The importance of effective perimeter security

Residential Estate Security Handbook 2019 Editor's Choice, Surveillance, Residential Estate (Industry)

Protecting the perimeter is key for any residential estate, but how does one go about making sure your perimeter is as secure as possible without having an army of guards patrolling 24-hours per day?

Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked two companies that specialise in perimeter security for their take on what makes for a secure perimeter. We not only asked them for insight into what makes a perimeter secure, but also how estates can get to their ideal perimeter security solution without breaking the bank.

Our experts are Chris Lovemore, CEO of Elf Electronic Security Solutions, and a group effort from Stafix (Ndlovu Fencing) including Shaun Williamson (MD), Brian Wynberger (senior manager) and Maurice Williamson (CEO).

Starting out, we asked our respondents what their ideal perimeter protection solution would look like – assuming there were no budget restrictions. Lovemore’s ideal consists of electric fencing, thermal or high-specification Infrared fence-line cameras with human detection, video analytics, a customised power supply and network management equipment.

All this would be supported by a competent team of IT and security technicians managing the technical support for the system (including vegetation management). Added to this, he would also want a team of skilled security personnel who will monitor the control room alarms and respond promptly to an intrusion.

And there is still more in an ideal solution. Lovemore says access control also forms part of a perimeter and therefore the use of quality boom gates and biometric systems supported by well trained personnel is essential. “Often overlooked here is the need for more bespoke UPS systems as a gatehouse cannot afford to be without power,” he says. “It should be noted that generators often cause voltage spike problems with sensitive electronic equipment and therefore properly specified battery-based systems are preferred.

“Ultimately,” Lovemore explains, “the best solution starts with the right philosophy i.e. how do you select your installer and SLA provider; how well staffed and managed is the company that supports the equipment; what risk/responsibility do they take in managing the system; and what assurances do they give in repairing/replacing faulty equipment?

“Moreover, we also need to ask what insurance risk the service provider offers and what is their track record. It is a pointless exercise installing the best equipment if it is not accompanied by a broader contractual/management system and a determination to ensure the system works efficiently 24x7.”

All-live electric fencing

Shaun Williamson’s ideal perimeter solution would be a layered system with different technologies overlapping. The perimeter would definitely have an electric fence, brackets would be spaced at a maximum of 2 m apart and lower wires would have 50 mm spacing. “I would prefer a bi-polar, all-live system so that potential perpetrators would be shocked on all wires. Wires below 1.5 m would be powered by monitored low voltage.

“The system would be networked and linked back to a perimeter patrol management system. The fence could be further reinforced with taught wire triggers if needed. The perimeter patrol system could be local with offsite backup and could also have Wi-Fi or GSM cloud backup. My preference is a networked system with an energiser per zone.

“The electric fence could be reinforced with CCTV, my preference being thermal and visual cameras. Thermals are a great addition, but it’s important, where possible, to have proper identification and visual cameras are ideal for this. Then, the access points to the estate are very important and often the weakest points. There is always a play off between convenience and security. Residents want security until it hinders them.”

He also adds that a good access control system, reputable guard company and access management system are important. Moreover, a crucial addition at the gates is high resolution CCTV with sufficient cameras to cover all angles. The crucial footage will be looking at driver and passenger identification. Number plate recognition is also important whether merely looking at the number plate in the field of view or automatic number plate recognition (ANPR).

“There are some very nice app-based systems to interact easily with residents, visitors, trade deliveries and security. I have been involved in various housing estates and believe that interrogating the system and regular cross checks are important. Personally, I prefer separation of duties and having separate providers between guarding and electronics so that, if systems don’t work, the guards will report it immediately instead of possibly covering for their own company’s installation teams.”

A more practical approach

While everyone would like a perimeter security solution with all the bells and whistles, the reality is that only a few estates have the money to support that approach. That being the case, what could be described as a reasonably secure perimeter? In other words, what would the security team in an estate need to have on the perimeter be able to tell its residents that the homeowners association (HOA) has done its job in terms of perimeter security?

The devil is always in the detail, says Lovemore. “We believe the foundation of a secure perimeter is a well-built and well managed electric fence. It boils down to the way fence poles and intermediates are designed, built and fixed relative to the existing boundary wall, the spacing of wires, the spacing between intermediates, the method of insulation (through-insulation vs. riveted insulators), the method of wiring (series, parallel, all live wire), the type of wire (galvanised vs stainless vs aluminium), how the zone alarm signals are relayed back to the control room, and whether or not anti-burrow is required and so on.”

In terms of the fence-line CCTV system, he says the details lie in the quality of equipment and how it is installed, how efficient is the video analytics algorithm relative to local conditions, and whether the system has a dedicated service provider tweaking the image database and zones of interest to continually improve the false alarm rate.

