Putting out feelers

From bollards to cameras to sensors
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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bollards have long been the icebergs of the perimeter security game--there’s a lot going on under the surface.

They’re more than just heavy chunks of iron put in place to deny access. They’re a study in physics and engineering, in how to most effectively defray force to protect assets.

The fact that those deceivingly complex bollards have gotten even more technologically sophisticated speaks to recent advances in perimeter security.

Intelligent Perimeter Systems’ Intelli-Barrier bollards, for instance, house a variety of detection technologies safely behind an inch of steel.
“The bollard has intelligence built into it, in the form of sensors,” said Mike Korodi, president and chief executive officer. “It can measure radiation, explosives-in essence, sample it and alert or send out an alarm.”

From high-tech bollards to fiber optic cables snaked around a perimeter, Doppler radar to infrared systems, perimeters represent more than just a barrier in the security world these days. Today’s barriers are expected to not only stop access, but also alert security forces to the attempt. And more and more, all the various tech toys are expected to play nice with each other to give security the best possible chance of doing its job well.

Like so many other aspects of security, it was 9/11 that really spurred the current evolution in perimeter philosophy, said Jeffrey Halaut, vice president at IPS.

“Before 9/11, we don’t care who comes at the base, just keep them from getting at critical assets,” said Halaut. “After 9/11, the bad guys didn’t care about critical assets--they just wanted to kill, which focused a lot of direction and security into a focus of detect and deter at the gate, at an entrance point.”

Today, said Halaut, security professionals and the companies that supply them have to think like the terrorists. They don’t do things spur-of-the-moment, he said.

“They survey it, they will sit there and watch a location for months and months and months--every nook and cranny, every vulnerability,” Halaut explained. “They’re not likely to make many mistakes. You have to be one step better. What we try to do is harden the whole perimeter to the point where we don’t leave any loopholes.”

David Dickinson, senior vice president at Delta Scientific, said folks at his company are “blacksmiths with computers.” In addition to developing bollards and gate systems that are highly portable and easy to set up--while maintaining the necessary stopping power--the company late last year unveiled its new early warning system.

The system uses Doppler radar and digital loop detector technology to alert guards when a vehicle changes its velocity. That allows security to address the potential threat of an inbound vehicle approaching at normal speeds and then accelerating to attack, and warns if a hidden vehicle suddenly passes a larger vehicle and attempts an attack. The system lets guards look downstream at what’s happening, and decide whether to activate gates, pop-up bollards or other measures.

“We have clients with machine gun nests; if we can give them a little extra notice, that’s worth a lot,” he said.

And many technology providers offer systems that not only give security extra notice, but focus relevant devices on the action.

Optellios uses fiber optic cable strung around a perimeter as a sensor. If someone climbs over a fence strung with the cable, the slightest movement will change the refractive index of the light and sensors and software at the head of the fiber will detect the difference. The attempted intrusion can be detected within 10 feet or so, said Jay Patel, chief executive officer.

And Optellios’ technology also pulls up relevant video cameras to immediately bear on the area of intrusion, said Patel, even working with most legacy systems.

Technology like Optellios’ represents changing needs in the field, said Patel.

“The focus has always been access control and CCTV, but the perimeter is the first. You’ve got to deter people from coming in, but if you don’t succeed, you need to detect, you need to assess, you need to communicate that information and then you take the action,” said Patel. “This is one area that, unfortunately, most people haven’t focused on because they haven’t had the right technology; there’s been too many false alarms.”

Infrared cameras are ideal for perimeter for several reasons, said Andrew C. Teich, president of Commercial Vision Systems at FLIR. They can see in total darkness--no light is needed. They can see through fog, smoke and other visual impediments. They see over long path lengths, said Teich, picking up images at 15 kilometers that a traditional CCTV camera would miss. And they also aren’t fooled by camouflage or other tricks.

“Those things are very challenging for video analytics to deal with,” said Teich. “With thermal, it all goes away--it becomes monochrome.”

To further coordinate systems, FLIR in April bought Spain-based Ifara Technologies S.L., a middleware provider. The company’s Nexus technology allows integrators to link up different sensors, and focus them when one detects something. It’s called “slew to cue,” said Teich.
“The idea here is you’ve got this border, a big expansive space,” said Teich. “Radar detects a blip, the thermal points at it and the operator gets involved.”

More and more, it’s those systems that coordinate the applications of all the alerting and response technologies that will be important, said Rafi Bhonker, vice president of marketing and sales at Orsus. Orsus’ product, the Situator, is one of those systems.

But it’s not just merging all the alerting sources, said Bhonker, but tying human response into it, too.

“Getting directly into a system like ours enables them to take info coming in from sources and involve people in response actions,” said Bhonker. “People are always involved; you’ll never get away from the fact that people need to be involved.”

When alerts flash, checklists show up in front of the operator--a sort of intelligent flowchart that allows preplanned responses to be run through in response, said Bhonker.

Bhonker said that as time goes on, there would be standards that will allow all the technology to converse more easily. The alerting devices themselves will become commodities, he said. But the value will be in the applications above all the connected systems.

“It’s not just analyzing a more sophisticated alert, it’s the ability to take that alert and make it part of an entire solution,” said Bhonker. “You’re really taking your operation and gluing it all together.”