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Electric fencing: An effective way to outsmart intruders or bluff?

By Joseph Maina
Thursday, September 24th, 2020
DCI officers jump over the fence of former Sports CS Rashid Echesa’s Karen home to gain entry after they were denied access through the gate. Photo/PD/Gerald Ithana
In summary

In March this year, in what bore the hallmarks of a cinematic operation, detectives from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) made child’s play of a feat that many would consider suicidal when they scaled up a high security wall and gained access to the palatial home of former Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa in Karen. 

To the surprise of many, the sleuths chatted leisurely among themselves as several in their numbers scaled the fence, clutching stiff wires, basically what looked like top wall electric fence, before they dropped into the compound. 

The intrigues, gallantry and politics aside, this exploit shone the spotlight on what many consider an impenetrable deterrence tool in the real estate market: the electric fence. Is it really all that it is touted to be?

The electric fence is among the more visible deterrents to would-be intruders, and is in many cases, the first line of defense against intrusion into a premise.

The very sight of a set of solid wires that threaten a deadly jolt of electric shock at the slightest touch is sufficient to make potential intruders think twice before contemplating trespass.

How it works

But, for all its spine-chilling looks, an electric fence may not ultimately guarantee controlled access.

Intruders could still scale the fence and land into what one would assume is a well-guarded property.

An electric fence, says Nairobi-based security expert Erick Diang’a, is connected to an alternating current.

Power energisers emit a non-lethal electrical current, either continuously or in pulses, as per the property owners specification.

Thus, by simply covering the electric lines with some materials, one limits the deterrent properties of the fence. 

The fence’s deterrence value is largely based on its ability to transmit electric shock to a would-be intruder. 

“An intruder can use an insulator, such as a heavy blanket, a piece of polythene or a carton to cover the lines and cross over,” Diang’a told Boma. 

Diang’a, who is the Monitoring and Response Operations manager at SGA Security Group, a property owner can take several measures to increase the deterrent value of an electric fence. 

Razor wires  and beams

To be assured that the property is covered, one can reinforce the electric fence by means of security beams, also known as point-to-point beams (an early warning system).

They work fairly simply and generally come in two parts – a transmitter and a receiver. and razor wire (strong wire with sharp edges). 

“Lines without the razor wires and reinforced with are a challenge because someone who has knowledge on insulating the lines can gain access. Razor wires are supposed to deter movement,” he explains.

In addition, one may consider the use of alarms, connected to the fence, as a way of creating a mechanism that allows homeowners to quickly ascertain whether or not there is an intruder on the property. 

“For commercial premises, we advice our clients to connect the fence to a trigger alarm system that gets activated whenever there is an intrusion and alerts a response team,” he says.

Ideally, an electric fence is just one cog in a larger wheel of security apparatus that links the fence to an alarm system.

Under this arrangement, a security company rents out a transmitter to a client. 

“The gadget transmits signals from a client’s premise to a central control room, which dispatches the nearest response team,” he offers. 

Diang’a says it takes little ingenuity to test for electric current in an electric fence.

One only requires a material that can complete the circuit, and this might be anything from a freshly cut twig to a piece of wire.

Some electric lines emit tiny sounds that indicate passage of electric current, which makes it easier for a potential intruder to know of the danger and how to handle it.

The terrain, Diang’a adds, could also determine the effectiveness of an electric fence to ward off intruders.

Some people choose to erect a stand alone electric fence (a fully electrified fence acting as the only perimeter security) or atop a building, both of which are appropriate choices according to Diang’a, it all depends on the security needs of the premises. 

However, an electric fence that is erected on the ground can easily give access by burrowing the ground under the fence.

Such fences need additional reinforcement, such as a concrete wall from the ground up along the electric wires.

Diang’a also advises property owners to seek professional help and extensive work experiences in installation of  electric fences.

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