Additionally, Lovemore believes power backups are not optional or a luxury item. The security team must understand what the power surge and UPS design specification for the entire system is and how this is monitored and maintained to ensure that backup power does not deplete during prolonged power outages. Furthermore, he cautions not to forget the entire network methodology and continuous management of it, including schematic layouts of all equipment and programming of IP addresses into a network management system by the service provider who will use this as the means to quickly detect faulty equipment and repair it.

As impregnable as possible

For Shaun Williamson, a secure, “as impregnable as possible” boundary is the most important. By this he means a well-constructed, high electric fence with brackets as close to each other as possible and multiple lines. “You need to prevent the perpetrators separating wires and pushing under or through undetected. Brackets close together and multiple wires commencing from the bottom up at a spacing of 50 mm helps prevent this. A networked, multiple-zone fence gives the best, most accurate detection and if wired in bi-polar, especially at the coast, will limit false alarms.

Wynberger suggests that the addition of a surveillance system, which works in conjunction with the electric fence, is paramount in offering a visual component which can be viewed in the estate’s control room or by the security manager on a mobile device – and by anyone else who has a need to view footage.

“The surveillance system should include features such as video loss and tamper detection,” he says. “Once you have a decent monitored perimeter you can start focusing on alternate layers of security to support the fence.”

A phased approach

In a real-world situation, where estates have existing installations and want to do upgrades instead of completely redoing their perimeter security, the ability to include the latest technology integrated seamlessly with existing products is critical. Is this a realistic option for estates or will the perimeter end up being less secure because the different products don’t integrate properly or simply are not designed to be part of a complete solution?

Shaun Williamson admits that technology keeps on advancing with new ideas and methods; however, he says old technology is not always bad. “If the complex has a reasonable fence, installed five years previously, I would rather reinforce the fence with, for example, thermal cameras than rebuild a new fence. In addition, there are add-ins such as taught wire, earth loops, and extra wires to help upgrade an older system. Then one can rather spend the budget on additional layers.”

On the other hand, he says security cameras, booms, motors, etc. do have a limited lifespan. “I would consider replacing electronics every five to seven years and the physical fence – if well installed and, depending on the area (coastal or inland) – every 10 to 15 years.”

Lovemore agrees that technology is evolving fast and that it is possible to ‘mix and match’. He also warns that being too dedicated to one system can become a liability, especially if something compromises that supplier. For example, the video analytics capabilities of some camera suppliers may not be as good as stand-alone solutions. Moreover, the independent solutions can be employed to work with almost any CCTV system.

“Estates have to stay as current as possible with the latest technology,” states Lovemore, “and therefore equipment should be written down over five years to be able to stay ahead of the criminal strategies which evolve with the equipment.”

The first step in a phased approach

As noted, a phased approach is doable for estates, but those responsible must ensure they have a reliable solution installed at every step in the process.

A well-maintained, alarmed electric fence is the first step in Lovemore’s opinion. “We have developed the model whereby estates are able to spread the infrastructure cost over five to 10 years, making it more affordable. Then we just do upgrades every five years if there is a significant improvement in the technology.”

Of course, a phased approach may not be an option in certain instances, for example, when the initial perimeter has been poorly secured. Even in this case, Shaun Williamson believes carefully considered upgrades can solve the problem.

He describes it as follows: “When a developer starts a development, he may skimp on the initial fence. Electricity is often an issue on the perimeter and so he will rather use fewer energisers and use monitors to sectorise the fence. He may have also skimped on brackets, allowing wider spaces between brackets. Sometimes the fence is too low as well.”

Solving the problem over time would require ensuring the fence structure is strong and the wires cannot be separated easily. Adding brackets, lengthening certain sections of fence and adding line wires are all possible solutions. The more energisers which can appropriately be added to the system and the shorter the HV zone lengths the better, he adds. “This enables the intrusion to be narrowed down to easily detectable and workable response distances. Once this is done, the addition of cameras is a further option.”

Eyes on the perimeter

Moving on from the physical barriers of fencing, electric or not, it has become common, if not compulsory to also have cameras placed along the perimeter to offer visual insight into alarms and potential problems. One of the benefits of perimeter cameras is verification of alarms. If the security team can obtain instant visuals of a zone when an alarm sounds, they cannot only decide if it’s a false alarm or not, but also ensure the response to the alarm is appropriate.

Thermal cameras have become a common site on long perimeters as they can provide an image in almost any conditions – not a visual, recognisable image, but one where control room operators can determine if the alarm is caused by humans, animals or something else. Of course, infrared cameras are also an option for supplementing visual cameras in the dark, but adverse weather conditions could limit their capabilities and they generally operate over shorter distances. And finally, many high-end cameras today have made remarkable progress in providing images in poor lighting conditions, sometimes even colour images, although again the distance is an issue (along with adverse weather conditions).

So which of these is the best option for perimeters? Or perhaps we should ask which combination would offer the optimal security solution for an estate’s perimeter?

Wynberger explains that thermal cameras and low-light, visual cameras provide some unique advantages and disadvantages which determine the value they may add to a perimeter solution.

