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The Petrochemical Industry: Unique Challenges, Unique Solutions

Most petrochemical plants or refineries either produce or use as feedstock, large quantities of materials that could lead to catastrophe if they fell into the wrong hands, with the most serious concerns including the use of flammable materials to generate a massive explosion, or the intentional release of poisonous compounds in a toxic cloud. And, even in those countries where such acts of sabotage or terrorism are less of an issue, the potential theft of valuable chemicals or oil for resale on the black market always exists.

It's no wonder then that the typical level of security at petrochemical plants, no matter where in the world they are located, tends to be far different than that of nearly any other type of facility, including those of other security-conscious enterprises including train stations, retail facilities, office buildings, campuses or even airports or banks. In fact, the security technology at work in today's petrochemical facility has more in common in many ways with that of a military base than with that of many other types of commercial enterprises, making the petrochemical industry a highly specialised market that not all security vendors can or should be involved in.

Of course, these facilities start with many of the security basics that are found in nearly all contemporary businesses: access control and credentialing systems to carefully control entry to sensitive areas, video surveillance to monitor activity, and intruder and fire alarm systems. After that, however, the similarity mostly ends. Here are a few of the technologies that are currently protecting us all at petrochemical facilities worldwide, and, to a growing extent, at water and power-generating stations which share many of the same issues:

Long-range maritime radar

For reasons of both logistics and production, many petrochemical facilities are located on coasts or otherwise adjacent to major waterways, with waterfront making up a large part of their perimeter. However, while a seaside location provides many operating advantages, it also leads to increased vulnerability, with easier approach to facility property from vessels including perpetrator teams in dinghies or speedboats or, in some areas, pirate ships. With this in mind, long-range maritime radar is a nearly mandatory component for perimeter protection in many facilities, providing early detection of anything approaching on the water that should not be there, even from up to 20 miles out or more.

Ground-based radar

Complementary to its maritime-based cousin, ground radar is used to detect potential perpetrators moving in from land, and usually from shorter distances. Today's ground radar, with units often placed remotely, can be fixed or mobile; solar, battery or electric powered; and installed to communicate with the central monitoring station by wired or wireless means.

Thermal imaging

Often used in conjunction with radar, thermal imaging gives a detailed visual of approaching ships or other objects detected by radar, even in absolute darkness.

Video analytics

An alternate form of detection, video analytics uses computer analysis to alert security personnel to any change in a visual frame. Common alerts can include a boat entering view, a person walking by or climbing a fence, or a package, where one did not exist in a prior frame.

Perimeter & pipeline intrusion detection

Many petrochemical facilities are protected by dozens of kilometres of remotely placed fencing, and many others utilise pipelines that may travel for hundreds of kilometres. Intrusion detection technology, such as sensing fibres, alerts the security centre when it detects unfamiliar movement or vibrations which are indicative of, for example, someone moving, cutting or climbing a fence, or attempting to drill, cut or excavate a pipeline. Today's technologies allow the system to "learn" benign patterns such as normal oil flows or wind to minimise nuisance alarms. These systems are often used in conjunction with strategically placed cameras which are automatically activated when a potential issue is detected, and then pan, tilt and zoom, sending feed from the intrusion point to the central monitoring station to help clarify the situation.

Anti-crash vehicular gates and barriers

Constructed to protect from a vehicle attempting to speed past a check point, anti-crash vehicular gates and barriers can take many forms and offer many different levels of protection. Their stopping power is often certified by a U.S. Department of State "K" (speed) rating, which utilises a 15,000 pound (6810 kilogram) truck moving at various speeds, with the bed of the truck not penetrating the barrier by more than a specified distance, ranging from 3-50 feet (1-16 metres), depending on the classification. A K12 rating means the ability to stop such a vehicle at a minimum of 50 mph (80 kph), a K8 rating at a speed of at least 40 mph (65 kph) and a K4 rating at at least 30 mph (48 kph). Other considerations include reusability of the system after an impact, and the degree of damage that would be inflicted on the speeding car.

Anti-crash perimeter fencing

For larger areas, specialised fencing can be hardened to resist cutting, delaying perpetrators for several minutes, or be manufactured with cables that make it strong enough to stop a speeding vehicle.

The Petrochemical Industry: Unique Challenges, Unique Solutions
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