time, but they have long term effects on fire and life safety systems, along with security and data systems. These damaging events can hamper proper operation and/or shorten equipment lifecycles, resulting in early, unexpected failures.
While not every system will fail due to a surge event, the chances are good that any unprotected electronic security system will incur some damage during its lifetime from power surges and spikes. For every essential security and life safety device, including access control, video surveillance and fire alarm systems, and the small additional price for proper surge protection should be no obstacle. The cost of providing surge protection is typically less than the sales tax on the system.
Best practices dictate that every sensitive electronic device should have surge protection at its supplied power connection, in addition to the surge protection that is installed at the facility power entry point. Damaging power surges can also be created inside the facility perimeter from inductive load switching as well as through the building’s power connections. Since the network cabling provides a conductive path for electrical power surges, it is a wise move to protect sensitive electronic systems by installing surge protection at both ends of all connected network equipment.
This is vital for cabling paths that run to exterior areas including outdoor facilities for surveillance cameras, access control readers, gate control panels, electronic locks, or any other networked electronics or sensors.
Even in areas with little or no lightning activity, exterior electronic equipment is vulnerable to the effects of static electricity. Any device that is powered has the potential to create an electrical fault or short circuit that can transmit damaging power surges through the network cabling to reach other sensitive networked equipment.
Applicable solutions for these challenges include rack and wall mount surge protectors for interior network rooms, as well as single channel protectors for use at the remote networked equipment. There are even special models available that are built for connections exposed to extreme weather conditions. Surge protectors for networked cabling are designed to minimize signal losses while passing high-speed digital network traffic.
Making the Case
As the security industry moves forward to implement increasingly capable and intelligent risk-reduction systems – along with more networked and interconnected devices – we must all take steps to protect these systems from unintended but foreseeable damage. Surge protection solutions can protect every critical electronic system from power events, improving their reliability and extending their useful lives. With a simple installation process, and very modest cost, implementing surge protection with new systems and adding them to existing unprotected systems should be an easy decision.
Chris Ralston is a field sales engineer at Ditek.