Convergence Q&A: Smart Perimeter Detection Projects

March 11, 2013
Determining requirements and pilot tests are keys to success

More often than not it’s the process — not the technology — that is to blame for failed perimeter detection projects.  

Q:  My security team and I spent hours examining and comparing megapixel video cameras and analytics technology and finally made selections for our fence line perimeter security project. After installation and several months of fine-tuning, we are still getting nuisance alarms, and we are also failing to detect intrusions. How can I hold the manufacturers accountable?

A:  Unless they contractually promised to provide a perfectly working system, the most you can do is enable them to determine what role, if any, their products can have in your solution when you fix it.

The real problem lies in the technology selection and deployment process, which is the diagnosis for most failed technology projects. Unfortunately, this is a very common situation when it comes to perimeter detection projects, from small to large. The Internet contains articles recounting fence line perimeter security projects upwards of $100 million that failed miserably. But when your own project is in crisis, it’s very small comfort to know that other projects have failed as well.

The only way to guarantee that such a project will be successful is to perform pilot tests in the field. That is actually what the project above turned out to be — a very expensive and extremely upsetting field test.

Requirements are a Critical Challenge

Detecting motion and objects is hardly ever the challenge. The challenge is to report only the valid objects or conditions as alarms, and being able to ignore the “normal” conditions that would otherwise trigger an analytics event report.

There are numerous stories of projects where animals turned out to be a significant source of nuisance alarms. Then there are the wind-blown newspapers and shopping bags that hit fences and stick, or cross video detection areas. Sunrise and sunset change the video image, as do headlights from passing cars outside the target area. Baseballs and basketballs can also cause problems, but those usually constitute acceptable nuisance alarms since they occur rarely, and usually foreshadow an “innocent” intrusion that’s the attempt to retrieve them.

It is the commonly occurring potential nuisance alarms that you need to deal with most. This is why, for this kind of project, developing the requirements is significantly more than a word-processing exercise. You have to be 100-percent sure what the field conditions are — which usually means temporarily installing the kind of cameras you expect to use, and recording a couple of weeks of video around the clock. During this time period, you want to create multiple instances of each type of intrusion activity that you want to detect. Be sure to create each condition in three ways: at the near and far ends of the camera’s field of view, plus in the middle. Close to the camera, a dog can appear larger than a person crawling at the farthest point from the camera.

Additional complicating factors are seasonal changes. Facility grounds can look very different in summer and winter. Fall leaves can calls cause all kinds of problems, too.

Testing is Critical, Too

Save time and money by using lab testing before field testing. Now that you have recorded the video containing examples of valid event (what you want to report as alarms) and nuisance events (what you don’t want to report as alarms), give copies of the video to your candidate analytics vendors. It saves calendar time to test multiple analytics products and approaches — server-based, edge appliance-based and camera-based analytics — in parallel.

Providing all of the vendors with the same video clips is the only way to get a true competitive performance comparison. Vendors are usually receptive to this approach, as they get to collect examples of what works well and what doesn’t, and can more easily avoid raising false expectations of prospective customers. If you are using multiple technologies as a way to reduce false positives, expect that to increase the testing time by 50 percent.

If and when you have found products that perform satisfactorily, then you can perform an actual field pilot test. The pilot test is where you can closely examine the strengths and weaknesses of the products, and you should create as many activities and conditions as you can think up to stress-test the technology and determine its boundaries of acceptable performance. Remember that not all sites are the same, so establishing a few pilot sites rather than just one might be very wise.

Engaging an integrator to execute the pilot project will give both you and the integrator experience that will turn out to be valuable for the final deployment and for ongoing maintenance. This is also an approach that will be successful in fixing troubled perimeter intrusion detection projects.

Write to Ray about this column at [email protected]. Ray Bernard, PSP, CHS-III is the principal consultant for Ray Bernard Consulting Services (RBCS), a firm that provides security consulting services for public and private facilities. For more information about Ray Bernard and RBCS go to or call 949-831-6788. Mr. Bernard is also a member of the Content Expert Faculty of the Security Executive Council ( 

About the Author

Ray Bernard, PSP, CHS-III

Ray Bernard, PSP CHS-III, is the principal consultant for Ray Bernard Consulting Services (, a firm that provides security consulting services for public and private facilities. He has been a frequent contributor to Security Business, SecurityInfoWatch and STE magazine for decades. He is the author of the Elsevier book Security Technology Convergence Insights, available on Amazon. Mr. Bernard is an active member of the ASIS member councils for Physical Security and IT Security, and is a member of the Subject Matter Expert Faculty of the Security Executive Council (

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