Examples of physical security challenges

hysical security is often jokingly referred to as just being “guards and gates”, but modern physical security systems consist of multiple elements and measures, for example:

  • Site layout and security configuration: where are your weak points? What needs the most protection?
  • Visibility of critical areas: including lighting and video cameras
  • Access control: from simple locks through to keypads and biometric access
  • Perimeter protection: the “guards and gates” aspect of physical security
  • Intrusion detection: including motion sensors, cameras and tripwire alarms
  • Infrastructure protection: including power, fire, network connectivity and water
  • Staff training and incident response: do your employees know how to handle an incident, and do you have an emergency response process in place?

As you can see, the physical security examples above are extremely varied, touching on every aspect of a site and its functions. Some physical security plans are determined by environmental factors, such as your site layout, whilst some are behavioral, like staff training. So, to revisit the physical security definition above, successful protection of people, property and assets involves a range of physical security measures.

Common physical security threats, vulnerabilities and risks

Each business’ individual physical security risks will be different, but there are some common types of physical security threats to be aware of.

  • Unauthorized entry: this includes tailgating, social engineering, or access via stolen passes or codes. The earliest physical security breaches are, logically, at the first point of entry to your site. If unwanted visitors manage to gain access, then it is only a matter of time before other physical security threats can occur.
  • Theft and burglary: businesses own many valuable assets, from equipment, to documents and employee IDs. Some businesses are extremely exposed to physical security risks like theft because of what they store on their premises – for example, jewelry or tech stores. Other businesses store extremely valuable information, like a wealth management firm. Both businesses are prime targets for thieves, even though their assets are very different.
  • Vandalism: some businesses are at risk of their property being destroyed or tampered with. This can be linked to a company’s location—for example, if your business is next door to a bar or nightclub, alcohol-related vandalism could be a frequent problem. Vandalism can also be ideologically motivated: for example, when activists cause physical damage to a business’ premises, such as smashing windows or throwing paint.

These are a few high-level types of physical security threats. As you conduct a risk assessment of your own business, you will discover physical security risks specific to your industry and location.

Physical security measures and methods

There are all kinds of physical security measures, but the main types of physical security fall into four broad categories: DeterDetectDelay and Respond.

As the diagram shows, the different physical security methods work together in stages. These levels of physical security begin with Deter at the outermost level, working inwards until finally, if all other levels are breached, a Response is needed.

Levels of physical security

Deter – Deterrence physical security measures are focused on keeping intruders out of the secured area. Common methods include tall perimeter fences, barbed wire, clear signs stating that the site has active security, video cameras and access controls. All of these are designed to give a clear message to criminals that trespassing is not only difficult, it is also highly likely that they will be caught.

Detect – Detection works to catch any intruders if they manage to get past the deterrence measures mentioned above. Some criminals might slip in behind an employee—known as tailgating—or they might find a way of scaling barriers. In these cases, a physical security measure that can detect their presence quickly is crucial. These include many types of physical security system that you are probably familiar with. Physical security controls examples include CCTV cameras, motion sensors, intruder alarms and smart alerting technology like AI analytics. If an intruder is spotted quickly, it makes it much easier for security staff to delay them getting any further, and to contact law enforcement if needed.

Delay – You will notice that several physical security systems have multiple roles: they can deter as well as detect. Many of the physical security measures above also effectively delay intruders. Access control systems require credentials to open a locked door, slowing an intruder down and making it easier to apprehend them.

Respond – Having the technology and processes to respond to intruders and take action is crucial for physical security, yet often overlooked. Response physical security measures include communication systems, security guards, designated first responders and processes for locking down a site and alerting law enforcement.

Physical security controls come in a variety of forms—from perimeter fences, to guards and security camera system recorders. Many physical security components have more than one function, and when several methods are combined, they are very effective at preventing or intercepting intruders and criminal activity.

Examples of physical security challenges

Budget shortages prevent many businesses from making an appropriate physical security investment. However, failing to budget for an adequate physical security system can lead to physical security failures over time. Some physical security measures can strain a budget more than others; for example, hiring security guards can be costly, especially if many are needed to guard a site for long periods of time. In addition, more advanced physical security hardware, such as top-of-the-line video cameras and access systems, will inevitably be more expensive. However, not having those measures in place can expose a business to a range of physical security threats, which can be just as costly.

Staff shortages can also put pressure on physical security systems. Even with the most advanced physical security technology in place, businesses still need personnel to oversee larger systems and make decisions about how and when to take action. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many businesses suffered from recruitment shortages. Not having enough people to implement your physical security plan can put a strain on morale and cause operational issues. Even if you can recruit new staff members, if they are not sufficiently trained in the physical security technology you use, or your company’s physical security policies, then this can also create bottlenecks that leave you exposed to risk.

Physical security technology enhances business security, but if it is not properly integrated into a larger physical security system, it can bring problems rather than benefits. A key factor to bear in mind is how your physical security devices interface, and how they feed information back into your physical security system. If your devices are not compatible, or they are not properly integrated, critical information might be missed. One way to minimize the likelihood of this happening is to use devices that comply with ONVIF camera physical security standards. ONVIF is a set of standards specifically designed to enable many different types of physical security technology to interface seamlessly, regardless of manufacturer. For more advice on how to integrate technology into your physical security system, go to the section in this guide on physical security planning.

When securing a wide business network, physical security management can be a logistical challenge. Having a number of connected sites to secure involves keeping track of many moving parts all at once. If you are struggling with any of the challenges above, managing multiple sites will only compound these issues. No two sites are exactly the same, so as well as implementing a company-wide physical security policy, your plan must also be flexible enough to accommodate each site’s individual physical security threats and vulnerabilities.

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