Accurate, cost-effective solutions to curtail theft, vandalism and security violations
By John Romanowich
Threats to electric, telecom, cable and other utility assets can take many forms. Vandalism, theft and sabotage cause disruptions in operations or raise serious safety concerns with far-reaching repercussions. While it is difficult to predict when an incident will occur, risks can be calculated and measures taken to mitigate threats and safeguard assets. Knowing the nature and location of an intrusion in real time is key to mounting an effective response-and smart thermal cameras offer a solution for the utility industry.
Improved Situational Awareness
Smart thermal cameras with on-board video analytics expand security operators' awareness about what is happening outdoors, offering pre-emptive security with instant notification about intrusions. More than any other perimeter security modality, smart thermal cameras deliver the "what and where" of an alert in real time. When security and business operations receive accurate information, they can quickly and effectively intervene.
Numerous detection technologies including microwave, seismic sensors, passive infrared (PIR) and fence sensors augmented by cameras have been typical solutions used to detect intrusions. These systems, however, are not fully effective because the sensors generate many nuisance alerts, and they are costly because they involve use of two separate systems-a sensor system and a video system.
Smart thermal cameras offer a key functional advantage over these traditional solutions because thermal cameras can simultaneously detect and display an alarm event 24 hours a day, with great accuracy, in bright sun or complete darkness. Unlike traditional detection systems, today's smart thermal cameras provide accurate intrusion detection over large areas regardless of wind, weather, animal movement, vibration from equipment or blowing trash. The result is a cost-efficient, single-technology solution that yields the around-the-clock security awareness necessary to meet the critical security needs of utilities.
Accuracy is always important for any automated sensing technology, but particularly so when protecting remote assets such as electrical substations, cell towers, or transmission and distribution sites. When deciding how to respond, security teams must be able to quickly and reliably gauge the validity of an alert. For this reason, smart thermal cameras with global positioning system (GPS) analytics can make accurate determinations regarding target location, size, bearing and speed, greatly reducing nuisance alerts and misdetects, and providing reliable alerts. The same location information can also be used to automatically steer a pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera to zoom and follow detected targets for alarm assessment.
New capabilities such as extended range and wide-area coverage enable cost-reducing mounting through the elimination of infrastructure. Advanced analytics make it possible for the cameras to point directly at the fence line and correctly detect intrusions the instant they enter the secure area while ignoring objects on the other side of the fence. Pedestrians passing on the outside of the fence, for example, would not set off an alarm. Mounting cameras on existing infrastructure such as buildings brings the total cost of the solution lower than other modalities for outdoor intrusion protection, while reducing complexity.
Waterside applications also pose obstacles for mounting cameras because it is not practical to place poles in the middle of a waterway. When protecting ports or dams, or the utilities located there, longer-range thermal cameras make it possible to achieve security objectives in a practical, less costly manner because infrastructure is often more expensive than the cost of the camera itself. In addition, thermal cameras ignore reflections and waves, reducing nuisance alerts for assets by water.
A Cost-effective Solution
The ability to successfully manage outdoor security through smart technology can provide security management a new level of effectiveness. Experience shows the amount of manpower resources required to do a similar job would be cost prohibitive, and even then vigilance is not guaranteed. When the right mix of technology and personnel come together, however, the economic equation for return on investment (ROI) is irrefutable.
Now that smart thermal camera prices have fallen below the $5,000 manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) price barrier, one of the most fundamental security functions-theft prevention-can economically be addressed using smart thermal camera solutions. Examples range from preventing copper theft at electric substations to securing equipment at maintenance yards, protecting car lots, securing the millions of oil and gas well heads in use-and many other areas where theft prevention remains a key objective.
Smart thermal cameras can also be used to determine if transformers are overheating at a power station, if there is a leak at a refinery or to monitor storage tank levels. The possibilities for thermal cameras extend to highway safety, measuring parking area occupancy, measuring the volume of traffic in a road, or automatically determining if a car is driving the wrong way on an onramp or roadway. New ROI scenarios and greater functionality make smart thermal analytics cameras a perfect tool for such applications.
The goal of outdoor security is to detect an intrusion in time to prevent harm or minimize financial risk. Deploying smart thermal camera systems for protecting critical infrastructure can be surprisingly cost-effective and highly accurate. By evaluating the challenges and applying appropriate solutions, organizations can meet outdoor security objectives with higher levels of accountability and lower costs.
About The Author: John Romanowich is president, CEO and founder of SightLogix. He is also chairman of SIA's Perimeter Security Workgroup.