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Out of bounds

12 Apr 2011
It's a waste of money if hardware, fences and cameras are not used in the right way

It's a waste of money if hardware, fences and cameras are not used in the right way

Can a port or terminal really be made impenetrable, asks Felicity Landon

A port can spend thousands or millions of pounds installing the strongest 20-ft fences peppered with CCTV cameras. But then what? Just one point of weakness, and the whole project has failed.

“If you install something to stop someone doing something, there will be someone out there trying to find a way around it, looking for that possible weakness. Buying hardware and fences and cameras is a very expensive thing – and if you don’t use them in the right way, it is a waste of money,” says Phil Doyle, North Europe regional director at video surveillance specialist Axis Communications.

How many movies have we all watched when the goodies (or baddies) who are breaking into a secure area wait until the control room operator is distracted from his bank of CCTV screens, whip out a grappling hook and leap over the fence?

Richard Clarke, global director ports and marine at consultants AECOM, says: “You can always get into a port. It is almost light amusement for me, when I visit a port, working out where I could get in. It could be along the quay edge or rock bund, or close to buildings; you can climb buildings.

“Very often when you are getting your ISPS pass to get into the port, you can see the CCTV monitor screens in the background – and, likely as not, nobody is actually looking at them, because they are too busy issuing passes.”

Most ports and port authorities are now asking for continuous surveillance with CCTV, says Mr Clarke. But the ever-increasing size of ports – and, therefore, their perimeters – presents a huge challenge.

He describes one port in the Middle East where phase one has a perimeter of 2.5 kms – but the whole port site has a perimeter of 12 kms, most of which will contain empty desert for years to come. The security authorities are insisting that CCTV cameras are installed every 60 metres around the entire 12 km perimeter. “Who is going to look at that number of screens? It is easy to put cameras up, but what do you do with the information?”

Movement detector cameras can help because they highlight a screen if there is a particular movement, he says. “But you are still left with a guy with a huge wall of screens, 99.99% of the time showing a blank piece of desert. Will they actually be awake if something happens?”

AECOM recently worked at another Middle Eastern port where movement detector cameras had been specified; but a large amount of livestock around the perimeter, including cattle and camels, constantly triggered the movement alarms.

CCTV cameras work well for areas with a short perimeter, such as prisons, says Mr Clarke. “But a long perimeter with miles and miles of open space just doesn’t get looked at. I still think there is no substitute for a good security road inside the fence and someone driving around in a vehicle, going by at random.”

Phil Doyle at Axis agrees that a key issue is the increasing size of port areas, “which means that you need more and more cameras or surveillance or guards to walk the perimeter”.

He says: “If you have lots of cameras and someone sitting watching them in the control room, their boredom level is quite low – something like 13 minutes of 100% attention of their surveillance of all the cameras.

“Instead of having lots of cameras which you can’t monitor effectively, people are turning to technology to help them,” he says. “This includes thermal imaging cameras, which detect heat patterns and can be used day and night. By putting thermal image cameras along the perimeter, you can identify whether someone is trying to climb over or cut through the fence.”

Video analytics, or ‘intelligent video’, in which the system itself raises the alarm, takes away the inherent weakness of relying on humans watching screens, he says.

“Four or five years ago, intelligent video was a bit of a red herring. But there has been a lot of progress, mostly enabled by the fact that video can be run over the IT system. So most users of video are starting to specify IP video.”

In effect, the cameras themselves become intelligent, equipped with a mini-PC inside them; the software will then ensure that if, for example, a group of people is gathering in a specific area where they should not be, the video will pick this up and send an SMS or raise the alarm before the situation gets out of control.

“You can draw a line for the camera and if someone crosses that line, the camera will tell me,” says Mr Doyle. “You tell the system what you want to know.”

The result can be fewer cameras to do more and, if the requirements change, the cameras don’t have to be ripped out; the software can be upgraded or the parameters altered by a simple download.

What’s crucial in perimeter protection is planning and joined-up thinking. “If a port comes to us, we would talk to them about what they are doing in terms of fencing and access control and swipe cards, etc., and what are their objectives. We don’t make fences or design them but we work with partners around the world.

“A lot of people come in and say I want to put up lots of cameras and big strong fences and that would make me feel very good and give me peace of mind. We ask, what are you trying to achieve and what is your budget – and get everybody on the same page.”

But Mr Doyle agrees that where there’s a will, there’s a way to get in. “When we work in the retail sector, they tell us they want to use video to stop people stealing from their store. We tell them the only way to do that is to lock away everything in the shop and brick up the doors. This is all about reducing risk and understanding weaknesses.”

And he makes one more point; port security and port IT departments often don’t speak to each other and, if they did, they could achieve some useful synergies.

The US port of Virginia, chose an Axis solution for security, and additional cameras were installed as part of the network to track containers in the yard.

“Sometimes you can implement two or three different projects in one solution,” says Mr Doyle. “The port’s IT manager should be involved at the beginning – which security people don’t always think about. Because the video is run through the IT network, the IT team needs to be involved to make sure the infrastructure is available.”

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Port security and IT departments should speak to each other to achieve some useful synergies It's a waste of money if hardware, fences and cameras are not used in the right way

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