The Outdoors at Risk

The Outdoors at Risk
Jan 16, 2019


We think of vineyards, parks, lakes, and cool crisp mountain air, but the outdoors comprises any area not covered by a roof. Whether you’re in the parking lot of your supermarket or your child’s campus, you’re in the outdoors, an increasingly fraught place. Why? Two macro-trends suggest why the outdoors is now more vulnerable than ever – aging power infrastructure and urgent, human-induced security threats.

Power, Unlike Fine Wine, Does Not Age Well

Remember flappers and silent movies? You might not, but sections of the American power grid, over a century-old, were built in the same era.

As the United States economy and society have become more reliant on the uninterrupted flow of electricity, the power grid upon which it depends for that supply has experienced deteriorating reliability.

The Lexington
Institute 1

The majority of our active transmission lines and power transformers came online when the first President Bush faced a disintegrating Soviet Union, and they’ve been subject to corrosion, weather and heavy use ever since. As our economy continues to expand, our electricity needs are vastly more sophisticated than in 1990, and the strain on the grid is higher than ever.

In addition, most grid infrastructure is built above ground, dangerously exposed; some of California’s deadliest wildfires have been a direct result of power equipment that has degraded because of weather. According to the Department of Energy (DOE),

  • The US has the highest number of blackouts of any developed country in the world
  • Over the last 3 decades, the US grid loses power 285% more often than it did in 1984
  • Power outages directly cost businesses nearly $150 billion annually
  • 5 million miles of electrical transmission lines have not been comprehensively updated since World War II

As law enforcement knows, dark neighborhoods are more vulnerable to crime, especially when a whole city is hungry and scared. People tend to move down Maslow’s pyramid pretty

Keith Stammer, Director
of Joplin County (Mo.)
Management 2

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Northeast, knocking out power for 9 million people in 21 states, including critical services infrastructure like communications and security. There was a sharp recognition from policy-makers that the grid was weak, pushing cities to re-evaluate how they had delivered electricity for a century.

Imagine a water treatment plant losing surveillance during a power outage. Deliberate, planned sabotage would cause severe impact on public safety; while this scenario is unlikely, Blytheville (Ak) police would tell you this sort of criminal opportunism is not unheard of. 3

Underscoring our reliance and endemic vulnerability, Janet Napolitano, Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary, has stated that coordinated attack on the power grid is a matter of “when not if.”

Urgent Human-driven Security Threats

January 2018 saw over 18 mass shootings and gun-related violence in US schools alone. With shootings on the rise, safety in the outdoors is at stake and individuals at public venues are at risk more than ever.

January 2018 saw over 18 mass shootings and gun-related violence in US schools alone. With shootings on the rise, safety in the outdoors is at stake and individuals at public venues are at risk more than ever.

The frequency of gun violence and attacks on soft targets and critical infrastructure paints a grim picture. Deterrence is especially difficult in outdoor areas, where it is tough or cost-prohibitive to implement gunshot detection and surveillance. This trend has led to a spike in the interest of various police agencies in preventive technology since the Vegas mass shooting last year, which left 59 people dead and hundreds injured, according to a CNBC.

Vulnerability outdoors is not limited to mass shootings, with heightened risk from vandalism to domestic terror to gang violence.

When Bad Trends Intersect

When these two macro-trends, increasingly unreliable power infrastructure and a rise in security threats are at large, it puts more industries and communities at risk.

In an indoor setting, when the power goes down, typically a backup generator will ensure a degree of continuity for hard-wired security. It’s not an ideal solution – backup generators are an expedient and temporary fix to a long-term problem – but it ensures that critical assets are not exposed to substantial risk.

In an outdoor setting, these macro-trends can have cataclysmic consequences. Imagine an oil substation, a critical piece of national infrastructure. This is a high-value target for terrorists, and if they can cut the power, traditional safeguards are out of commission. The damage can be enormous; deliberate destruction could result in thousands of acres of damaged habitat and millions of dollars of lost fuel and clean-up.

New Solutions – Free From the Grid

The answer may lie in making security run independent of the grid. Some popular solutions include:

Battery-powered Motion Sensors Mobile Surveillance Trailers Self-Powered Computing
Light lithium batteries enable portable, motion based sensor technology have become standard in many stationary surveillance applications. The batteries are rechargeable; coupled with solar, this technology eliminates much of the hassle associated with providing power. However, motionbased technology without analytics does not discriminate between animals, cars and humans, leading to high false alert rates; this can limit utility for users with limited manpower to verify each alert. Security cameras mounted on trailers is another option for grid-free surveillance. These trailers are independent of existing infrastructure or bucket trucks for deployment, and they can be repositioned as needed. However, trailers require a lot of space as well as a clear environment for placement; thus trailers are highly visible; they can also be stolen or tampered with. Trailers also limit surveillance vantage point because of DMV restrictions. Self-powered turnkey solutions with edge computing increasingly address outdoors risks. Self-Power, defined as the combination of generation and distribution, allows unwired performance over a long duration. Edge computing, where analytics processing is run on a local computer rather than a central server, is a key feature. Edge computing enables prompt decisionmaking, yielding speed and autonomy, allowing problems to be addressed at the source and in realtime rather than after the fact. These solutions consistently and accurately communicate directly with one another, creating faster response to crises without relying on fixed infrastructure.


Self-Powered Security Can Make the Outdoors Safer

Imagine what our world would be like if millions of wirelessly connected outdoor sensors, selfpowered and equipped with intelligence.

Envision acoustic sensors that could hear a sound, interpret that data and immediately get a security and technical team out to a transformer that someone had tried to blow up. Or alerting police of a gunshot sound and being able to rush wounded personnel immediately to the hospital for life-saving care.

Violence isn’t limited to these high-value targets though. It can touch us at our local park and our favorite arena. Public venues represent a risk, but by recognizing these two driving forces behind our lack of security, we can start to formulate the smart, modern solutions that will keep us safe.



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