A largely untapped security opportunity has emerged for low-voltage electrical contractors: fiber optics on perimeter fences. This relatively small field could provide new growth opportunities for low-voltage electrical contractors who already perform fiber optic work, because it uses tools and skills that contractors already possess.

As fiber optics installation contractors understand, fiber uses pulsing light to transmit data. Disturbances in the fiber channel disrupt those light pulses. When running a network over fiber, disruptions cause problems.

But those same disturbances make a fiber optic perimeter intrusion detection system work. If a perimeter fence—and the fiber optic cable attached to it—-begins to move or is cut through, climbed over or otherwise agitated, the pulses will be disrupted, and those disruptions can trigger an alarm system.

“The fiber optic cabling functions as a vibration sensor,” said Bob Wrzesniewski of Fiber Patrol by Optellios Inc.

Multiple options

Manufacturers of this type of security solution each have proprietary elements to their systems, however, they all require fiber optic cabling to be attached to pre-existing chain link fence around the perimeter of a restricted area.

“The most labor intensive part is stringing the cable through the fence,” said Mark Ellsworth, vice president of sales and business development for Smarter Security Systems, which manufactures the SmarterFence system.

Once the cable is attached to a fence, technicians field terminate the fibers and plug them into fiber transceivers. Preterminated fiber is available from some manufacturers, while some require fusion splices.

Next, the technician calibrates a software interface, which is unique to each manufacturer. The software includes an alarm signaling program that responds when it senses a disruption or intrusion. Sometimes, lights or sirens are set off along the stretch of fiber that has been disturbed with the intent to startle and scare away a would-be intruder.

Depending on the manufacturer, additional features include tie-ins to an owner’s security notification system, possibly occurring through direct cable connections if there is a computer network at the same location as the cable. If the point of disruption is at a remote location, such as a distant communications tower, the alarm can be sent using a dialup or cell phone service.

If the disturbed location has electrical power and broadband access, some systems, depending on the manufacturer and grade, can respond by e-mail with a GPS-pinpointed disruption location. Some systems can distribute Internet protocol data transmissions over the same fiber optic line, which can allow for transmission of video images from a disturbed location. That can show responders if the disruption is caused by, say, a deer merely scraping its antlers along the fence or if there is a true threat.

A fence with valuables inside

Likely customers would include clients that regard perimeter security as important, including military installations, correctional facilities, refineries, food processing plants, utility substations, chemical production storage sites or any place where there is a fence with valuables inside.

“This is a huge potential market,” Ellsworth said, “but timing is everything. Facility owners need to know about us when they have a problem. Nobody seems to have money for perimeter security until they get stung.”

Another potential market is retrofits of existing telecom installations, as some solutions can alert system owners if fiber lines are being tampered with or disturbed.

In addition, these solutions can be used by multibranch banks that have their own dedicated fiber lines for secure data transmissions, or on (or between) military installations, where there is the risk of intelligence tampering.

Or, its value could be as simple as alerting an IT department that vibrations from a backhoe are getting dangerously close to its buried fiber optic cables. Similarly, fiber optic cables can be laid alongside buried pipelines to provide advanced warning of a pending disruption and also can pinpoint exact locations if there is an unauthorized penetration.

Manufacturers generally have training and certification options for third-party installers. Interested contractors should inquire with manufacturers to determine those companies’ solutions’ features and how—or if—they can become a certified installer of those solutions. Some states require contractors to obtain a license prior to installing security equipment.

Fiber optics in perimeter fences may be a way for low-voltage contractors to use their existing equipment, staff and client lists to increase revenues with a minimum of new investment.

MUNYAN is a freelance writer in the Kansas City, Kan., area, specializing in business writing and telecommunications. He can be reached at www.russwrites.com.