EXCLUSIVE: Protecting assets and perimeters


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Chris Ferguson, Product Manager – Security, Fotech, a bp Launchpad company, takes a closer look at the process of turning fiber optics into smart security perimeter systems.

Security breaches of critical infrastructure can have catastrophic and devastating consequences and can often result in the theft or vandalism of high value assets.

These breaches not only pose a threat to safety – and also have a significant impact on reputation and trust – but they also attract fines from governing bodies; protecting these perimeters is vital. Driven by growing terrorist threats, planned crimes, thefts and smuggling, the global perimeter security market is expected to reach USD29.6 billion by 2025.

A continuous monitoring system

There are many options for monitoring critical infrastructure perimeters, but once the length of a perimeter reaches a certain range, some of these options stop offering value. The sheer distance of some perimeters means it is impossible to achieve true round-the-clock monitoring with physical patrols or CCTV.

Existing perimeter intrusion detection technologies typically rely on point sensors such as cameras or radar positioned along a perimeter at regular intervals. However, positioning cameras every few metres is not an economically feasible solution and the alternative – leaving gaps in coverage – is an open invitation for threats and intrusions. 

With fiber-optic sensing, zone-based systems are often more economical, but when required on large distance perimeters, the zones are often too big to offer any useful direction for security responses. This is where LiveDetect, a real time linear asset monitoring technology from Fotech, comes in.

LiveDetect turns fiber optic cables deployed along the entire length of a perimeter into one continuous sensor. The system offers accurate, real time insights to security operations centers at a resolution that allows security teams to respond quickly and efficiently.

Detecting what happened, where and when

LiveDetect uses Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) technology, which sends thousands of pulses of light along fiber optic cables every second and monitors the pattern of light reflected back to the sensing unit. The fiber optic cable picks up any acoustic or vibrational energy, which changes the light pattern that is reflected back to the Fotech hardware, Helios DAS, indicating a disturbance of some kind.

Thanks to advanced algorithms and processing techniques, Helios DAS analyzes these changes to identify and to categorise the disturbance event, such as walking near or interfering with a boundary, placing a ladder on a fence or digging near a perimeter.

LiveDetect has been deployed worldwide on critical perimeters including airports, solar farms and government facilities. It can be fence mounted to detect interference such as climbing, cutting or jacking or it can be buried in the ground – or used in a hybrid configuration of the two.

Typically, LiveDetect is deployed with the cable buried covertly in the ground where it is used to detect events such as digging or tunnelling and pedestrian or vehicle movement. Each type of disturbance has its own signature and the technology can tell an operator, in real time, what happened, exactly where it happened and when it happened. This is often the preferred configuration as not only will its presence be invisible to intruders, but it also offers the ability to pre-empt intrusions.

Digging and movement events can be detected at significant distances on either side of the fiber location, dependant on the chosen unit, giving the ability to obtain an accurate picture of what is happening on either side of the perimeter.  

More importantly, it can also be programmed to filter out background noise, adapting its response for high-risk or low-risk zones along the perimeter. For example, if a perimeter is near a popular track for runners, the system can be set up so that normal activity doesn’t set off alarms. However, a personnel signature at 3:00 am or one that stops near the fence perimeter would be viewed as unusual. Any deviations from normal behavior patterns can be programmed and an alert raised immediately.

If a security breach is detected and there is an attempted intrusion, the system alerts the alarm management server and security personnel so they can take the most appropriate action. There are three levels of alert: Green, Amber and the highest alert level, Red (this is when someone or something could imminently breach the inside of the perimeter).

Easily integrated

LiveDetect should be part of a foundational security strategy. It is at its most powerful when combined with a layer of remote confirmation such as cameras or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Fotech has made it simple to integrate its hardware into existing security systems using common protocols, along with a well-documented and supported software development kit in one installable package.

With an active intrusion alert, LiveDetect provides information on where cameras should be pointing. Alternatively, the technology can send GPS coordinates of an ongoing disturbance to a UAV, which automatically launches to investigate more fully.

Combining detection and confirmation technologies in this way delivers a perimeter with no security gaps. This increases the efficacy and accuracy of identifying potential breaches, as well as boosting the speed of response through the real time detection of incidents anywhere along the perimeter.

A robust system

DAS can operate reliably in poor weather and in poor visibility unlike alternative technologies. Additionally, extra safeguards can be built into LiveDetect’s robust system. Fotech’s Helios DAS interrogator units offer the ability to configure fiber optics in a dual loop, effectively sensing on two separate fiber optic cores with one unit, run in parallel to provide redundancy and maintain coverage. This means LiveDetect can continue to detect and to locate threats even if one of the sensing cables is maliciously or accidentally cut or damaged.

Security for the future

During the last decade, technological advances have helped increase the scope of perimeter security systems. Perimeter security systems have historically been used to detect and to deter intrusions in military facilities and critical infrastructure. Today, these security systems are being adopted in commercial and transportation sites as well as residential gated communities in high-risk countries.

But, for today’s critical infrastructure, LiveDetect fills the gaps in perimeter surveillance efforts – delivering continued monitoring compared to existing technologies, improved security and a reduced threat of theft or vandalism. The ability to provide continuous monitoring of an entire perimeter and to raise alerts in real time, gives security teams the comprehensive overview they need to manage their operations and respond to threats effectively.

For more information, please visit www.fotech.com or connect with Chris Ferguson on LinkedIn to discuss the benefits of Fotech’s DAS.

This article was originally published in the bumper September edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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