Improving security with wireless technology
Written by: Philip Mason | Published:

Philip Mason examines how the security industry is using cutting-edge wireless technology to protect life and property in a world of constantly evolving threats

The security sector has been the beneficiary of technological advances

While still very much in its infancy, the Internet of Things (IoT) is offering a glimpse of a new world, where seemingly endless connectivity is going to provide seemingly endless solutions. It’s almost as if the tech is waiting for us to identify problems, new or old, just so it can step forward and put them right.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the security industry, which in recent years has seen a raft of innovations being developed in response to thorny, often lingering issues. These products range from digital two-way radio communications to the application of LTE to communicate video signals in real time, monitor location and status, identify changes to a particular environment, and so on.

That the security sector has been a significant beneficiary of these recent innovations is really no surprise. There will always be those trying to circumvent whatever measures are put in place to protect property or life, often with extraordinary invention, efficiency, and in some cases, malice. One only has to remember Al Qaeda operative Richard Reid hiding an explosive device in the sole of his shoe to realise the degree to which disaster is often only a missed second-guess away.

Sean Fitzgerald, solutions marketing manager at Motorola Solutions, whose digital radios are used to help secure multiple locations across the UK, is hugely enthusiastic about the way increased connectivity is contributing to public safety.

Speaking of how DMR technology is deployed – specifically regarding the company’s MOTOTRBO devices – he says: “There are typically two aspects to security when it comes to large sites: securing access, and then securing the operation itself, for instance to make sure that an event happens as it should.

“The setup, say at a football stadium on match day, will typically consist of the security staff themselves working alongside a central control room where the dispatchers sit. They’ll use traditional radio functions, as well as those that are specifically useful in a security context such as transmit interrupt, and the ‘man down’ function where the in-radio accelerometer monitors movement and tilt. If the member of staff has fallen or isn’t moving at all the radio will send out an alert.”

According to Fitzgerald, while the majority of sites now operate entirely using a digital network, accommodation still has to be made within the devices for analogue. At the same time, in recent years data-based functionality is increasingly being adopted for functions such as location tracking, access monitoring and so on.

“The devices now are also a data modem, a texting service, as well as containing built-in telemetry capability,” he says. “Regarding location tracking and monitoring employees, whereas previously it was only possible with GPS or add-on devices, now the devices have built-in Bluetooth 4.0 that can be used with site-specific ibeacons. That means we can virtually geofence the radios, making people much easier to locate and deploy.”

Of all the industries in which heightened levels of security are required haulage is one of the most complex, if only because there are so many points at which the system has the potential to be compromised. That could be at the depot as well as out on the road. Risks to the transport sector come from a range of potential sources existing both in the purely physical world and those related to cyber-crime. According to figures quoted by Transport for Greater Manchester, road freight crime costs the UK £250 million annually, and that’s just the incidents that get reported to the authorities.

Tracey Pope is operations and support director at Protrack, a fleet and asset management solutions company whose integration of cellular connectivity demonstrates the scope of what can potentially be achieved with the technology. It is developing a new security product – a SIM-enabled smart lock that not only tracks its own location, but will also alert the client to the manner in which it’s being tampered with.

The design of the unit ensures it has multiple ways to identify a breach. “It uses a keypad entry system, with users keying in their number, which means they’re identifiable in real time. You can tell who they are, where they were, and at what date and time of day they interacted with the lock,” he explains.

“Likewise, if someone attacks the lock it’ll tell you, and it will also tell you how they tried to do it. Different types of physical attacks produce different vibrations, which the technology recognises. We can literally tell whether it’s been hit with a 16-ounce hammer or a 20-ounce hammer, which is also useful to identify if the lock is being moved around in a way that it’s not scheduled to be.

“The system also monitors itself and checks in on a regular basis, meaning that even if someone has attacked it using technology the client will know because the lock will go quiet. We’ve tried to go through every potential scenario that the lock could find itself in, and cover every base. That could mean being used on a container, a static gate, or different vehicles. You program it to identify a certain set of environmental conditions.”

