Securing Detention Facilities and Prisons – Technological Directions and Responses to Challenges - i-HLS Innotech

By Or Shalom

The planning and application of prison facilities security are complex tasks, due to the wide range of potential threats. These result mainly from internal threats, such as the exploitation of construction failures for escape, disturbances, or hostile organization, as well as threats emanating from the external geographical environment or influencing it (e.g access roads, escape roots, hiding places as part of external assistance).

Security complexity is further exacerbated by the prisoners’ routine which makes them aware of security arrangements and technologies, working methods, failures and opportunities. Of course, considerations regarding the security of the prisoners, their wellbeing, and their rights are important and influence the planning of prison facilities and working processes.

The integration of security technologies has therefore important implications for the security and protection levels, the prevention of smuggling or escape from prison, and many other threats.

One of the major threats law enforcement agencies around the world cope with, mainly but not only in the arena of security prisoners, is bypassing the existing security mechanisms in order to smuggle phones, weapons, equipment, etc. into the prison through the use of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (operated externally). The use of drones is significant also from intelligence gathering aspects.

In order to thwart this possible course of action, an advanced anti-drone approach should be implemented for monitoring, blocking, or jamming. Taking a close look at the wide variety of solutions will allow optimal use in the specific geographic setting and constraints. The fact that most prisons are not located in urban areas allows the widespread deployment of dedicated blocking systems, the tactical use of guns for blocking, maneuvering capabilities, as well as overcoming safety constraints.

In a non-urban environment, technological means can also include observation or other systems. Research published by the Ben Gurion University Software and Information Systems Engineering Department has proved the capability of locating the operators. Yet there are many challenges, due to the multiple Bluetooth, WiFi and IoT signals, frequency hopping, data collection angle, etc. Of course, this capability provides an additional security circle already during the preliminary stages.

Another possible course of action of the assailant is based on prisons’ construction constraints, including the threat of underground tunnels (proved possible in many cases). There are various methods to thwart escape plans or smuggling, including preventive intelligence, or changes intended to break routine and location (e.g. the constant changing of cells or buildings for the prisoner). The technological capabilities provide a force multiplier in this regard. For example, thwarting digging capabilities by dispersing underground seismic sensors technology along the buffer zones and outside the prison walls.

In order to prevent false alerts, before purchase and installations, the systems must pass pilot testing and screening committees in order to ensure that they are resilient to environmental conditions (temperature changes, rain, etc.), and the quantity of false alarms produces must be checked.

It is also recommended, as a redundancy process, to deploy some independent, autonomous sensors that are not based on the prison’s network infrastructure (in order to prevent exposure to potential cyber threats).

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The planning and deployment of security cameras in prisons and their surrounding areas is another classic example of the use of security supporting systems. The right integration, the application of smart analytics and AI capabilities will provide a force multiplier to the last security circle and at the action stage. This will be accomplished during an escape scenario when the camera detects an anomaly and alerts to security forces, or within the prison, by implementing analytic definitions regarding suspicious movement and behavior patterns that would alert enforcement forces.

In some cases, the construction methods and materials dictate the integration of technologies, application, and performance optimization in prisons. The ability to deploy frequency blocking systems inside the prison in order to prevent unauthorized use of cellular devices is influenced by the construction. Such issues require creative technological planning or the covering with coating materials of the dedicated prison cells’ walls with insulative sheets in order to prevent transmission. As part of the planning processes, authorities should make sure that construction constraints, wall width, etc. would not block over-the-air communications of technological systems, such as the use of communications devices during both routine and emergency (when a tactical unit operates within the prison compounds).

Advanced screening systems are another means of detecting smuggled weapons in order to improve security. The screening activity should be implemented frequently in the background without interfering with prisoners’ routine and should be calibrated accurately. There are quite a few products with high-level accuracy, including the implementation of 3D algorithmics, such as in airports and critical infrastructure. Of course, screening has to be applied also to vehicles entering the prison facilities. The optimization of capabilities and performance requires the integration of AI, thermal imaging, screening, the comparison of images in a high-resolution database, the use of sniffing sensors for the detection of explosives, chemical materials, weapons, etc.

This wide range of technologies produces a lot of information. The ability to fuse information through big data processes can provide plenty of security insights as well as intelligence regarding the connections between incidents. This requires the appointment of a project manager that will verify the suitability of the various information configurations with big data, produce alerts and operate simple queries on both current and future systems. As this database is very valuable, it might be a target to attacks, therefore it should be separated from the internet and other networks.

The implementation of technologies increases the exposure of critical infrastructure and prison facilities to cyber risks. Responses to cyber threats must be considered already at the planning stage and tested in the operational processes. Here also there is a wide variety of possible courses of action, from the stage of information gathering from services and consultancy providers, focusing on charts, specifications, and information available through the internet (OSINT – Open Source), and the collection of information on security systems and the ways to avoid them by advanced technologies or cyber-attacks.

So cybersecurity should be applied at the intelligence level in order to understand what information is accessible to the assailant and protect IT and administration and OT (Operational Technology) networks, such as command and control systems of the gates, floors, and low voltage systems. Understanding the assailant’s intent and the ability to integrate cyber with physical attacks will enable threat validation, and the preparation of a work plan that would considerably limit the assailant’s attack surfaces, intelligence gathering, and organization capabilities.

Or Shalom – Security and cyber expert and consultant to government ministries and defense industries, international business development consultant for companies in the fields of HLS and cyber and leads centers of excellence and advanced training programs in Cyber and HLS for various organizations in the civilian, security, industry, and academic sectors. He holds a master’s degree, as well as civil and national qualifications in the realm of HLS and Cyber Security. He has experience in security, innovation, planning and characterization of technological security systems, HLS, and Cyber preparedness.