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The need to review physical security in hazardous areas

11 March 2019

The latest New Year has brought with it reports from around the world of civil unrest, terrorist insurgency and cyber-attacks. In this article, Doug Woodbridge of SecurEx looks at how the high hazard industries, which are particularly vulnerable, can best protect their critical infrastructure, physical assets and personnel from outside threats.

In the high hazard industries the implications of any attack can be profound. Against this backdrop, I decided out of curiosity to investigate for myself the scale of these dangers in order to put some empirical value on the need for ever more vigilance, physical security and intruder detection in the hazardous ‘Ex’ world.

 As a starting point I googled ‘terrorist attacks between January 1st 2018 and January 7th 2019’, and the result was quite astounding. I found a map on where I learnt, according to the site, there were some 1,553 attacks and 8,018 fatalities recorded world-wide during this period.

Look deeper, and factor in civil insurrection, civil unrest, riots, violent protests and the like and the number of incidents jumps dramatically again. Keep digging, and add in the number of failed attacks that are reported, including those that have been intercepted or stopped by the security forces, and the scale of the problem becomes evident.

The threat types that are commonly experienced today can be extremely wide ranging; from simple criminal attacks focused on the theft of goods or assets, to the extremes of terrorist attacks against onshore infrastructure, offshore piracy and malicious cyber-attacks that may be either politically or criminally motivated.

The consequences of any of these events can be expensive for the companies and very traumatic for the personnel involved - and for their families. Destruction of property, loss of raw materials, pollution and environmental damage, along with the risk of death or injury of personnel feature high on the potential risk list.

The last major physical attack on oil installations at In Amenas in Algeria in 2013 saw many lives lost, and it is clear that further attacks on high value targets such as oil, gas and petrochemical installations and critical infrastructure can be expected in future.

Parallel to this, cyber-attacks against Saudi Arabia's Saudi Aramco and Qatar's RasGas could have been intended to cause catastrophic explosions.

High risk targets such as these in the Ex world pose very unique challenges to protect, requiring specialist solutions and security measures specifically designed to work in the different zones of hazardous areas.

Historically, the layers of security and personnel safety and protection operated independently. However, this has changed and today’s high-risk Ex environments increasingly need holistic solutions capable of both controlling security and enabling a facility ‘lock down’ whilst at the same time allowing the location of personnel to be known and facilitating safe passage and egress as required in an emergency.

One important aspect of physical security is door security, and new measures that have recently become available that can be linked into a plant’s access control and/or intruder detection system.

Traditionally, even basic access control in hazardous areas posed a significant challenge. The ubiquitous mag-bar, so familiar and commonly used in safe areas, simply did not exist in an ATEX or IECEx certified form suitable for use in hazardous area applications.

Solutions were limited to basic Ex shoot bolt locks, relying on the simple solenoid bolt itself, or an Intrinsically Safe (IS) electronic latch.

This has now changed with the introduction of products such as Ex-certified electromagnetic locks, which, due to their strength and functionality, are proving increasingly popular and are providing enhanced safety and security for personnel in hazardous areas.

Another new development is the recent introduction of ATEX & IECEx Grade 2 and Grade 3 equivalent security contacts for use in hazardous areas. Previously only basic certified contacts have been available for door status monitoring and alarming purposes, and so not being directly compatible with a grade 2 or 3 Alarm panel.

Moving up the physical security range still further, where holding forces of around 1200 – 1500 kgf are required, there is right now no real substitute for electro-mechanical bolt technology. Once again, there are a few examples of this technology available that hold ATEX and IECEx accreditation.

For high security applications it is important to look out for systems where the bolt is independent of the actuator solenoid preventing side loads on the bolt causing damage to the actuator no matter what lateral force is applied. Versions with an independent thumbwheel and key over-ride mechanism will also ensure the ability for safe egress and entry in the event of a bolt problem and allow extra flexibility in use.

Locks in this grade should also ideally be to be designed to meet the SR2 security standard on selected door sets.
Critical National Infrastructure demands something very special with regard to locking technology designed to be very highly resistant to attempts at forced entry by physical attack and at the same time providing reliable holding forces in the order of several tonnes.

There are again relatively few examples of locking technology for these applications, with approved locks of this class being only available from very specialist players. High security single point locking systems now exist which can be configured with a multitude of functions including panic and emergency escape, mechanical and electro-mechanical deadlocking.


Much has changed over the past two years in regards to the levels of threats. A few years ago, the physical restrictions preventing unauthorised access to a plant would have relied almost entirely on the perimeter security measures, these usually being in the safe area. Get past these and typically there is very little hardened security or access control within the perimeter to protect the really crucial plant where the most mischief could be done once access were gained.

In the article above, I have tried to show that this has now changed significantly and that there are now a wide range of locking technologies of different security grades that can be applied to restrict access and slow physical attacks and importantly to show how these physical levels of protection are now available to combat the increased threats.

Furthermore, movement can now be restricted and access controlled in hazardous areas using new products and techniques directly comparable to those used in the safe areas.

So, with the high threat levels outlined at the start of this article and new Ex-certified products on the market, now is a very good time to review plant safety and security.

About the Author

Doug Woodbridge is a director of SecurEx Technology Ltd, a specialist security business based in South Yorkshire.  He has more than 25 years’ experience working with industry and in hazardous environments, in particular within the Oil & Gas sector. During this time he has been involved with supplying specialist automation, business, safety and security solutions around the globe.


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