According to Pope, the unit achieves all this – other than the vibration recognition – using technology you would normally associate with a mobile phone. It relies on GPS and GPRS, with the SIM card soldered into the unit itself in the form of a chip to avoid it being damaged. Coverage isn’t an issue thanks to a UK-wide roaming agreement with Bamboo, a UK ICT and fixed/mobile communications company. The information going back to the client is entirely web-based and hosted on the company’s servers, as part of the single platform tracking system run as part of its wider business.

Pope can see the technology evolving in several ways in the coming years, while staying broadly in the realm of security-based telematics. “It really all depends on what problems you need to solve,” he says. “For instance, we’ve got another idea that we’re looking to patent, looking at specific scenarios where vehicles are being stolen.

“What we’re finding is that drivers are sometimes getting out of cabs without turning the engines off because it’s easier, and the vehicles are subsequently being pinched. We’ve devised a system, using biometrics this time, where once you get out the vehicle turns itself off and locks.”

Airports are subject to high levels of security

But what of high-risk environments? Transport hubs, government buildings, and busy public spaces are all ripe targets. Richard Reid’s failure to blow up American Airlines flight 63 in 2001 shows just how vigilant those working in the security sector need to be. It’s in environments where mass casualty incidents are an ongoing possibility that things get really dynamic in terms of the technology.

Jonathan James is head of business development at Digital Barriers, whose live streamed camera tech has helped to divert a variety of potentially high-impact situations. Working completely passively – that is, purely as a camera – the ‘ThruVis’ monitors low energy terahertz waves from people and objects to detect hidden, potentially dangerous items.

“It’s been used in a wide range of scenarios,” he explains. “Deployed differently each time according to what’s required. Environments have included customs border control, event and secure site security, sporting events, and international summit meetings.

“We’ve used them as both fixed units and mobile units, fitting them to the ceilings of airports, hiding them in walls and desks and so on. The idea is to be operationally invisible while screening on the move so the flow of people isn’t interrupted – for instance those trying to get into a sporting event.”

Once activated the camera produces an image in the form of what James calls ‘a fuzzy silhouette’, showing any object that the person might be carrying as an outline. It can then be ascertained whether the item is a threat, a process that is informed by numerous factors such as the way in which a particular object is being carried.

The material the item in question is made out of isn’t an issue either because terahertz waves are generated by all objects.

Fundamentally, there are two options when it comes to the deployment of camera technology in security situations. The first is to employ on-board video recording to capture events and review them at a later date (for instance to sift best practice information or gather evidence). This solution is being increasingly utilised by blue light services in the form of body-worn cameras, with arguably the most high-profile rollout so far happening in the London borough of Lambeth earlier this year.

The other option is to stream live, something that is clearly necessary for monitoring in real time, but brings its own set of issues when it comes to transmitting the information back to a remote operating point.

While fixed connections are preferred, ThruVis video has been streamed. “In the first instance clients have the opportunity to link the cameras using industry-standard Ethernet TCP/IP links,” says James. “That’s what we recommend, because that type of connection is more secure.

“The cameras have been used with high-performance wireless connections – via EdgeVis Live video streaming technology – which encrypts the data and helps to address issues with bandwidth and network congestion. It automatically adjusts the bandwidth usage and image fidelity in real time.”

Another company involved in streaming is software specialist Genetec, which works with a range of manufacturers specifically in the realm of body-worn technology. The cameras link up with Genetec’s central platform Security Center, which subsequently manages the data, streaming it to the cloud via the product’s secure protocol.

Genetec’s director of product management Francis La Chance believes that once the technical difficulties have been overcome live streaming is only going to become more prevalent. He says: “At the moment the market is mainly oriented towards offline devices, primarily because of technological difficulties. That includes issues around coverage, but also the weight and cost of the unit, which only increases once you add radio.

“Another challenge for live streaming is that it drains the battery pretty fast, which is not the case when you’re simply recording locally. When you start streaming the operation time is maybe a maximum of four to five hours, which is not enough to provide for a whole shift. Organisations currently need strict guidelines outlining the times when they turn the cameras on and off. It’s something the industry is discussing at the moment.”

At a time of ever-evolving threats it’s reassuring to know that the security sector is simultaneously evolving its technology to help keep the public safe. After all, with the global political situation looking increasingly insecure, the stakes couldn’t be any higher.

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