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More-ish About Alarm Monitoring

Most sites have a range of devices and systems that should be getting 24-hour monitoring, but they’re too often ignored – especially on small and medium sites. Sure, it’s important to monitor internal spaces after hours but how many more systems on site are vital to operations?

When working to establish what you need to monitor on a given site, you need to conduct a detailed survey and put in place a plan that identifies key elements of your site and outlines strategies to support them. These elements will be bigger than you think and might include comms, solar power generation, the fuel tanks of diesel generators, flood sensors, irrigation systems, HVAC, external lighting, automatic gates, UPS, external fire sensors and whatever else your site can’t function without.

Right up front, it would be a mistake not to think about the comms solution/s. That includes everything from wireless links to fibre optic connections and telecom equipment. Yes, you can include a wireless alarm reporting link in your overall security solution but it’s an unspecific and clunky way to keep an eye on telco connections for a large facility.

Likewise, if you’re protecting a major facility with significant network infrastructure, you’ll need to monitor power supplies – not just primary power supplies but remote supplies, generator and UPS support, too. You can’t monitor site power by waiting till the alarm system switches onto backup battery and rely on instructions from the monitoring station’s operators to inform you tens of thousands worth of lobster (insert your own scenario here) is melting on site.

Nor can responsibility for monitoring of key systems be palmed off onto SCADA systems at an operational level. SCADA systems – unless a site is managed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – will not offer an immediacy of response. And on smaller sites these overarching networks of data acquisition, management and control are not going to be in place. SCADA will monitor plant functionality, but it will not contact a 24-hour control room and call an emergency electrical contractor. SCADA is also vulnerable to simplistic cyber attacks and can’t be relied on for security and operational monitoring.

We’d argue there 4 primary areas that need monitoring in the modern facility, and these can be identified in order of importance as power supplies – including AC, battery backups, UPS and generators. Next is comms infrastructure including telecoms panels (digital and analogue), as well as switches and routers, fibre optic patch panels and microwave dishes and panels. At this level you’d be thinking about monitoring elements of digital and networked video surveillance infrastructure.

It’s fair to say, the most vital service to any site is electricity, with comms coming second. Yes, the security system is important too but without these fundamental support infrastructures, security sensors, cameras and access control solutions represent dumb hardware. In their absence it will be mechanical locks, gates and physical target hardening strategies that will protect your site – the electronic security system will be worthless.

Another big deal is the fire alarm system. True, on bigger sites this is a separate solution monitored by fire services, but you’ll want a finger on the pulse of this key system anyway. And on smaller sites, the smoke sensors connected to the security system may be the first line of defense after the sprinklers. Depending on your application, monitoring the fire system secondarily might include use of CCTV, or a flood sensor that detects sprinkler activation.

The operational elements of the video surveillance system have a place here as well. How you’re going to monitor this solution depends on the nature of the product you’re working with. You may need to consider it as a subsystem of the overall security solution. You’ll want to consider power, HDD failures, RAID solution failures, cable plant integrity and camera power. Keeping an eye on network cabinet access points and server racks is key.

There are also environmental inputs that you’ll need to keep an eye on when thinking about network infrastructure and these include basics like temperature, the presence of water, air quality, and chemical sensors. Depending on the nature of the site, there will be an HVAC system and it might be modest or vast and complex. Most big HVAC solutions are monitored and controlled by SCADA systems but there will be fundamental inputs you’ll need to monitor and whether you take these direct from the HVAC control panel or dig them out of SCADA RTUs is going to depend on HVAC system design, the cleverness of integrators and the pervasiveness of your overall monitoring procedures.

Whatever else you do as a consultant, security manager or integrator, don’t make the mistake of thinking monitoring is a business only conducted between alarm sensors/panels and receivers in a monitoring system.


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