“Visible cameras, though giving clearer images, are effective at a much shorter distance and so can be more expensive to deploy than thermal cameras on a long perimeter. It is possible to increase the range of the visible camera by increasing the optical zoom range of the lens, but it becomes more expensive at very high zoom values. Visible cameras also have limited capability in adverse weather conditions such as rain, fog or smoke.”

Wynberger continues that analytics is starting to play a more significant role in the utilisation of both of these technologies. Thermal cameras have been shown to generate fewer false alarms when used with motion detection or video analytics than visual cameras.

“The best option would be to use both thermal and visible cameras in conjunction with video analytics: the thermal cameras are used for quick detection and classification; the visible cameras are used for recognition and identification of the object. Video analytics are then deployed to include features such as auto tracking, line crossing, sterile zone, etc.”

“Ultimately, a CCTV system is effective if its video analytics software can accurately identify an object at a specific range,” says Lovemore. “Thermal cameras offer long range solutions, but often perimeters are not long and straight. One has to do a practical assessment of a perimeter and then calculate the cost benefit of using more expensive thermal cameras with longer ranges, versus cheaper shorter range IR cameras.

“In either case, the false alarm rate (caused by issues such as high winds, rain, birds, cloud shadows, sun reflections, spider webs, etc.) must be seen as the most critical variable in determining the correct solution as a high false alarm rate means you have ineffective perimeter security.”

Are fences of little value?

When looking at surveillance offerings at trade shows and solutions promoted by vendors, some may be of the opinion that a physical fence is of limited value. Having a ‘virtual’ fence that raises the alarm whenever someone or something crosses a line will allow security operatives to respond immediately and with the appropriate force – which they would

have to do anyway when an intruder breaks through a fence. The question is, in this technological age, do we still need the physical barrier of a fence. Both Stafix and Elf say we certainly do.

“We would strongly disagree with the above idea,” states Lovemore. “It is common knowledge that with the right tools and strategies, almost any system can be breached, especially by highly sophisticated and determined criminals.

“The question that needs to be considered is how many unsophisticated criminals does an electric fence keep out? It is our opinion that a very high percentage of crime in South Africa is perpetrated by unsophisticated opportunistic criminals. The tragedy occurs when such a criminal manages to gain relatively unhindered access into a premise (such as when there is no major electronic physical barrier) and then proceeds to commit a capital crime in desperation and panic.

“We believe that electric fences reduce these incidents dramatically as these types of criminals, by nature, are seeking soft targets. The proliferation of electric fences prove that as a neighbourhood electrifies its perimeters, those that are not protected experience an increase in crime until such a time as the whole neighbourhood is electrified. At this point the criminals start employing new tactics which is why new solutions need to be added as an extra layer to the fence.”

Electric fences are therefore a given in today’s perimeter security market, however, Lovemore warns not all fences are the same and many are simply inadequately constructed and these are now being exposed by more desperate criminals.

Stafix’s Maurice Williamson supports this view, saying that an electric fence, besides providing a physical and psychological fear barrier, has an aggressive yet aesthetically pleasing appearance. It can also provide zone identification, which assists in pinpointing the location where an intrusion is occurring. It can also trigger camera viewing and guard response.

“For me, the electric fence is crucial. A wall or mesh fence provides a physical barrier, but an electric fence provides detection and aggressive deterrence with monitoring capabilities. Electric fences are also an invaluable add-on to any physical barrier.”

Beyond the fence line

It is always worth looking at what additional technologies can add to the security of estates’ perimeters and also assist beyond the fence line if intruders are already on site.

Lovemore explains that security is a function of layers with the fence being the primary physical barrier. Fence-line CCTV adds the next layer. Internal CCTV is useful in terms of ANPR functionality, but unless there are areas that can be cordoned off as no-go zones, the main use of CCTV internally is as a deterrent or as a post incident review.

“Although not Elf’s field of expertise, the next layer would be a field of external beams mounted on the house walls, covering every external access point into a house/building and then finally internal alarm systems,” he notes. “We do not recommend stand-alone beams located away from buildings as the false alarm rate caused by animals, weather etc. is very high. In a domestic situation, if one adds dogs to this series of layers (wall-mounted house beams are not affected by dogs), it would be hard to practically improve on this combination of deterrents.”

There are additional technologies such as vibration detection that can be added, contributes Shaun Williamson. “Inside the estate, in crucial areas, beams such as RoboGuards and point-to-point beams can be used. One problem is that some estates are so large and with limited guard numbers that chasing down a perpetrator is a real challenge. Once a perpetrator is inside the estate, having extra CCTV within the road network and well-trained and equipped guards make a considerable difference.”

However, he is adamant that the estate has a boundary that is as secure as possible to prevent the above circumstances. Once the perpetrators are within the estate, undetected they can commit criminal acts, but even detected they can cause havoc: residents are known to become vigilantes, and often panic ensues.

For more information, contact:

• Elf Rentals, +27 11 312 9971, [email protected],

• Stafix Electric Fence Centre, +27 11 397 3507, [email protected],


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