What makes a good perimeter?

Residential Estate Security Handbook 2016 - Vol 1 Residential Estate (Industry), Perimeter Security, Alarms & Intruder Detection, Editor's Choice

South Africa is the land of high walls and electric fences. In the residential estate community, the old-fashioned electric fence, while a firm favourite in security installations, is simply not enough to keep the ethically challenged out of other people’s property.

But what does an estate do to secure its perimeter? The estates we have in South Africa have perimeters around housing developments, golf courses and in some cases even nature reserves. That is kilometres of perimeter that needs to be secured; it’s also kilometres that can’t be patrolled efficiently unless you have hundreds of guards on patrol all the time and probably thousands at night.

A sternly worded Keep Out sign won’t do, nor will a fence or even a high wall. Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked a few experts what estates can do to secure their perimeter without resorting to military-style patrols.

What is a perimeter?

Starting off, we asked what a perimeter is supposed to do. It seems logical, but when it’s kilometres long, logic doesn’t always count.

Brendon Cowley, business development director at C3 Shared Services, explains that the primary objective of a perimeter security is exactly as it states, to ‘secure the perimeter’. In the South African environment, merely putting up a physical barrier is not enough to secure the perimeter, it simply means the estate has successfully marked off which part of the land belongs to it.

When designing a solution to secure the perimeter, Cowley says a number of factors require consideration to ensure adequate security is applied, these include: environmental, geological and meteorological conditions.

“It is crucial to evaluate the physical site conditions in conjunction with the environmental, geological and meteorological conditions as each perimeter has its own challenges,” Cowley says. “To design a solution without consideration of these conditions is like going to war without your weapon. If rainfall is high during the summer seasons, then you would know the highest number of lightning strikes would be during the December holidays and the selected technology would need to secure the perimeter adequately during these challenging times too. A perimeter is only as good as the weakest link.”

John Loftus, CEO of Mass Solutions, adds that in the design of the perimeter security system, consideration must be given to the various threat areas (low, medium and high) as well as the type of physical barrier that is erected around the estate. Based on this information, the design would involve the matching of the right technologies and systems to provide sufficient pre- and post-event information to mobilise a manned response team to an exact position.

While the focus is obviously on security, Maurice Williamson, CEO of Stafix Electric Fence Centre, notes it must also be as aesthetically pleasing as possible while still conveying the message to would-be in­truders that the inhabitants of the property take their security seriously. He also highlights the three key aspects (the 3Ds) of a perimeter:

1. The perimeter barrier should have a strong deterrent element.

2. It should be designed to deny ingress.

3. It should detect if an intruder is trying to breach the perimeter and then relay an alarm.

Williamson says the perimeter should also be broken into sectors or zones so that armed response can react efficiently and not wander along the entire fence line looking for a breach. There should also be an ‘onion’ solution to the perimeter security measures installed, i.e. layers of security such as a monitored electric fence which is linked to camera surveillance with internal beams covering vulnerable yard areas and so on.

Puffer Hartzenberg, MD of Elf Rentals, adds that some of the basics we should take for granted are often forgotten. The perimeter must be substantial enough so as to withstand a hole being punched through it – a single brick skin is not sufficient. The wall should be smooth and have no steps that allow a person to climb the wall. The fence top should be high enough to deter anyone from attempting to go over the fence and be constructed so that no person can stand on top of the wall.

So what’s a perimeter made of?

There are a number of components that can make up a perimeter defence solution. Williamson says the perimeter can consist of a wall (easily scalable) or a wall with wall-top monitored electric fencing, or even a freestanding monitored electric fence with protective barrier fence. There are a variety of design options when it comes to electric fences. “I consider a well erected and monitored electric fence to be the most important element in perimeter security. All other elements add either additional detection or visual monitoring to the system. No other system offers such deterrence and detection as a well maintained and managed electric fence.”

Garreth Osborne, sales manager at Nemtek, agrees, stating that the first line of defence would be the electric fence, not only does it have the high voltage factor, but most importantly, the ability to create an alarm to provide an early warning.

Cowley says a perimeter consists of various elements that act as a physical barrier, but to secure the perimeter you also need technology that detects human targets. “If your design of perimeter detection is good with visual situational awareness, the conventional technologies may not even be necessary i.e. beams or an electric fence, which results in long-term savings.”

He adds that situational awareness is one of the most important response tools required for a secure perimeter system.

Surveillance systems that include fixed day/night cameras, PTZ cameras as well as thermal cameras have become the norm at most estates, according to Loftus. When used in conjunction with some of the advanced analytics available today, these systems can provide not only pre-event warning, but also accurate information as to exact position of the intrusion and the number of intruders attempting to breach the perimeter.

For more advanced systems, the addition of fibre, laser and radar detection systems can be implemented for pinpoint accurate positioning of the intruder/s, coupled to intelligent tracking and automated control of the surveillance system.

