A future of fenceless security?

CCTV Handbook 2021 Perimeter Security, Alarms & Intruder Detection

Imagine a South Africa of fenceless suburbs, like in those American movies with green lawns rolling side by side into fenceless pavements… or from a childhood past that fewer and fewer remember. The simple presence of signs: ‘Keep Out. Private Property’ or ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ was enough.

But that world of movies and memory is built on a foundation of social contract and ruthlessly committed policing of private property, both of which fell apart in South Africa as fear and fences rose higher and higher. Increasingly unable to rely on others, South Africans have tried to put themselves at the helm of their own safety.

Electric fences became the norm and the suburbs turned into high security zones. But soon they learned that simply installing an electric fence was not the end of the story. Fences were not like any other infrastructure that could be built once and left for many years through every kind of weather to manage itself. Electric fences needed constant care and monitoring to ensure that they were, in fact, working at all times.

While they added safety to the homeowner, the emotional cost of managing the fence was too high. All of this work was too much for a homeowner that simply wanted a place of safety and a garden.

Moving to estates

So people started moving into estates where electric fences could be managed by security teams and estate managers and security technicians. But leaving these problems to someone else doesn’t mean that they go away, or that the resident’s security is magically never compromised by perpetually faultless security systems. In fact, there is no way of knowing exactly how good an estate’s security management is because there is no regulatory body in South Africa that grades security effectiveness and estate management transparency on security lapses is not always guaranteed.

In the meanwhile, estate managers were spending much of their day attending to security matters, looking for answers on how to keep the electric fences going. Without monitoring systems, they had no way of knowing why their fences were constantly breaking down and they did not know where or what the faults were. Electric fence installers were constantly blaming the last technician and their equipment. Rather than fixing the problems, management were being tied up in an endless progression of equipment experiments.

Surveillance as an alternative?

Enter the wonderful world of cameras where so many are led to believe that cameras will replace all their security needs. This is the idea of how fenceless security was born. Who cares if the electric fence works or not. The idea is that cameras will provide effective security by guaranteeing that suspicious movement will be observed, recognised and therefore responded to quickly and efficiently.

However, cameras are really just more equipment and need constant monitoring and maintenance if they are to work faultlessly. Moreover, observation, recognition and response all rely on human vigilance, training and commitment. Cameras provide visual and sometimes auditory information, but fences create actual, imposing physical barriers which cameras do not and both are therefore valuable and necessary security measures.

As people pursue the mirage of a perfect security system, they are often pulled along a path of endless technical sophistication which requires increasing levels of faith in experts to manage their systems. What starts out as a cost-saving measure can become an endless financial pit, where management keeps getting pulled back into that place of having to install an additional system, a parallel system or even having to start again. This is frustrating and even embarrassing for estate managers and boards of trustees and doesn’t necessarily guarantee more effective security coverage.

Monitoring and integration

If security systems are to work faultlessly, there needs to be investment in monitoring of equipment and integration of systems. Cameras, electric fences and security personnel should be working together, not competing or working in isolation. Systems should not simply be running in parallel, with a ‘more is better’ philosophy. When something is picked up by one element of an integrated system, it needs to be communicated to the integrated network so that there are no gaps, conflicting messages, duplications or redundancies. The electric fence should be working in conjunction with cameras to communicate with the security team.

Every time an upgrade or improvement is made, it should add to what is already there to make it more effective rather than simply replacing it. Technology should also have interfaces that have been simplified to the point where anyone can track a monitoring system using a computer or smart device. Instructions on how to use systems need to be easy to learn so that residents and owners are empowered regarding their own security.

The vigilant monitoring of systems is one of the most important aspects of security. Equipment must be constantly monitored to ensure that it is kept in the working order needed to fulfil its functions. Any fault or lapse needs to be correctly identified and located a soon as it happens. The same is true of any breach or potential breach.

A monitoring system has been developed for electric fences, through a software program and modems that are linked to the energisers on the fence. With this monitoring system, fences become intelligent security systems with the ability to give information on fence conditions and faults. The fence information is then reported using both wired and wireless networks and can also be integrated into independent control rooms.

Reliable communication is key

In conjunction with the improvement of security on estates, there has been a movement to smartphones and computer accessible technology: Internet, online, cloud and 3G technology. Because estates are large private communities, they have invested in private networks to enable residents to enjoy connectivity. Security systems, however, tend to overload the private networks and the security systems can then stop working.

The choice of network is therefore also important. Wired networks (fibre and copper) tend to be private in-house networks and have to be managed and maintained by the estate, wireless (3G or 4G) tend to be operated and managed by the large telecommunication companies and that means maintenance and continuation of service is guaranteed. While there are many pros and cons of both network types, there are cost-saving implications if you do not need to privately manage a network.

Finally, a professional risk assessment should be carried out, for yourselves and if possible in conjunction with other estates in your area. Just as a homeowner cannot carry out all the work of securing their house, it’s the same for estates, one estate cannot hold up a whole neighbourhood. For security to work we need to adopt an holistic view that takes into account our estate and the community around us. So, despite all the technology available today, fences are here to stay.


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