Video surveillance professionals capitalizing on America’s emerging energy boom

Drilling for Opportunity

Video surveillance professionals capitalizing on America’s emerging energy boom

Video surveillance professionals capitalizing on America’s emerging energy boomIf you think the U.S. energy market is huge today, you haven’t seen anything yet. The International Energy Agency predicts that America will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil producer by 2017 and be a net oil exporter by 2030. That’s quite a turnaround considering that just a few years ago, Saudi Arabia was expected to lead production until 2035.

Increased oil, and especially natural gas production, plus a growing demand for energy worldwide are leading to a boom in non-renewable energy infrastructure in the United States. This, in turn, is giving rise to a host of opportunities for security professionals to protect the complex network of energy-gathering equipment, pipelines, storage facilities and refining plants that fuel our country’s economic engine.

Whether unlocking new oil and gas reserves from the mid-Atlantic’s Marcellus Shale, drilling for resources offshore or mining for coal, every energy sector faces similar challenges: theft, equipment breakdown and hostile activity. The beauty of network video is that it affords plant operators the ability to integrate security, safety and production control into a single, overarching system of protection. In addition to surveillance, cameras can assist in visually verifying access control throughout a property, aid in eliminating responses to false intrusion detection alarms and even help in monitoring plant production processes. And, because they’re connected to the network, these cameras can be managed from remote sites, multiple locations and/or one centrally-located control room.

A Three-pronged Strategy for Protecting Critical Infrastructure

Regardless of what other technologies are being used, network cameras should always be integral components in the planning and designing of surveillance and protection measures for critical infrastructure. Cameras provide intelligent situational awareness that can greatly help security managers address their most primary concerns: protecting long perimeters and poorly-lit expanses, monitoring site entrances and exits, and safeguarding potentially hazardous areas. It is these risk points that often lead to interrupted production, loss of revenue and sometimes costly repairs.

As a security professional, you need to take a layered approach to your solution design. Think of protection as a series of concentric circles: first, the perimeter; next, the buildings; and finally, the energy production itself. Let’s examine these possibilities one at a time.

Perimeter protection. There are a number of perimeter protection technologies available to detect an intruder—everything from microwaves, fiber-fence sensors and seismic sensors to radar alerts. Combining network cameras with these and other technologies adds another level of situational awareness to the triggered event. With intelligent eyes on the scene, plant operators can observe who or what is trespassing, while also ascertaining what kind of activity is taking place.

For instance, as a first-line of defense, you can install network thermal cameras equipped with intelligent video analytics to detect intruders. Detection could trigger an alarm that would direct an HDTV-quality, PTZ, dome camera to the location which would, in turn, stream high-definition images to the plant operator and provide sufficient details of the intruder to enable identification. This is an especially effective combination for protecting the most vulnerable segments of the distribution system, such as pipelines transporting gas from remote exploration sites across vast, unpopulated areas.

In such locations, cameras would employ wireless connectivity to the network so that security staff and company managers could monitor those sites remotely. Onboard image processing enables thermal cameras to detect the presence of unauthorized persons anywhere across the entire visible field of view. Thermal camera algorithms are smart enough to discount environmental disturbances like rain, fog, sun and foliage. In certain conditions, they may even be able to distinguish between the heat signature of a small animal and that of a person. This information is crucial when verifying alerts from an alarm system. Was it an animal or leaves blowing across the sensors, or was someone actually trying to sabotage the installation? Knowing which will dictate what action to take and who to send out. The operator may simply log the incident as a non-event, send a guard or local law enforcement to investigate or call in the fire department. Having the mechanism in play to avoid responding to false alarms can ultimately be a real cost saver.

As a further precaution, and to ensure continuous recording even in the event of a network disconnect, the network camera can be equipped with an onboard SD card for failover recording. Once network connectivity is re-established, any recordings on the memory card can be streamed to the control center for review.

Building protection. Alongside perimeter access, it also is important to control access and flow within critical areas. Especially during emergency evacuations, facilities managers need to be able to monitor exits to ensure nobody is left inside during a potentially dangerous situation. Linking network video to a facility’s access control system can expedite verification by giving management instant access to live, recorded video and audio throughout the property as well as other pertinent scene data.

Network cameras equipped with wide dynamic range and other lowlight-sensitivity features can provide plant managers with high-quality scene details, even if the only illuminations available are emergency exit lights. Network cameras equipped with two-way audio can be integrated with access control systems to double as intercoms, augment virtual gates and virtual fences, count people coming in and out of the facility, and even detect and record audio events outside the camera’s field of view.

In cases of challenging environmental factors—such as fog, smoke, deeply shadowed areas or blinding mounds of snow—heat signatures, captured by thermal cameras, can extend situational awareness provided by more traditional video cameras.

Production protection. While protecting people and property are essential to a robust, energy-driven economy, the third leg of opportunity arises from monitoring production processes, ensuring safety rules are being followed and seeing that tools and equipment are being managed properly.

Intelligent cameras can augment human oversight in sensitive areas by providing a mechanism for visual inspections, remote assistance with planned maintenance and support for other day-to-day operations. In this way, an energy company can maintain efficient, high production levels without compromising plant safety. They can use network-based video cameras to keep close watch over multiple locations simultaneously, without a physical presence onsite.

Adhering to an open standards platform is essential to successfully integrating and managing network video with production components, devices and software. Ultimately, it’s a strategy that yields significant payoffs. For instance, when you integrate SCADA systems with network video, plant managers can acquire information on temperature, pressure and speed meters in real time. With visual confirmation, operators can instantly spot changes in production sensors and take corrective action before problems escalate, possibly forcing a temporary production shutdown.Whether monitoring a pumping station or a hydraulic fracturing drill, live images often provide a quicker snapshot of a situation than a string of numbers.

An Energetic Approach to a Surveillance Opportunity

Network cameras that leverage existing IP infrastructure make any installation more reliable, scalable and future proof. Based on open standards, these cameras can be easily enhanced with sophisticated analytics to create the most advanced solution for both security and productivity.

Being network based, they expand accessibility to eyes on the scene, enabling companies to manage the entire security system from multiple remote sites: company headquarters, individual plant security offices and on mobile devices while on patrol. Plant operators can even grant access to live and recorded video to first responders such as local police, fire departments and government agencies tasked with securing the vital U.S. energy infrastructure. In essence, it allows all these parties to be virtually present anywhere in a facility and work in tandem to provide the best possible protection against theft, equipment breakdown and hostile activity.

With the resurgence of oil exploration and natural gas production fueling America’s economy, it’s an opportune time for security professionals to address the country’s growing target of energy gathering sites, pipelines and freight transport, storage facilities and refining plants. Optimizing surveillance solutions to protect this sector contributes to our economic prosperity, our national security and our world leadership in energy production.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Security Today.

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