In the first of two articles, Matt Gilmartin of Concept Smoke Screen introduces the idea of using artificial smoke as a final - and telling - barrier against burglary, and explains the basics behind this wildly under-reported technology.
Around twenty years ago, a dramatic increase in the amount of smash-and-grab and "ram-raid" style burglaries made it apparent that for a lot of premises, the three layers of "conventional" security measures were no longer enough:
- Physical security (bars, grilles and access control protection) tended to raise the level of violence employed to gain access to the building. Thieves employ angle grinders, skill saws, Land Rovers - anything to gain fast access to their targets. This obviously raises the capital loss suffered by the victim.
- Intruder alarms were ignored by this style of criminal as the average break-in is finished and the perpetrators fled with their spoils within three minutes. It is a challenge for the police or key holders to respond in this timescale and the thieves know it.
- CCTV and recording equipment was ineffectual as thieves were aware of its presence and masked their features.
What more could be done to inhibit a burglar's evil designs? One of the best, and simplest, ideas to emerge was blinding him. Remove a burglar's ability to see, and he will find his task at the bare minimum a lot more difficult, and in 99% of cases impossible...
The simplest way of removing the ability to see? Flood a protected area with an obscuring ‘smoke'! Thus the fourth and final layer of security was born.
Smoke? That doesn't sound healthy?
The term 'smoke' is often misleading as it conjures images of heat, fire and damage. A more correct term could be thermally generated fog.
The current generators are similar to those ‘smoke' machines used to create special effects in theatres and discotheques (indeed, the machine's inventor produced special effects for James Bond films, among others). A smoke ‘simulant', usually a glycol or glycerine mixed with distilled water, is vaporised and then condensed in free air to produce the distinctive smoke-like effect.
Because the particles produced are so small (varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but range from an average diameter of 0.2 microns - 2.0 microns), the fog settles extremely slowly. Provided the generators are installed correctly, this provides two benefits: the smoke lasts a long time, and it does not settle on surfaces to any discernable level i.e. it does not contaminate. It is perfectly safe to use - and is regularly used - to protect computers, high value clothing, consumer electronics and even military clean rooms.
Really? So who is this technology meant for, then?
Well, everyone, really. The new Association of Chief Police Officers guidelines make provision for the use of a security smoke generating system, and many Crime Prevention Officers throughout the country are happy to recommend the system. Some of the manufacturers of this type of equipment have achieved an accreditation called "Secured by Design," a scheme run by ACPO showing that the equipment is inherently secure and is designed to be as such
In addition, insurers throughout the UK now recommend and specify smoke systems, and a number are even offering financial inducements to install.
And the technology's taking off?
Well, to date in the UK alone, there are well over 100,000 premises using this defence measure...
Okay. So how does it work, then?
Smoke generators are installed above ceilings or high on walls. The smoke is introduced vertically downwards, and then rises, forming a thickening barrier (particularly clever since it protects the smoke generating equipment itself as well as the premises and contents).
All ‘smoke' will have a tendency to rise when it is first produced. This is because the smoke particles have a higher temperature than the surrounding air. In a short time the smoke will take on the ambient temperature of its surroundings and become quiescent. This natural convection effect can be used to great effect in a security application to make large areas invisible. Quickly. Never mind being suddenly unable to steal whatever it was they came for, burglars will find that their only available course of action is to leave immediately the way they came in.
Matt Gilmartin, Concept Smoke Screen Limited