As the national conversation focuses more on cybersecurity protections for critical infrastructure, it’s essential not to lose sight of physical security in the process. Protecting the people, property, and physical assets that comprise critical infrastructure is equally important. All the firewalls in the world can’t help you if a physical intruder gets into your facility.

To protect critical infrastructure — data centers, distribution centers, energy substations, oil and gas pipelines, prisons, post offices, transportation centers, and so on — monitoring and controlling access is essential. The ability to effectively handle security can go a long way toward preventing incidents.

The global physical security market was valued at almost $117 billion last year, according to Grand View Research. Yet, to date, it’s been dominated by legacy 2D cameras that, at best, give customers a mere slice of the world they need to protect. This approach will not suffice for the long term. After all, we live in a 3D world — relying on 2D images for safety isn’t viable. It’s high time to move to 3D technology.

The security ecosystem

Securing critical infrastructure is a big job — there’s no way around it. The U.S. government has identified 16 critical infrastructure sectors “whose assets, systems, and networks — whether physical or virtual — are considered so vital that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof. This includes everything from water supplies and steel mills to nuclear reactors and laboratories just to name a few.

To put it simply, the biggest problem when it comes to securing critical infrastructure is that you can’t have enough security. This is not a place where you can cut corners. You have to ensure no intruders go undetected.

Previous approaches won’t suffice

Standard security systems consist of a series of cameras and video analytics software feeding into a central monitoring station and video management platform. However, camera-only systems put facilities at risk because the sensors are typically 1D or 2D. The fundamental problem with these technologies is that they can’t accurately detect the presence of an intruder in the field of view. That’s not to mention that you only get a partial view, it’s not always clear how far away an object is, and the cameras/sensors can also be tricked by lighting. Additionally, they have limited range, which requires a lot of sensors/cameras for full coverage.

Another issue is that each camera requires monitoring, which means operators have to look at dozens — sometimes hundreds — of cameras in real time to determine if someone is coming into the field of view. No human being is built for this type of continuous review; it causes significant strain on the guards and leaves many areas unprotected. And with 2D cameras, false alarms are easily raised when a car or animal enters the field of view, causing severe guard fatigue and taking their attention away from real threats.

In addition, 2D video analytics have very limited and complex meshing, which creates blind spots that intruders can exploit. This set-up results in undetected perimeter breaches and high capital expenditures (CapEx) and operating expenses (OpEx.)

Taking a broader approach

Those in charge ofcritical infrastructure security need a longer range and a broader view. This is where 3D technology comes in — light detection and ranging (LiDAR) offers time-of-flight sensing and essentially provides aggregated data that’s used to generate a 3D image that gives spatial location and depth information to detect, track, and classify moving objects. The intrinsic meshed network of a 3D LiDAR system helps recognize an object as one thing rather than multiple things, as would happen with a network of cameras.

By creating a 360-degree field of view that’s not impacted by environmental conditions, these sensors can detect location and movement of objects with extremely high accuracy. It allows an “object” classification to identify a person rather than a vehicle. This information, along with the exact location of the person, their direction, and speed, is passed on to the video management systems (VMS) and integrated with the local PTZ cameras to then determine if this person is an employee or intruder.

This has a tremendous impact in terms of accuracy, and it significantly reduces the number of false alarms. It also reduces the burden on security guards, because they can pinpoint which areas or incidents to focus on. It ultimately creates a proactive security approach rather than a reactive one.

There’s a misperception that this technology is too complex or too expensive for most use cases, but the opposite is true. Given the much longer range of a LiDAR sensor, fewer sensors are required. This not only reduces the CapEx but also proportionally reduces the cost of cabling, networking, and installation that scale linearly with the number of sensors. The total cost of ownership (TCO) of a 3D LiDAR-based solution can be less than half that of a 2D camera with video analytics.

Protect what matters

Critical infrastructure security continues to grow in importance. And yet, too many institutions are still relying heavily on 1D or 2D sensors. The world is in 3D — your security should be too.