What’s goin’ on?
Alarms and monitors can improve access control and monitoring of equipment at telecommunications sites. How extensively they are deployed depends on a realistic assessment of need and risk.
Alarms and monitors track two important conditions for communications system managers and their technicians: security and system performance. The extent to which systems are deployed is determined by need and risk, which should determine how resources_budget and bandwidth_are used.
Security Security is primarily a question of access, not only to the remote sites, but to central dispatch and monitoring locations as well. A security plan addresses concerns about two types of criminal activity: vandalism and theft. The plan should preempt or minimize activity not only by unknown persons, but also by suspended or terminated employees who may have intimate knowledge of the site’s contents and the security that protects it.
* Perimeter protection _ Alarms are not the first concern. An alarm system cannot prevent unauthorized entry; it detects and reports it, after which the intruder still has a minimum window of opportunity to do mischief. Access control begins at the site perimeter. In unpatrolled areas, primarily remote sites, security begins with the basics: fencing and signage. An intruder should encounter a secure fence or gate before he even gets near the equipment shelter or tower. Trespass warning signs, including an advisory of electronic security, are always a deterrent to the casual intruder. At the shelter itself, secure steel doors and framing with substantial locks are required. Mechanical door closers are also a good idea to reduce false alarms from an improperly secured door. Most prefabricated shelters designed for communications equipment do not have windows, but converted shelters that do may require seismic (movement) sensors on windows or doors.
Depending on how “James Bond”-like you want to get, there are also motion detectors and closed-circuit television (CCTV). Digital video linked to motion detectors is also now available, whereby triggering a motion detector sends a “snapshot” of the intrusion zone_and the intruder_to the central monitoring station. Dummy CCTV cameras (empty camera bodies with fake lenses and cables) also may be used to infer that the site is under constant video surveillance. Such fakes have the advantages of lower installation cost and no maintenance_just replacement.
* Qualified access _ After discouraging physical access, the next step is ensuring qualified access. Currently, lock control pads that operate with proximity cards, swipe cards or code buttons are in vogue. Such systems have several benefits. They restrict the unauthorized former or current employee. They are more convenient for authorized personnel who may have to maintain and service equipment at multiple sites. They can do so with a single device instead of hunting through all the keys to the communications kingdom. Many control pads also are tied into recording systems that log which individual entered the premises, when, and for what duration. Control pads themselves should be resistant to vandalism and the weather.
Again, in the realm of “high security,” more-complicated systems are available. Once the grist of the spy-movie mill, biometric devices are now a reality in security integration. Biometric devices measure physical attributes or qualities of the person seeking access against a template of authorized parameters. Currently, these include fingerprints, hand geometry, face geometry, eye iris or retinal patterns, and voice recognition. Unless your site has an atomic-powered repeater, this may be overkill. However, as will be discussed later, the value of the equipment and the real cost interrupted service should be considered.
System performance Nearly every environmental condition at a site and every component performance attribute now can be monitored remotely, if necessary.
* Environmental conditions _ Sensors feeding alarm and monitor inputs can detect temperature variances, too high or too low; fire, smoke or other hazardous gas; interior and exterior ambient humidity; and standing water intrusion.
* Equipment conditions _ Electrical systems conditions can be monitored, including ac power failure; uninterruptible power system (UPS) alarms, backup generator activity; fan motors; battery charger failures; battery voltages, current drain and gas or acid leaks; and tower light seasonal timing, outages, dimming and current flow. Inputs for radio equipment performance can be assigned to voltage standing wave ratio (VSWR), insertion loss, RF power output, channel inactivity, and forward and reflected power. Additionally, support systems such as waveguide pressure, fire suppression, and outages in telco, cellular or microwave links can be monitored. Discreet access to transmitter or receiver cabinets inside the shelter also can be controlled and monitored. Trip delays are also available to minimize nuisance tripping for tower lighting, for example.
Notifications of all these alarm conditions can be transmitted in a variety of ways: telco dialers, paging transmitters, cellular and microwave links, RF modems, satellite links or RS-232 ports. Some systems include voice synthesizers that “speak” the alarm condition into the telco connection or voice mail.
The installer of the alarm system should be aware that the high-power radio equipment that you are trying to protect can itself interfere with RF transmission of alarm signals. Alarm systems may need to be shielded or placed to avoid false tripping.
Most alarm and monitor systems are accompanied by, or are supported by, some form of PC software for integration at the central monitoring site. Most systems now support both analog and digital inputs. Depending on how many conditions require monitoring, anywhere from eight to hundreds of inputs can be consolidated in a single system.