Fibre-optic cabling is also being used in many situations as an intruder detection solution. These solutions either have underground fibre capable of detecting motion as someone walks or drives over or near the cable, or they are installed on the fence to detect vibrations of someone trying to climb, break or cut the fence.

Hartzenberg warns that fibre-optic systems can be used for both detection along a perimeter and to transfer information from the fence back to the control point, and is particularly useful in applications where high data volumes are required. “The main disadvantage, other than the initial outlay, is the time delay in repairing a damaged fibre cable. Splicing, as it is referred to, is a specialist skill and it can take several days to be effected. Unfortunately, this type of delay is not acceptable in the high risk security application.”

Cowley agrees, but notes that fibre cables are reliable for detecting movement, however it only provides a location of an alarm and not much more. It can not, for example, say how many human targets are detected, whether they are inside or outside the perimeter, are they armed, etc.

The budget question

Getting a prescription for the best perimeter solution is the easy part, the hard part is finding the budget to pay for it all. A long perimeter will naturally have a high price and if the estate does not have the budget for a solution with all the bells and whistles, it may have to settle for the best the budget allows right now, with long-term plans to upgrade over time.

Osborne says the perimeter required for a specific estate will depend on a comprehensive analysis and the budget. An electric fence consists of many components when unpacking it, but physically there are two main components, the energiser and the physical barrier. You need both of these components in order for the electric fence to be effective. If this is a starting point, he notes that electric fencing is cost-effective, reliable and effective.

Planning is different from skimping and Cowley warns that taking short cuts mostly results in elevated costs and decreased security. It is therefore good advice to have your long-term security in mind for the design phase.

Hartzenberg explains that Elf subscribes to the ethos of doing it right first time. “A half-hearted solution that meets the capital budget at the time will not have the desired deterrent factor and will most likely be breached, leading to much frustration on the part of the HOA members. The Elf Rentals solution of a full maintenance lease has the potential of resolving this impasse. Elf Rentals invests in their clients’ infrastructure to provide a complete solution and recovers this capital outlay by means of an affordable monthly payment over a fixed period of time, which is covered by the estate levy. This cost includes full servicing and maintenance, breakdown call-outs and insurance.

Loftus echoes the rental concept, noting that that the availability of funds normally determines the implementation approach of most security systems. A complete integrated detection system including surveillance with analytics can cost many millions of Rand. “For best results and the most effective security solution, our first option is always a complete system installation as the best approach. To make this more affordable to customers, we offer a range of rental options tailored to customer needs.”

Specific solutions

With an almost unlimited number of options and solutions available to an estate, some more expensive than others, Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked our interviewees to conclude with a brief description of their companies’ perimeter offerings.

C3 offers a turnkey solution, from evaluation, design, proof of concept, implementation, maintenance, after-sales support and repairs. “People often forget the after-sales service which includes the allocation of a key account manager to assist with budgets, information on new trends, monthly performance reports and advice on improvements etc. This very important component takes many hassles away from the security manager.

Stafix manufactures and supplies synchronisable electric fence energisers, single and multi-sector electric fence monitors, electric fence monitoring management software systems, and all accessories for electric fencing, states Williamson. “We also supply access control equipment, automatic gate motors, CCTV cameras, Roboguard outdoor wireless beams, GSM and Wi-Fi communication systems.”

Loftus lists the products Mass supplies, which are relevant to estates such as: IP surveillance cameras, thermal cameras, laser detection products, radar perimeter detection, radar speed cameras, licence plate recognition (LPR) and an integrated management platform.

Elf offers the full range of perimeter equipment solutions according to Hartzenberg. This includes electrified fencing of all configurations, thermal and optical camera systems, entrance control systems, booms gates, access control, biometrics, visitor management, Wi-Fi reticulation and more. “We aim to provide all estates with a one-stop service to meet all their perimeter security needs.”

An estate’s perimeter security solution is its first level of defence against those who would like to get inside to commit crime. It is therefore not something one can skimp on and try to squeeze a few rand out of to meet budget requirements. The ideal, as noted above, is to opt for a full perimeter solution that will meet the estate’s need for the long term.

If this is not possible due to budgetary constraints, a phased approach can be the second choice. The catch is a phased approach needs in-depth planning as the solution installed in phase 1 must stand the test of time and integrate into the other phases seamlessly as they are added. At the same time, the first phase must deliver a reasonable level of security that will deter, delay and detect intruders for long enough to allow the estate’s response team to act.


C3 Shared Services: www.c3ss.co.za

Elf Rentals: www.elfrentals.co.za

Mass Solutions: www.mass-solutions.co.za

Nemtek: www.nemtek.co.za

Stafix Electric Fence Centre: www.stafix.co.za


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