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Perimeter security: Know your adversary

Dr. James Ionson

Perimeters represent natural and/or manmade boundaries that enclose physical assets, ranging from nuclear power plants, air and sea ports, to entrances of commercial office buildings and retail stores.

Traditional security industry experts often defer to systems that prevent, detect/verify, and delay/divert adversaries from executing their goals within the perimeter. Numerous articles and presentations describe an unending list of technologies and techniques -- such as bollards, fences, buried and fence-mounted seismic, magnetic acoustical cables, infrared, visible and microwave imaging devices -- for safeguarding perimeters. Analytical techniques can fuse the detected data from these tools into a form that can be further analyzed by first responders. 

The industry has created a perimeter security “toolkit” that is incredibly sophisticated, but relatively little discussion has focused on how these multiple tools can be used to build effective perimeter security systems, and whether they truly minimize false threats, reduce costs and allow an appropriate, measured response to be initiated.  

The Moscow airport attack in early 2011 exposed the weakness of a system designed to look inward, focusing on preventing a threat coming from a traveler boarding a plane. The system needed to look outward, beyond its self-defined perimeter, where the screening of carry-ons and ticketed passengers already takes place. In this case, the suicide bomb was set off by a terrorist who entered the arrivals hall. Had there been surveillance and, perhaps, other advanced integrated technologies at various locations on an extended perimeter, it is possible that the attack could have been prevented. 

Homeland security managers and security system designers must analyze perimeters of transportation centers focusing on their adversaries’ goals and all scenarios for achieving them. Where will they attempt to breach perimeters? How will they do it? What behaviors will they display? What will be the differences in their behaviors from the behavior of business travelers? Tourists? Employees? Or guests picking up passengers?

Know your adversary

Whether the perimeter is open or closed, hundreds of feet or hundreds of miles, knowing your adversary is critical when architecting security solutions. Then, by translating that knowledge into a spectrum of threat profiles whose behaviors or characteristics are detected by multiple technologies, perimeter security systems that judge the severity of a security breach and allow effective implementation of an appropriate response can be designed.

Threats represent detectable actions of an adversary with a specific goal in mind; for example, to enter a restricted area, smuggle a bomb through security, tamper with and compromise security peripherals, etc. A threat profile is a set of all threats that characterize all of the actions an adversary must execute in order to accomplish its goal.

The intelligent use of multiple technologies integrated to detect behaviors associated with the threat profile is a key component of an effective and cost-efficient security solution. These technologies are embedded in security peripherals, such as cameras, scanners, access control systems, trip wires, motion detectors, etc. Most important to a successful solution is a process of threat-profile verification through the integrated use of these technologies offering SATIV, which is an acronym for:

  • Surveillance that is persistent and pervasive;
  • Acquisition of multiple breaches associated with a threat profile;
  • Tracking of multiple breaches with the ability to;
  • Interrogate events using analytics, such as facial recognition, behavior patterns, etc., resulting in;
  • Verification, by correlating results of interrogation, with rule-based characteristics of a verifiable breach.

Very few deployed perimeter security solutions utilize all components of the SATIV process. Even those solutions that incorporate surveillance, acquisition, tracking and interrogation lack the overall integration necessary to achieve verification of a breach. Great emphasis must be placed on verification and the best system technologies should be designed to be effective and cost-efficient – employing features that are part of solutions that do not tolerate false alarms. Threat profiling integrated with SATIV is essential so that responders have the necessary knowledge and tools to assess the severity of a perimeter security breach and execute an intelligent measured response that minimizes escalation and prevents unnecessary costs.

James Ionson, Ph.D., is CEO of Oncam Global Group. He can be reached at:

[email protected]


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