With a UK threat attack ‘highly likely’, is our national infrastructure at risk?

Lucas Young

Our critical national infrastructure (CNI) underpins the foundation of our modern existence, yet as most of its operation takes place ‘behind the scenes’, it is often so seamless that we hardly notice it’s there. Energy, water supplies, transportation and even logistics are all essential components of our modern world. Disruption, damage to or sabotage of any one of these sites could be catastrophic, depriving millions of people of access to essential services and, in some cases, causing loss of life. With the UK’s terrorism threat level having just been upgraded from substantial (3) to severe (4), it’s crucial that these industries adjust their security posture accordingly, and have appropriate technologies in place to support this.

Existing security provisions should be thoroughly assessed as the need to adopt high quality security solutions, providing continual real time surveillance and security protection, becomes even more imperative. Security measures must consider both the threat and the operating requirements. Typically for CNI this may include geographically large and remote locations. But there will always be environmental constraints and it’s important to ensure that any security provision does not conflict with operations at a site. Consideration must be given to finding a solution that integrates into existing infrastructure, providing high levels of accuracy and allowing for timely incident alert and response.

Pitfalls of traditional perimeter protection

While no technology is fool-proof, certain technology is more prone to false alarms, referred to as ‘false positives’. This can often result in operational headaches for security teams when dealing with traditional intrusion detection solutions physically integrated into a perimeter fence. Common causes of false positives include animals, moving plants and trees, and even wind. As it’s not always possible for security staff to quickly and accurately determine the cause of an alarm, a site has to be physically checked. This can waste valuable time and resources, and could result in apathetic or overstretched staff ignoring a genuine threat.

Other intrusion detectors, such as infrared and lasers can be positioned on the perimeter, but these can be costly and have limited verification capability. By contrast, employing the latest generation of network video technologies can reduce operating overheads dramatically, by cutting down the number of false positive alerts. Significantly improved images provide remote operators with the ability to accurately assess a situation before despatching a ground team, and integration with additional technologies such as radar, can result in a smarter solution that is capable of providing comprehensive overarching protection.

Capable solutions for effective CNI security

Modern networked IP cameras are capable of reducing unnecessary deployment of security teams, representing a clear return on investment. The combination of video surveillance cameras and motion detection software has expanded the range and capabilities of perimeter protection solutions from simple detection to complex intrusion analysis. Today’s specially designed cameras feature sensors that are capable of producing highly detailed images even in rain, fog or at night. Now even capable of utilising the power of Artificial Intelligence, each camera can host its own task-specific video analytic and integrate with other third party technology to significantly improve the ability to detect intrusions quickly and efficiently, making blanket coverage of a perimeter more cost effective.

Combining visual data from cameras with other sources, such as infrared imaging, can further improve detection capabilities. Thermal (or thermographic) cameras, when coupled with video analytics software, can protect an area at any time of day or night. Sensors using thermal technology offer excellent detection capabilities over considerable distances, which are ideal for larger estates. The addition of integrated IP audio horn speakers allows pre-recorded warnings to be issued to deter any would-be intruder, or real-time voice alerts which can be communicated from a central location.

In addition, access control systems which use video surveillance as a second form of authentication, can prove a powerful tool for effectively guarding entrance and exit points. Admission to a CNI site can be carefully monitored, with access attempts granted or rejected based on a combination of having the right credentials and a positive identification via video camera. In the current COVID-19 climate, the use of frictionless access control technologies allow access to a site without the need to touch shared surfaces, removing the risk of cross infection. A QR code presented using a mobile phone is one such example, and can again be backed up by network video.

Converged security

Effectively securing and protecting CNI sites requires taking a converged approach. This includes input from other departments, such as IT and operations, and is fast becoming best practice. Historically, a good starting point for the perimeter would always have been the more traditional measures, which typically deter and delay a potential intruder. But, with many measures and systems now integrating with each other, a more considered and holistic approach is required. Integrated networked security technologies therefore offer a highly desirable security solution.

Modern IP based technology is affordable and scalable while able to provide enhanced perimeter protection and, through fully supported surveillance and security systems backed by powerful analytics, enables security teams to respond accurately and swiftly in the event of a potential threat.

Such solutions, when built upon open platforms, facilitate simple integration with other technologies by using APIs and standard IoT protocols. This results in an overarching solution that can seamlessly incorporate a range of sophisticated technologies to keep pace with an ever evolving threat. Investing in intelligent security solutions is an investment into protecting our critical national infrastructure and our modern standard of living.

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