The 5 W’s of Perimeter Surveillance (or how to avoid the mushy surveillance mission statement)

Recently, I sat down and started jotting down some potential perimeter surveillance ideas and protection tips that would be insightful blog subjects for companies whose business involves remote facilities.  In doing so, I realized many of the concepts I wanted to explore varied based on the intended use of the perimeter sensors.  To use these tips to one’s advantage, you would need to understand the mission statement of the sensor. Perimeter Surveillance Mission Statement and Tips Oh the horror!  I hate mission statements.  The very word makes me a little drowsy.  Few mission statements really make sense and most sound like someone talking with their mouth full of marshmallows…mushy and unintelligible.  I tend to be more of a checklist kind of person, and have always been intrigued with the letter “W.”  So instead of a discussion on how to make a mushy mission statement for protecting your remote facility, here are 5 insightful questions you should be asking instead.

What: What are you trying to achieve?

This may seem like a simple question; I am trying to protect a remote facility, but you need to dig a little deeper.  Are you trying to deter or prevent?  These do not need to be mutually exclusive, but the selected strategy affects your surveillance design.  Deterring is the big brother is watching approach.  Sensors are big and prominent, often include signage and are intended to inform any would be perpetrator that they are being watched.

Perimeter Protection or Deterrence

Is Your Surveillance Strategy to Deter, Prevent or Both?

For remote facilities, however, deterrence may have no effect on the intruder.  They may know they are being monitored, but realize that it is unlikely you can do anything about it.  They will be in and out before you have time to react.  A prevent strategy would include ways to keep them for accessing critical assets or make it more time consuming so it is a less desirable mark.   This can include physical barriers (locks, fences, barriers) or electronic measures (Electric Fences, Audio or Illumination Deterrents).

When: When do you plan to use the system and when do you plan to react to situations?

Are you intending to monitor the facilities 24/7 or do you just want to observe when there is something happening in the area?  Is surveillance at night just as important as daytime surveillance?  Have you considered surveillance during various weather conditions?  Now is where it starts getting tougher.  You can answer yes to every question, but that will have an impact on your budget, so you need to start understanding where you may be willing to make some trade-offs.  It might be very unlikely that someone would venture to your remote facility in a snowstorm, so having excellent surveillance during a white out, may be something you are willing to concede.  This is also the basis for considering whether manned or automated surveillance makes more sense.

When an event does occur, when do you plan on reacting?  An immediate reaction plan typically requires a good communication backbone, immediate access to sensor data and a coordinated plan with company security or local authorities.  This type of approach is intended to catch the bad guy in the act.  Choosing the delayed reaction plan typically involves more detailed sensor data and forensic capability to piece together the evidence.  This strategy is based on collecting enough information about the event that steps can be taken to correct the issue or apprehend the responsible parties at some later point.

Why: Why are you monitoring the facility?

Is your need to protect valuable equipment from theft?  Perhaps it is not about theft, but about the cost of vandalism.  Another tougher, but very real question is whether you are protecting yourself against external bad guys or are you protecting yourself from your own employees?  Studies1 have shown that in many industries, the company’s employees cause the highest theft levels.

The second common reason for monitoring a facility is safety.  Perhaps you cannot reasonably expect to stop all the theft, but you can take surveillance actions to keep your employees safe during and after these events.  For example, in the case of copper theft, a surveillance system may be more valuable in protecting your employees from stolen ground wires, versus actually recovering from the loss of the copper itself.  In other cases, you may be monitoring the area to help protect employees from their own mistakes, or to protect the company from false accident claims.

Perimeter Protection Coverage Drawing with Intrusion Levels

Where is your Surveillance Perimeter? The Answer is….it Depends.

At this point, you should realize this is not a trivial question.  It relies heavily on the previous questions you needed to ask yourself about the system.  The wider your perimeter, the more advanced notice you receive that an event is occurring. This may also provide you more forensic data; license plate, car type, which direction they approached the facility, etc.  If the “why” is about safety or internally generated theft, then the monitoring area moves into the interior of the fence and needs to take into account items like blind spots created by buildings or machinery and identification details.

Who: Who is going to use this information?

This question is closely related to “when.”  Who is the intended user of your surveillance data?  A monitoring company is only going to be interested in video verification of an alarm, which it can then use as a basis to notify the authorities.  A safety or operations person will be looking for the data that can recreate the scenario leading up to the event.  A security officer will want data that can identify who was responsible and what assets were involved.  Some of this data is real time data, occurring in a few minutes or hours around the event, in other cases, the data may stretch back to days or weeks.  This impacts the type of data you need to collect (badge credentials, entrance status, license plate info, facial details, or even color information).  It’s also impacts the ability to easily retrieve this data and the amount of time it needs to be stored.  If you aren’t the end user then this question should at least prompt you to ask if the correct people are involved in the system design or modification.

How: How do I achieve this?

The 5Ws of Perimeter Surveillance

Photo Credit: Southwest Media Group

Wait a second….the title said “5W’s.” Nobody mentioned an “H!” I admit it, I never mentioned the “H.”  The “How” is the fun part.  It involves buying high definition cameras, microwave links, placing fence poles in the ground, securing DVRs or installing access control systems.  We’ll talk more about this in coming blog posts, but the problem is we are tempted to jump to the “How” before we’ve addressed the What, When, Why, Where and Who.  This can result in a system that does not achieve the intended mission, because its intended mission was never fully understood.  It is an unfortunate day when you determine that an event has taken place at one of your facilities and there is absolutely no supporting surveillance evidence to help you determine what happened or allow you to recover from the situation.

I apologize if this blog leaves you a little unfulfilled and perhaps a little uneasy.  Attempting to answer these questions is tough and it takes some fore thought.  However, it is a required step in your attempt to protect the assets of company and secure the safety of your employees.  As you consider protecting your remote locations, take the time to ask the 5Ws, it will be much more effective than merely creating a mushy surveillance mission statement.

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