Electronic Perimeter Security In Emergency Situations
It was shortly after hurricane Wilma struck South Florida in 2005 (the same hurricane season that spawned Katrina, which was actually weaker than Wilma – for the record) that I started to think about seriously prepping for emergencies. In the aftermath of that storm, my neighborhood was without electrical power for almost three weeks. I vividly remember having to drive to get ice to keep our food from spoiling and waiting in line for bottled water as the water treatment plant was off-line for a period of time, necessitating a ‘boil water’ order.. I remember not having enough food or means to heat water for a shower or even batteries for my radios and flashlights, but the worst part of the lack of electricity was having no working home burglar alarm system as we went to bed each night. We would sleep with the windows wide open for ventilation (remember, I live in hot, muggy So. Florida where the nights are almost unbearable, even in October, without power or A/C) and feeling totally vulnerable to any hoodlum who would seek to sneak up to my 1st floor bedroom window, or that of my children, and poke a Glock (sideways, of course) through the screen at my wife and I asleep and oblivious to his approach.
I have since made several changes and upgrades to the electronic means I employ to increase my Situational Awareness (SA), that is, my ability to monitor what is happening around the perimeter of my home – even when the neighborhood’s power is out. What follows is my description of what I have done. Is my system the best or the only solution to the perimeter security dilemma? Of course not, but you can use my ideas as a starting point to devise your own home security plan.
1. Powering The System When the SHTF!
No planning session regarding electronic means of perimeter security and intrusion alarms should begin without a well-thought-out plan for how you will power those systems in the WCS (Worst Case Scenario) – a grid-down situation. As I described in the introduction, So. Fla. has its share of power outages due to hurricanes or severe thunderstorms. Like many folks who choose to live down here, I have a generator (2 actually) that will supply about 45 days of electricity for approx. 12 hours/day – enough to keep my meat freezers running as well as a small emergency wall mounted air conditioner to make those August nights bearable, on my present supply of stored fuel.
I do not, however, plan on using the generator to power my security equipment. The main reasons being that 1. I do not plan to run my generator 24/7 in order to save fuel, and 2. What would I do when (not if) the fuel eventually runs out? The answer: Solar Power. I needed a reliable supply of electricity for my security systems if the SHTF, not a temporary one like a generator. The solar-electric system I cobbled together has worked flawlessly for me for several years now. It consists of 1 Kyocera 64 watt solar panel (now mounted on a pole), 4 deep-cycle 6V Energizer golf cart batteries (from Sam’s Club) wired together in series and parallel to produce an output of 12V, a BZ-Products Solar Charge Controller and a Sunforce pure sine wave 1000watt power inverter. Now, before you say, “That sounds too complicated for me. I know nothing about electricity.” Proof that it can be done easily by someone who knows little to nothing about electricity is that I cobbled this system together by myself. Plans for wiring the panel and the batteries as well as tools for figuring out how much power you will be needing based on what you wish to run can be found all over the internet. I made good use of them as I researched my system.
Here, briefly, is how it works: The solar panel, on a sunny day, puts out about 4 amps of power through a device called a charge controller and into the storage batteries. The controller is there to make sure that the batteries are not overcharged and damaged. The power inverter converts the 12V DC power to 120V, in other words, wall voltage. The ‘pure sine wave’ part of the inverter description refers to the shape of the wave generated by the inverter. Some devices, like my laptop, need pure sine waves to run properly, while others like lights and fans do not. While more expensive than regular inverters, a sine wave inverter is a good investment if you plan on running more than just lights and fans – like me. While the sun is out, your devices will pull power directly from the solar panel through the inverter. During the night, the charge controller switches the power source to the batteries. My batteries have enough to power my entire security system, a few compact fluorescent lights, and other important items. Will it run my A/C and HD tv? No. I designed it to fit my budget and to keep my perimeter security up and running if the grid goes down, and it does that very well.
2. Perimeter Intrusion Detection
“OK, so I’ve got a fail-safe means of supplying emergency electrical power. What should I get next?”
