Increase the security of your plant with a few practical tips

There are numerous ways to increase the security of your plant. Pick up practical tips in this article.

By Rich Merritt, Senior Technical Editor

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In the old days, chain link fences and junkyard dogs were enough to scare off intruders and trespassers. But times have changed. If you have a plant that might be the target of terrorists, industrial spies, activists, the anti-this or anti-that group, disgruntled employees or sophisticated thieves, your security problems have increased a thousand-fold.

“Although most companies acknowledge the need for greater security, few have the financial or human resources to deploy security staff at every possible point of vulnerability,” says David Shepherd, who has held security positions in the nuclear industry, worked for the FBI, and serves in several security organizations. Now head of security for the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, he says plant security takes more than fences and locks. “It must encompass all possible hazards — natural disasters, life safety, terrorism and health considerations,” he says. 

Just thinking about the possible threats out there today can give you sleepless nights, but take heart — yours is not the only facility struggling with a new security reality. Here’s a calm look at principles, approaches and practical tools.

Deter, detect, delay

“There are so many sources of potential threats and so many points of vulnerability, no organization has the resources to provide 100% protection from all threats,” Shepherd cautions. “It is impossible to be everywhere at once, but the more preparedness one can take in advance of any security breach, and the more points that can be monitored, the more a company will be able to do to prevent or minimize damage and return to normal operations as quickly as possible.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), its Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other government groups have issued clear and valuable procedures for protective measures, says Shepherd. “Compounding the problem is that by DHS definition, 85% of the country is a ‘soft’ target, meaning that access is difficult, if not impossible, to control,” he adds. “Unlike ‘hard’ targets, such as the White House or the Washington Monument, which can be shut down and secured quickly and completely during an Orange security condition, closing a soft target like a large chemical plant can have significant economic consequences.”

Even if your plant is a soft target and securing it completely seems like an impossible task, there are still many things you can do. Peter Stickles, a partner at security consulting firm ioMosaic (, says the focus of plant security should be a practical and doable risk reduction based on “deter, detect and delay.” The mechanisms to accomplish this should be incorporated into internal policies and procedures, perimeter security systems, and a rapid, robust response. “The recommended practice should also incorporate a risk-based assessment approach that puts terrorist attacks in context with other plant risks,” he advises.

The first line of defense, then, is good perimeter security.

On the perimeter

Robert Gruber, technology manager for the Security Solutions Group of Master Halco (, a manufacturer of perimeter fences, says a good fence deters, detects and defends. “If my fence is more formidable than my neighbor’s, then the trespasser will attack my neighbor instead of me,” he says. “Fences are still designed with deterrence in mind. A fence can be built to withstand a 15,000 lb vehicle traveling at 50 mph with a penetration of only one meter. This is the U.S. State Department’s K-12 rating.”

Alas, a person can still climb such a fence. “Sandia Labs testing has determined that a highly skilled trespasser could get to the other side of a well-designed fence in about four seconds,” Gruber notes. “Typically, a fence designer will aim for a 40-second delay at the perimeter by using a series of fences, barbed wire, razor wire and other devices.”

With the security situation getting tougher, Gruber says it has become very important to detect, delay and respond at the perimeter. Fortunately, technology — including fiberoptic cables, taut wire, and buried cable — has come to the rescue (Figure 1).


Deter, detect, delay
Deter, detect, delay
Figure 1: A fence with a good fiber optic cable can deter and detect intruders.  A good fence tries to delay intruders by 40 seconds with razor wire, secondary fences, etc.

“With a fiberoptic cable stretched along the fence, a bend or twist in the fiber would show a slight variation in the color of light,” Gruber explains. “An optical time domain reflectometer attached to the cable would locate the spot where the bend took place within a meter.”

The old standby, taut wire, is still one of the most efficient systems. “Wire is stretched tight, like a guitar string, typically at the offsets atop the fence. These wires are attached to sensors,” says Gruber.

Other sensors that can be attached to the fence include capacitive, inductive or magnetic sensors that can detect a human carrying metal, but ignore animals. Fiberoptic or electromagnetic coax cable can be buried in the ground in front of or behind a fence. Pressure on either cable produces a signal that can be detected by sensors.

Next up is delay. “Delay is a function of how long we need to respond,” Gruber says. “The response could be instant, such as turning on lights, sounding a siren or turning on a video camera. A longer response time can be expected if personnel have to rush to the area. In that case, we may have to design layers of perimeter security, such as an outer fence with barbed wire offsets, then bundles of coiled razor wire and inner fencing.”

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