Designing Maximum Security Video Surveillance

Author: John Honovich, Published on Apr 20, 2009

Maximum security facilities have far different requirements for video surveillance than typical commercial use. In a maximum security facility, like a nuclear power plant or prison, adversaries must be stopped on-site and in progress. This is far different than typical commercial deployments where investigations are the most common use and detering intruders is a key value.

Design Philosophy of Maximum Level Security Facilities

For maximum level security, systems must be designed to stop adversaries before they reach critical assets (see the classic text on maximum level security). To meet this goal, technology, procedures and people are organized for rapid detecton and response. Video surveillance is used to support 3 goals:

  • Identifying a threat as soon as possible (e.g., perimeter video analytics)
  • Tracking the movements of an adversary (e.g., cameras throughout a facility)
  • Coordinating a real-time response (e.g., VMS software and PSIM)

Of course, video surveillance cannot be used alone. Barriers must be employed (fences, doors, gates, etc.) to slow the movements of adversaries. Guards must be able to respond quickly. Indeed, guards must be able to respond in less time than it takes to identify the threat and for the adversaries to pass the barriers.

When done correctly, some deterence is gained because adversaries may realize the low probability of success and investigations may be unecessary because attacks are either averted or stopped in progress.

Indetifying a Threat

Using video surveillance to identify threats is a relatively new approach to maximum level security system design. The most common historical approach is to use sentries (i.e., guards) or electronic/mechanical systems (like leaky coax, fiber optics, pressure sensors).  In the last decade, using video surveillance cameras with video analytics has become a third major option. The benefits of using video surveillance cameras is that they provide identification and verification in a single device. The drawbacks of video analytics is the accuracy (though all of these devices have certain weaknesses in various environmental conditions or intrusion scenarios).

For any identification tool, the goal is to place the sensors as far out as possible and with barriers in between to maximize the time to review and respond to the identification.

Tracking the Movements of an Adversary

Once an intrusion is detected, in a maximum security facility, guards must be able to track exactly where the adversary is moving. This is critical because the goal of such systems is to stop the adversary before they complete their task.

Video surveillance cameras are deployed throughout the facility to enable the guard to track the suspect. In large areas, controllable PTZ cameras will be used so that the guard can move the camera to follow the adversary. These cameras are often supplemented with fixed cameras with a wide area view to help the guard locate the general position of the adversary.

Co-ordinating a Real-Time Response

Since speed is critical, a variety of software systems are often used to help the guard immediately track and not lose the adversary.
  • 2D and 3D Mapping systems that embed the locations of cameras can help the guard determine where a suspect is and where they might be headed
  • PDAs/Phones with video monitoring applications can be used to help the on-foot responders locate and track the adversary
  • Physical Security Information Management systems can be used to coordinate response and trigger other systems (like locking doors or turning on lights).
The faster and more likely security can respond to an adversary, the higher the probability of defeating the intrusion. Software can eliminate risk and reduce time.

Designing Systems

Maximum level security facilities must integrate a variety of technologies into a coherent system that facilitates early identification, lengthy delays and rapid responses.

On the other hand, most organizations do not need and likely cannot afford designing this type of system. However, appreciating and using these principles in any design can help clarify and focus the use of video surveillance technologies to better secure facilities.

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