Needs and risk assessment All new communications sites need some level of alarm and monitoring protection. Upgrading of security at existing sites is age-dependent. Security surveys indicate that the typical modernization cycle is every five years. Obviously, if you’re currently having problems, the time is now. How complicated or extensive (and expensive) systems upgrades become depends on a number of factors.
* Is the system for public safety, commercial or private use? What is your economical or ethical liability to your customers/the recipients of your service?
* Are alarms and equipment monitored in-house on-site, in-house off-site or by an external service provider? Is the response time geared to the type of problem being monitored?
* How much bandwidth can you spare to operate monitoring systems?
* Who installs the equipment; the manufacturer, a vendor or the site owner?
* How beneficial are entry logs and incident tracking to your overall performance management?
* How many locations are involved? What is the equipment loss or downtime profile of the network? Are specific sites more troublesome than others?
Against the capital outlay for the system, consider the costs it is intended to reduce.
* What is the frequency of unscheduled repairs and unscheduled maintenance? What is the annual cost?
* What is your annual cost from vandalism, equipment loss and loss of serv-ice? Do these losses affect your insurability or rates?
* What is the frequency of false alarms or trips? Are you liable to fines or financial penalties from local public safety or security providers for false alarms?
Experts recommend that an alarm system should realize a complete return on investment (ROI) within four years. A simple 232 grid chart can help you focus your risk assessment. Compare frequent and infrequent rates of an event occurring with severe and slight consequences. Events that fall in the “infrequent-slight” grid may not be worth troubling over. “Frequent-severe” events rarely happen in the real world: if your site has an aircraft crashing into it every Saturday night, you should have moved it by now. The “infrequent-severe” events (fires) and “frequent-slight” events (vandalism or petty theft) are what increase your an annualized loss expectancy (ALE).
However, there are additional tests, particularly in the telecommunications industry, that may override judgment based solely on ROI. What laws and regulations (primarily from the FCC, the FAA and local codes) have to be adhered to, regardless of cost? What single occurrence (fire, prolonged disruption of the entire network) is never tolerable?
Two final points. First, the alarm and monitoring system itself should be included in regularly scheduled site maintenance. Second, security for technicians and their vehicles is also important. Loss of the testing equipment and spare components from the panel truck can beas severe a blow as a breach at the site.
References Jacobson, Robert V., “Look Through The Risk Management Window to Add Up Security Costs,” Access Control and Security Systems Integration, September 1997.
Jones, Joe, “Total Protection is the Key to Reliability,” Mobile Radio Technology, October 1997.
MRT Staff, “Remote control: The Sentry that Never Sleeps,” Mobile Radio Technology, June 1997.
Quigley, Larry, “Report Light Outages with Tower Site Monitor,” Mobile Radio Technology, May 1996.
Steen, Roald, “How to Provide Security at Radio Communications Sites,” Mobile Radio Technology, September 1995.
Tedrick, Carlton L., “‘Mission Possible’: A Low-cost Alarm System for Public Safety 800MHz Communications,” Mobile Radio Technology, August 1997.
The following are manufacturers of alarm and monitoring equipment of various types as mentioned in this article. For a complete list, refer to the Buyers’ Guide section of MRT, December 1997.
Bard Manufacturing, 1914 Randolph Drive, Bryan, OH 43506-2253, 800-537-4595, www.bardhvac.com.
Barnett Engineering, 7710 5th St., S.E., #215, T2H 2L9, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 800-268-2646, www.barnett-engg.com.
Decibel Products Division of Allen Telecom, 8635 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, TX 75247, 800-676-5342, www.decibelproducts.com.
Hark Systems, 768 Travelers Blvd., Summerville, SC 29485-8223, 800-367-4275, www.harksystems.com.
King Communications USA, 5401 Alhambra Drive, Suite B, Orlando,FL 32808-7081, 888-546-4872, www.kingusa.com.
Liebert, 1050 Dearborn Drive, Columbus, OH 43085-4709, 800-877-9222, www.liebert.com.
PageTek, 182-104 Wind Chime Court, Raleigh, NC 27615-6433, 919-518-1828, www.mindspring.com/pagetek.
SSAC, P.O. Box 1000, Baldwinsville, NY 13027-1000, 315-638-1300, www.ssac.com.
Zetron, P.O. Box 97004, Redmond, WA 98073-9704, 425-820-6363, www.zetron.com.