27 February 2023 - Lara Velasco

Featured in: Market Insights, Intrusion detection

Utilities sites are exposed to a multitude of risks and threats, and targeted intrusion attempts of these vital and strategic assets have increased in recent years. Any attack or intrusion requires a quick and effective response, but it’s even more important in the case of utilities, not just because of the cost of disruption, but also the wider safety implications to society. For instance, a security breach in a sub-station, could leave a town without electricity or if an intruder accesses a water treatment area to contaminate water the results could be catastrophic.

One of the main challenges when designing the security system is the number of sites that need monitoring, with some of them being extremely large – thus having a large perimeter to protect – and some sites being small – yet critically important. To add to the complexity, utilities sites are often located in remote areas subject to harsh weather and sometimes dangerous conditions such as high electrical loads or polluting materials. False alarms are a common issue faced by security teams and the use of detection technologies in this context enables more resilient and cost-effective perimeter protection that relies on genuine alerts for intrusions and provides a more effective security response for utilities of every kind.

Optex utilities energy

Protection of small and medium perimeters

Fibre optic cable sensors are one of the preferred choices to enhance the perimeter security of smaller utility sites such as small telecommunications, electrical or water pumping stations. Typically mounted on the fence (or occasionally wall) the sensors can detect any attacks on them. An Alarm Processing Unit (APU) will send a laser pulse over the fibre optic cable and analyse the change in the interference pattern along the cable, allowing it to detect if anyone is unsettling the fence or wall.

Fibre optic sensors provide the option to split detection into different zones, up to 25, programmed to PTZ cameras that can be pre-set along the wired fence. The configuration software enables it to be calibrated to tune out any noise that could cause nuisance alarms such weather changes, vibrations caused by the wind, nearby traffic or small animals, from those caused by genuine intrusions such as someone climbing or cutting through the fence. An additional benefit is the ease to implement and the reduced cost of ownership as fibre optics are extremely durable and require minimal maintenance.

Active infrared (IR) beams, such as our SL series, have also been deployed to protect small utility sites. They can either be mounted on the top of a wall to detect anyone climbing over, or they can be stacked into beam towers and create a second perimeter line next to fences with barbed wire. Beams work by an active detection methodology – the transmitter beam sends a continuous signal to the receiver beam creating a point-to-point detection. If a person or object interrupts the signal, the alarm will be triggered. IR beams are also available wireless, which can make implementation very easy, especially in rural and remote locations. Our SL series are one of the longest-lasting in the market and come with a five-year warranty.

Long-range PIR sensors, such as our REDWALL SIP series can be mounted on a pole or on a building to create long alleyways of detection by the perimeter, with a reach of up to 100m. Working in conjunction with a CCTV system, they can track intruders across up to three detection zones and guide cameras to visually verify the activation. One of the main advantages to using SIP volumetric sensors is there are no blind spots and their advanced settings can automatically adjust to the ambient temperature and light conditions to ensure no detection is missed. Wireless SIP sensors consume very low current, and include battery operation, a great option for quick deployment in remote sites or when access to main power is challenging.

Protection of large perimeters

One of the main challenges for large utilities sites such as gas, water treatment areas or nuclear power stations is the huge perimeter line that needs to be protected. One of the latest advances in detection technologies is ‘point location’ which enables the security staff to know, in real-time, exactly where the security breach is taking place, which in turn makes the visual verification process significantly quicker as cameras can look precisely to the point where the intruder is, and then track them throughout the protected area.

A number of fibre optic sensors known as Distributed Acoustic Sensors (DAS), can pinpoint an intrusion down to just a few metres, even on perimeters of up to 100 km long. DAS system Echopoint (launching soon in EMEA) is suitable for both fence and buried applications and allows virtual zoning so the perimeter can be broken into multiple detection areas. Echopoint systems can identify the differences in intrusion attempts; for instance, in fence applications, it can detect climbing, cutting the fence or drilling through a wall In buried applications, the system identifies the differences between footsteps, manual digging, machine digging, and vehicle traffic.

One of the most effective point location technologies is our REDSCAN LiDAR range, which determines the exact coordinates of intruders. It can create different detection zones and configure the sensitivity for each depending on the level of risk. Our REDSCAN Pro series is a long-range LiDAR that can be mounted vertically to create a virtual wall or horizontally to create a virtual ceiling, protecting large areas of up to 100m with just one sensor. Pinpointing the X and Y coordinates of the intruder with real-time tracking is possible when integrating with dedicated video management software (VMS).

Another key feature of the REDSCAN Pro is the dynamic event filtering, which allows generating events based on a certain logic, for instance, mounted vertically on the fence line it is possible to create two detection areas, one at the bottom half of the fence which can be used as a pre-alert and one on the top half of the fence which will signal an intruder is climbing over it. Mounted horizontally the REDSCAN can detect a person walking towards the site, raising a pre-alert, and when the person is very close to the fence raising an “alarm”.

The most important step when designing effective perimeter protection is to assess the security risk and response time. How quickly can an intruder access a critical area? How quickly can the visual verification of the intrusion be performed? As always, security is an ongoing challenge and choosing the right technology requires first an assessment of the security risks, the site’s operational requirements and the size of the perimeter. Contact the OPTEX sales team today to secure your utilities site.