Well, before you hear that boot trying to kick your front door down in the middle of the night, it would have been nice to have had ample warning of the ‘guest’s’ approach, so that you might have time to prepare an ample reception for him – perhaps the 12-gauge variety. That’s what a perimeter alarm affords you – TIME. Mine is on all the time, especially when my wife is home alone so she is always aware when someone is approaching the house. It consists of 6 wireless motion detectors and a base unit powered by the solar power system. The system I selected can be programmed to play a short message you record associated with each of the six zone sensors. For example: when a car pulls in my driveway or a person approaches the front of my house, the Zone 1 alarm says: “Front door. Someone’s approaching the front door.” At the present time I’m using the Voice Alert system with 6 zone sensors and I’m very pleased with it.
I consider this system to be indispensable in that it warns us when anyone gets within a certain distance from our house. On a normal day, it tells my wife that I’ve pulled in the driveway, or the mailman has come, or any number of innocuous arrivals of family and/or neighbors. But, it really shines at night, when you’re laying in your bed and the aforementioned dirtbag is sneaking up to your back door or bedroom window. It eliminates the element of surprise for anyone who would approach your house to do you harm. And having it running off the solar power system means you’re protected, even if the power should go out when you’re asleep – again, something that happens often in So. Florida, especially during the rainy season.
3. Electronic Burglar Alarm
I also recommend you have an electronic burglar alarm system as part of your perimeter security plan – one with a very loud alarm. While the motion sensors provide spoken warning of approaching ne’er-do-wells, they are of no good when no one is home. In the event of a break-in, while you are away, you should have an alarm system complete with window breaking sensors, motion sensors, and magnetic door/window sensors, all connected to a loud alarm that advises said ne’er-do-wells that they would do better to visit another house, and that the police are coming if you choose to have it professionally monitored.
There are several ways to go when selecting a burglar alarm system. You can go with the big, well known companies. The ones that advertise on television all the time, a smaller, local company, or, you can assemble one yourself. I went with the third option. Mainly, because I wanted so many sensors of different types, that the cost from the big and small companies was prohibitive. All companies quote you a price of a basic system, but that system only includes a very limited number of sensors. Add more sensors – add more $ to the installation and parts cost. Constructing a system by myself via any number of internet vendors of do-it-yourself home security systems seemed the better route for me. And yes, you can get monitoring for your system, even if you assemble it yourself. Google it. Mine consists of several layers of overlapping motion and door/window alarms (OPSEC prohibits me from divulging any more details), and very loud and practically inaccessible internal and external siren.
A conventional burglar alarm system not only provides a deterrence to criminals when you are away, but adds an additional layer of security to your perimeter alarm when your are home. And naturally, the system is powered by my solar setup.
4. Security Cameras and Digital Recorder
Finally, I believe it’s a good idea to have an array of good quality cameras keeping watch over the perimeter of your house. The cameras should be equipped with IR illuminator lamps to provide for the ability to see in pitch darkness. However many cameras you decide to employ to cover your property is up to you, but having the ability to see who is approaching your side window if the perimeter alarm alerts you of such an approach is an invaluable capability.
The cameras should be attached to some kind of device capable of recording video. The two most common forms of recording security camera video are: 1. using a dedicated home security video recorder – a device the size of a DVD player that records camera video from several cameras on a hard disk drive and allows for playback on a television or computer monitor, or 2. utilizing your home computer as the recording device – usually necessitating the installation of a PCI video card with 4 camera inputs. either way you go, you will have the ability to monitor the area around your property in real time (even remotely via the internet on computer-based systems) or look at the stored video to see what happened while you were away or at home, but not watching the monitor.
If we’re home at night watching TV and I hear my perimeter alarm telling me that someone is approaching the front door, I merely switch the TV input to VGA (from my computer) with the remote and I immediately have an ample view of my driveway and the front of my house. Again, while an excellent piece of security equipment in its own right, a good camera system is yet another layer to your electronic perimeter security system.
“Those electronic devices sure are cool, but what about fences, dogs, thorny bushes, minefields?’
We’ll cover non-electronic means of perimeter protection in an upcoming post.
Be safe. Be Prepared.