Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness

Effectively responding to perceived threats

Situational AwarenessRemote situational awareness provides operators, security personnel and first responders with decision making data to appropriately and effectively respond to perceived threats. Hybrid remote situational awareness is the fusion of sustainable power, intelligent data and flexible communications.

How are remote locations defined, when remote is a relative term? At its most basic level, it simply means that the site to be monitored is physically removed from the site where the monitors are located. For example, in a campus application, the monitoring station may be in one building at the far end of campus, and the other buildings on campus would be considered remote, relative to the building that houses the monitoring station.

In the oil and gas industry, a company may operate hundreds or thousands of drilling sites, storage facilities, processing plants and equipment depots. These sites are often in remote, rural or totally unpopulated and undeveloped areas. The environments in these remote locations can be harsh with bitter cold and extreme heat, heavy rain, snow or salt-spray.

Other examples of industries with remote sites that often require monitoring include:

  • Energy (power substations, hydro-electric dams);
  • Transportation (railroad, bridges, toll booths, highways);
  • Defense (weapons facilities, depots, forward operating bases, military bases); and
  • Homeland Security (border, disaster response, critical infrastructure).

Sustainable Remote Power

Sustainable simply means that the power at a particular site can be maintained for the required period of performance. To be sustainable, the power system must have appropriate power storage, reliable power generation and durable electronics that hold up in harsh environments. This is often a big challenge because, in many cases, main power is not available, reliable or the installation cost is economically prohibitive. To provide the necessary monitoring there must be achievable and reliable power.

Generators are often selected to provide power in such cases, but they require fuel. Fuel is expensive, as is the cost to transport it to remote locations. Considering the total cost for the fuel, the price per gallon can quickly skyrocket to 10 to 100 times of the raw fuel cost. Not to mention that these locations may be inaccessible during certain times of the year, so sustainability may not be offered 24/7, 365 days a year with a generator alone.

Another commonly selected remote power provider are solar panels, used as either the primary power generation mechanism, or as a backup to another source. Solar energy is available in almost all locations, but solar availability and effectiveness is diminished close to the poles (Arctic and Antarctic regions). In regions sufficiently close to the equator, solar power is often used as the only power source. Elsewhere, it may be part of a hybrid solution, combining it with another source, such as wind, fuel-cell or generator, to provide constant power availability.

A battery solution allows the system to provide continuous, uninterrupted power even during brown-out and black-out conditions. When power generation is not working, the system will continue to receive power from the batteries. The battery duration can be customized, depending on the load and the risk tolerance, by adjusting the sizing of the battery solution. A power core that uses a battery type that is durable and rugged, such as AGM batteries, is important. The ability to charge those batteries intelligently for multiple sources is a must for sustainability. Systems providing this flexibility, such as the SentryPOWER CORE, enable the integrator/installer to optimize the solution for the conditions of any given installation.

Therefore, the ideal power solution enables the system to take power input from a variety of sources, making flexibility the key and adaptability essential.

Environmental Conditions

The environment in remote locations can be quite harsh. The system must be able to operate in wide temperature ranges with little or no required maintenance. Typical charge controlling systems available commercially as outdoor-rated hardware have a specified operational temperature range of -10°C (14°F) to 50°C (122°F). This may be sufficient in moderate climate areas, but in most parts of the world, this charge controller will suffer serious performance degradation or premature failure, due to temperatures outside of its specified range for lengthy periods of time.

For instance, temperatures exceeding 50°C (122°F) are extremely common on the interior of electronic enclosures. Consider the temperature inside a parked car on a hot, sunny day. When the outside temperature is 32°C (90°F), the temperature inside a parked car can reach 43°C (109°F) in just 10 minutes. In 90 minutes, the interior temperature can reach 59°C (138°F). Now, imagine operating critical electronics (rated to 50°C (122°F).) inside this parked car. Failure is imminent.

Consider the same parked car in Yuma, Ariz. With a record high of 51°C (124°F) or Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where the average high in July is 41°C (106°F) and 43°C (110°F), respectively. On a 43°C day, the interior of the parked car will reach 79°C within 90 minutes. If the electronics are rated to 80°C the systems is pushing the limits, yet still functioning. But, if the electronics are only rated to 50°C, they are likely already shut down due to overheating.

If enclosures aren’t properly vented, protected with a sun-shield and equipped with a well-designed heatsink, then the interior will likely reach temperatures approaching the boiling point of water. No electronics will be able to survive these temperatures. However, with a proper heat management design, it is possible to shield and ventilate the enclosure to keep the interior temperature below 70°C.

It is critical that enclosures are designed to manage temperature fluctuations effectively, and that electronics are designed to operate in extreme temperatures. Sometimes environmental controls are used on enclosures to help minimize the temperature extremes internally. For example, a sun shield, comprised of a solar panel, can be used over the enclose. The power from the solar panel operates a small fan, forcing more air through the enclosure to reduce internal heat building. It is desirable to minimize power consumption, so using a separate solar panel for these fans helps minimize the drain on the system’s batteries. When the sun isn’t strong enough to operate the fans, the forced airflow won’t be needed. A vented enclosure allowing good airflow, in combination with rugged electronics, is usually the best solution.

In addition to temperature extremes, systems are often located in coastal regions where humidity or corrosive salt-spray can cause performance concerns. Electronics should be sealed or conformal-coated to provide protection from the elements. Otherwise, the electronics are likely to fail when the system is needed the most.

Features and Capabilities

There are important features and capabilities to be addressed for systems installed in remote locations. They should provide good data collection, accessibility for remote troubleshooting and some level of automation when systems are to be left unattended for extended periods of time.

A system that collects data on source power levels and power output loads helps determine trends in power availability from each source or power consumption by the load. For instance, if power is suddenly diminished or halted from a particular source, the power source may be damaged and in need of service or replacement. If a power source monitor issues an alert, the operator can correct it before the power source failure causes a total system failure. Otherwise, the entire system could shut down.

The same is true for the load. If a camera system normally consumes 15 watts, for example, and it is suddenly consuming 50 watts, it is likely that there is a problem with the camera and will need to be serviced soon.

The ability to access data collected by the system, without physically going out to the system, proves to be helpful over time. A power management system that enables HTML or SNMP interface provides a tool for remote monitoring that enables a system administrator to note trends in the data. Decisions about preventive and corrective maintenance can then be made in an intelligent manner.

Because remote locations are often difficult to get to, the system must perform functions autonomously. A programmable power management system, such as the SentryPOWER AMP, enables automated activity based on certain conditions. For instance, turning low-priority equipment off when batteries get low to reduce power consumption allows higher priority equipment to continue operating for longer periods, even during blackout conditions.

Automated low-voltage disconnect (LVD) protection also is a must. This protects the system and the load electronics when batteries are low. Without it, the batteries may be repeatedly drained, resulting in a significantly shortened life cycle and risking damage to electronics on the system. The ability to adjust the power levels, at which this protection is activated, allows the administrator flexibility in balancing the risk of damage with the risk of power outage.

Programmable capabilities and the ability to remotely cycle power on system electronics is an enormous benefit. This automates troubleshooting and corrects problems before they negatively affect the system. When this doesn’t work, the ability for an administrator to perform basic troubleshooting actions remotely is essential in order to minimize the cost of maintenance and downtime.

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Security Today.


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