Transmission solutions for securing critical infrastructure

critical infrastructure

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ISJ hears from Ronnie Pennington, Director of Sales for the Americas, Altronix.

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) designates 16 critical infrastructure sectors whose assets, systems and networks are considered vital to the country.

So vital that, according to CISA, their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health and safety or any combination thereof.

When considering these sectors, commercial facilities, healthcare and financial services first come to mind due to their public facing nature.

However, critical infrastructure also includes food and agriculture, water systems and energy.

Despite their nuances, the security systems deployed at all of these sites necessitate reliable and consistent power.

However, new advanced power and data transmission solutions are available to overcome many, if not all, of the longstanding power distribution and data transmission challenges experienced by system designers and installers.

The power of 802.3bt

In order to understand how innovations in power and data transmission are changing the game for critical infrastructure installations, it is first important to understand the latest developments in power and data distribution that makes these innovations possible.

Power over Ethernet (PoE) devices have long been championed for their ability to carry both power and IP data over a single cable.

When first introduced, this breakthrough allowed installers to utilise low-voltage installation methods to significantly reduce costs, improve safety and save time.

Today, the latest IEEE PoE standard, 802.3bt PoE, grants installers these benefits and more to optimise essential installations.

802.3bt PoE marks a groundbreaking advancement in low voltage power distribution.

Often also referred to as 4PPoE or 4-Pair PoE, this standard maximises the potential of all four pairs of wires within an ethernet cable to deliver up to 90W per port.

802.3bt also supports multiple PoE classes and maintains backward compatibility, allowing integration with many pre-existing systems and devices.

The utilisation of 802.3bt switches, injectors and media converters enables the efficient distribution of more power to a diverse range of devices.

This includes the power-hungry equipment required of critical infrastructure sites including multi-sensor PTZ cameras, infrared illuminators, heaters, wireless access points and more.

Deploying network devices in any environment

To take advantage of the benefits afforded by 802.3bt, systems installers require adept power and transmission solutions to support the latest PoE devices in challenging environments.

New hardened PoE switches and media converters fit the bill, supporting the latest 802.3bt devices in remote locations with or without local power.

Utilising fibre, copper or hybrid cable, these devices extend power and data longer distances, when deploying end-point devices.

For example, advanced single and multi-port media converters provide centralised data connectivity from the edge over single or multimode fibreoptic cable to PoE switches in remote locations.

These switches can be installed on a pole, wall or fence to accommodate multiple powered devices.

The combination of fibre and copper connectivity can greatly reduce installation costs while centralising power and servicing.

This kind of solution is ideal for powering and connecting security devices such as cameras and illuminators with heaters in outdoor stadiums, parking lots and other areas where harsh conditions and minimal infrastructure are common. 

New midspan injectors further complement the capabilities of hardened PoE switches by providing a convenient and cost-effective solution for powering security devices over Ethernet cables.

Top of the line injectors can deliver PoE up to 90W per port – making them 802.3bt compliant – and pass data at up to 1000 Mbps at distances up to 100m, again ideal for remote locations.  

Lastly, PoE driven power supplies are a transformative breakthrough in the design and implementation of access control and other security systems in critical infrastructure.

By converting 4PPoE from an 802.3bt source into regulated 12VDC and 24VDC outputs, it supports multiple access devices and peripherals over a single category cable.

This streamlined method simplifies installation, as integrators can easily connect the PoE-driven power supply to an 802.3bt switch or midspan/injector, bypassing the need for an electrician.

Moreover, the ability to deliver multiple voltages proves advantageous in mitigating voltage drop issues along cable runs, ensuring reliable operation over longer distances.

With the added flexibility and cost optimisation of dual-voltage power supplies, deploying advanced video and access security solutions becomes more efficient and cost-effective.

Integrated battery backup

Ensuring the continuity of security in infrastructure contributes directly to the continuity of critical services.

The loss of power to an access control system installed at a healthcare facility, for example, could impede the facility from performing its core, life-saving functions.

Similarly, the absence of alerting functions from a fire alarm system could prove devastating in the energy or chemical sector.

Therefore, battery backup systems are a cornerstone of critical infrastructure protection.

Luckily, many of the power and data transmission solutions on the market today recognise this imperative and include built-in battery backup.

Top-of-the-line PoE switches will often include optimised chargers for Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries.

These chargers offer longer shelf life and more efficient charge cycles compared to traditional sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries. In fact, these switches utilise a single LiFePO4 battery for PoE backup, eliminating the need for four SLA batteries.

The integration of LiFePO4 battery charging in these switches provides advantages, including performance, cost-efficiency and reduced maintenance required of remote operations.

Remote management

Just as important as battery backup, the remote management of networked security systems plays an important role in maintaining critical infrastructure operations.

For many critical infrastructure sites, it is not feasible for security and maintenance teams to manually monitor every device in the field.

In these cases, the failure of a security device may not be known until it is too late and a breach has occurred.

Now, it is possible for security teams to manage their power and transmission devices remotely, across multiple sites from a single dashboard.

Think of remote power management solutions as the missing link between endpoint devices and operators, delivering real time data from power supplies and distribution devices for advanced situational awareness.

In this way, operators can remotely monitor, control and manage power from anywhere over the network. Administrators define performance parameters such as battery life or power output by channels.

If a device is reporting an interruption or an exception to the pre-defined parameters, notifications can be sent directly to authorised personnel for immediate remedial action.

Remote power management solutions support early intervention, promote preventative maintenance and, most importantly, minimise system downtime.

In critical infrastructure sites, this could make all the difference between a facility-wide shut down or a timely intervention.

By leveraging remote power management solutions, critical infrastructure teams can proactively address potential power-related problems, reducing the need for unnecessary service calls and minimising the total cost of ownership.

For integrators, remote power management solutions also offer a valuable opportunity to expand service offerings and generate recurring monthly revenue (RMR).

This comprehensive approach to power management improves security tenfold by delivering a proactive response to service interruptions and enabling 24/7 monitoring of critical security systems. 

Meeting the standards

Securing critical infrastructure comes with its own set of unique challenges as it relates to regulatory compliance.

Meeting the standards set forth under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the United States Trade Agreements Act (TAA) and other applicable laws are non-negotiable for surveillance and other deployments in sectors such as government and defence.

Ensuring the power and transmission devices utilised in these sectors are compliant is equally as important.

This is also highly recommended, and often mandated, to utilise power management products that are UL listed.

UL certification guarantees rigorous testing and adherence to industry safety standards, ensuring the products’ reliability and safety.

And, while many analog power supplies for access control are UL listed, it is crucial to connect PoE devices only to UL listed PoE sources as specified in their requirements.

This helps maintain compliance with industry standards and regulations, reducing liability and potential risks associated with non-compliant installations.

Embracing a new imperative

Safeguarding critical infrastructure is a complex task that demands continuity in power and data transmission.

A lack of such continuity is a threat to national security, one that threat actors will willingly exploit if given the chance.

Integrating advanced transmission technologies helps ensure they do not have that chance.

Embracing these innovations is therefore not just a step forward; but rather an imperative stride toward securing the foundation of our nation’s backbone.

1-ISJ- Transmission solutions for securing critical infrastructure
Ronnie Pennington, Director of Sales for the Americas, Altronix

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