The Heat of the Moment

The Heat of the Moment

What’s new in network thermal cameras for security and operations?

In the security world, it’s often what you don’t see that can hurt you the most. That’s why network thermal cameras are gaining in popularity, especially in facilities with extensive unmanned perimeters and lengthy fence lines such as airports and seaports, power plants and other critical infrastructure including bridges, tunnels and railways. It’s hard for an intruder to conceal their approach when their body is radiating a heat signature for all to see.

Thermal cameras are often chosen as a discreet alternative to electrified fences and flood lights. They don’t require a light source to detect activity because every object above zero degrees Kelvin emits thermal radiation, even very cold objects like ice. In fact, the greater the temperature differential in the scene, the clearer the thermal image will be.

Unlike conventional day/night cameras, thermal cameras are immune to most lighting problems—deep shadows and bright sunlight, smoke and fog, laser pointers or tonal values that camouflage into the background. Because network thermal cameras are built on open platform standards like other IP-based cameras, they’re able to support a growing number of in-camera, third-party applications that can enhance their use.

And, that’s where some of the most exciting advancements are being made to the technology today.

What’s new in perimeter security and long-range protection?

One innovation that is going to be a real game changer for critical perimeter security is a specialized perimeter intrusion and long-range detection application for real-time, automated detection, tracking and notification. The on-board software is capable of accurately detecting changes over wide areas and long operating ranges that are far beyond human detection abilities. When the camera spots an anomaly in the scene, the software automatically transmits the precise coordinates for the detected person, object or event to an associated PTZ camera enabling it to immediately track the situation. The software triggers real-time visual alerts to first responders via their mobile devices.

What makes this application so valuable is that it helps users proactively detect rather than simply record security threats, effectively accelerating the detect- and-response capabilities of a security team.

How it works. Historically, in order to detect something long range you needed a larger lens on the network thermal camera. And when you did, it would narrow the field of view. This latest innovation takes long-range detection to a new level. Not only do the analytics enable the network thermal camera to detect a distant object using only one or two pixels on target, it does so while maintaining the camera’s normal field of view.

Advantages of processing the video in-camera. There are several benefits to having this analytic capability reside in-camera rather than on a centralized server. It limits video streaming to event metadata only, which reduces both bandwidth consumption and storage requirements—significantly saving on overall system cost of ownership. Being networkbased, it allows for truly scalable deployment and can be easily monitored and fine-tuned remotely.

Environments suitable for this thermal analytic. The possible uses for advanced perimeter and long-range intrusion detection are endlessly diverse. For instance, the analytics can notify railway security of someone walking along the train tracks or raise the alarm that unknown persons are hiding in the underbrush surrounding a municipality’s water reservoir.

Oil refineries can see potential saboteurs approaching the property under cover of darkness, and border patrols can remotely monitor large swaths of unmanned borders to stop anyone intent on illegal entry. Whether a port or marina, power plant or remote substation, industrial complex, airport or inter-modal transportation hub that needs protection, perimeter intrusion and long-range detection analytics can spot the presence of humans and objects trespassing in restricted areas and trigger real-time alerts to potential threats. This quick detection and notification allows security to be much more proactive in mitigating risks to personnel, property and business operations.

What’s New in Operations and Safety?

Though intrusion detection and response have been the primary focus for many security departments, network thermal cameras are starting to be used for other applications as well such as protecting equipment operations. Their ability to detect heat signatures makes them excellent watchdogs for remotely monitoring industrial processes to prevent damage, fire or other hazards.

One of the newest technologies to hit the market for this type of application is a network thermal camera augmented with a temperature alarm feature. The advanced temperature measuring algorithm can be used to monitor temperature variances—upper and lower limits as well as the speed of temperature changes—and trigger an alarm.

The program uses an isothermal palette to highlight specific temperatures in the image as a visual aid for the operator. For instance, when you set the lower limit at a temperature that’s critical for a certain piece of equipment, any temperature above that value will stand out in a different color of the palette. In the event of a temperature alarm, the operator will be able to immediately see whether the alarm is false since the thermal image will show whether the surface temperature of the critical object is outside the acceptable threshold.

Remote thermal monitoring can be used to capture a spot temperature reading. The operator can click anywhere in the image frame and the camera will measure the temperature within that window.

The possible uses for temperature monitoring thermal cameras are virtually limitless. They can be instrumental in predicting equipment failures before issues become visible to the naked eye or machinery simply stops working. For instance, the isothermal palette may draw the operator’s attention to an overheated part or a blocked or leaky pipe. A change in palette may be the early-warning sign that selfigniting material such as dust or flour is about to combust. These cameras could also be used for tank level detection because the temperature difference between the tank itself and its contents would register as different isothermal colors. Other possible uses include remote monitoring of flare stacks at oil refineries to confirm compliance with government emission standards and predicting transformer and switch gear failures at power substations to prevent wide-scale loss of electricity.

Evolution Continues to Heat Up

Like all network camera technology, thermal imaging continues to evolve. Whether the surveillance goal is perimeter security or operational continuity, network thermal cameras are shifting customer focus from reactive forensics to proactive realtime response to threats.

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of Security Today.

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