Articles & Case Studies

Defence Sector - Removing the short cuts for better security fencing

Posted: Friday 10th February 2006

There may not be much to steal at water and wastewater treatment works, but the need to make perimeter fences less penetrable has risen significantly up the priority list.

The greatly heightened threat of terrorist attacks has made UK utilities take a long hard look at their security, including the seemingly innocuous practice of those who want to save time on their journey by taking a short cut through a hole in the fence. Dramatically heightened media coverage has more than played its part in showing what a huge problem trespassing has become for the rail industry, leading to a move away from traditional fencing to more sophisticated security barriers.

A WWTW might not have as many immediate dangers, nor is there as much land to protect as the rail network, but there is still a massive amount or work to be done to replace basic fences that are a joke to today’s determined vandals. One water company is currently looking at nearly 30km of new fencing for just one site. This time round, it won’t be chain link, which represents no real deterrent at all, or a powder-coated welded mesh system, on which the weld often corrodes and breaks, leaving hanging wires and an open invitation to a trespasser.

Palisade fencing, which is assembled on site by simply bolting or riveting vertical pales to adjustable angle iron horizontals, is a familiar site in the UK, however, it is Expanded Metal Mesh Fabric that is proving to be the main choice of the water industry. Formed from sheet steel in one continuous component, requiring no intersections or welds, Expanded Metal provides a highly durable and vandal resistant perimeter protection.

Its tight mesh pattern prevents handholds or footholds from being gained, and is extremely difficult to cut without specialist equipment. Mesh panels are heavy duty and clamped to posts with very strong anti-vandal fixings.

However, there are already several issues arising affecting the purchase of security fencing, especially on quality, which not everyone feels is being strictly adhered to.

Colin Bates, Managing Director of Expamet commented: “All too often, buyers only see or want to see the headline figure, the price per metre, and base their decisions on that.

“I understand that they are under pressure and are often considered by their bosses and the regulators to have ‘failed’ if they do not deliver what seems to be the Best Value option, which does not always mean the cheapest. I would argue though that if they are meant to stick to British standards and then happen to find something at an appreciably lower cost, particularly in such a competitive industry, then they need to ask why”!

Bates, who is also Chairman of the European Fencing Industry Association, has a point. Procurement departments should be able to work out for themselves what sort of maintenance will be involved and whether there are any hidden costs such as extra end posts or special fixings, but currently, there is no authority to police exactly what has been supplied. British standards recommend a thickness of 3mm, but according to Bates, some choose to use the standard’s lower end flexibility; a very grey plus/minus area and this can make a world of difference to price and quality.

Hot Dip

He added: “As well as the correct thickness, buyers should ensure that the fencing has been Hot Dip Galvanised and that the appropriate bolts have been supplied with the correct coatings – otherwise they will face all sorts of maintenance and security issues, especially failure due to rust, making it very easy indeed for intruders.

Bates claims that eliminating the dubious practice of supplying undersized gauge thicknesses of fences can be achieved by purchasing materials by their weight, not their thickness.

“If say, 500 metres of fencing, supposedly 3mm thick, was a complete lorry load, yet you miraculously get 600 metres from the same product, then unquestionably, you are getting a thinner material; you have to be, because the vehicle can only take a certain weight”.

As quality-approved manufacturer’s it is in all our interests to compete on a level playing field, ensuring the end user receives the goods he/she specifies”.

‘Need for proper policing authority’

He continued: “Rolling mills are far more accurate than they used to be, so there is no excuse for producing thinner materials than the British Standard requires and what a water company customer expects. It is up to the buyers to be more responsible and for a proper policing authority to check. Not only is it the thickness, coating and fixing quality that can be questioned, but buyers should also be aware of the correct foundations required to ensure a fence is fixed to British standards”.

As a longer lasting and higher quality product, Expanded Metal is certainly becoming the preferred choice in the water industry. Companies are increasingly seeking to remove risk and acknowledge their duty of care for people, without which they can be subject to very negative publicity when it appears that seemingly straightforward preventative security measures could and should have been taken.

Using organisations like HOSDB (Home Office Scientific Development Branch), EFIA (European Fencing Industry Association) and ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers, who run a ‘Secure By Design’ programme), would give independent impartial advice on the systems that have been tested and approved - not only to meet the British standards, but varying levels of target hardening.

When upgrading, buyers clearly need to be aware of the pitfalls because the consequences of specifying inadequate security fences are simply too great a risk.

For more information contact:

Michelle Todd

Tel: 01429 867366

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