Analytics In The Dark

Analytics In The Dark

Thermal security cameras with analytics—superior perimeter protection

The adoption of thermal cameras in mainstream security has increased considerably over the last decade, and Oregon-based FLIR Systems has been a leading innovator in the industry. FLIR is recognized as having the broadest range of thermal security cameras— from affordable consumer-oriented cameras to military-grade imagers used for border security and force protection.

Now, with the emergence of advanced video analytics, FLIR is proving that thermal’s inherent image quality makes it an ideal match. Thermal cameras with analytics have been field-proven to provide more efficient operation, fewer false and nuisance alarms, and easier alarm assessment than any other technology in the industry.

Whether used to monitor nuclear power plants, bridges and tunnels, remote substations, or even car dealerships, FLIR thermal cameras represent a true 24- hour surveillance solution. And when combined with additional visible-light security cameras, and versatile video management systems, thermal cameras represent a game-changing technology for protecting perimeters and critical infrastructure.


What makes thermal security cameras so effective is that they peer into a realm that is otherwise invisible to the naked eye. Rather than detect visible light, thermal cameras “see” infrared radiation that anything warmer than absolute zero emits or reflects. Thermal cameras detect minute differences in temperature to create high contrast video that displays heat signatures of both animate and inanimate objects.

Because thermal cameras ignore visible light, they produce consistent image contrast, regardless of the amount of light available. Thermal cameras aren’t affected by conditions that can cause visible light cameras fits, such as sun glare, rain, light fog, and light reflecting off wet pavement. As long as there is the tiniest bit of temperature contrast between objects and their surroundings, a thermal camera will create a useful image. Thermal cameras are the best tools available for automated detection and full situational awareness.


In addition to the emergence of more affordable thermal technology, video analytics have become ubiquitous for perimeter and critical infrastructure protection. In the context of security, the purpose of analytics is to automatically detect events that pose a potential security risk, such as when a person approaches or crosses a perimeter. To function best, video analytics need to be able to distinguish objects from their surroundings, which is where thermal contrast proves so reliable.

For example, the FLIR FC-Series ID thermal security camera has built-in analytics that can be customized to set to trigger alarms for any combination of human, vehicular, or non-human objects. The benefit is that by specifying given targets, the camera can ignore benign movement—such as blowing vegetation or roaming animals—thus reducing the potential for false alarms. The FC-Series ID includes custom Automatic Gain Control (AGC), which applies even greater contrast to the normal thermal image, further improving the performance of the analytics.


Analytics aren’t for thermal cameras alone, of course. FLIR’s fixed ioi HD Bullet camera, for instance, combines built-in video analytics optimized for perimeter protection with high quality Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) capabilities. The addition of PTZ tracking allows operators to following a target once it has crossed the perimeter and is already inside the facility, beyond the reach of the cameras monitoring the perimeter.

For cameras without embedded analytics, FLIR offers the TRK 101, a separate box that receives a video stream from the camera—either from an analog or IP connection—and applies analytics to it. In addition, FLIR offers thermal cameras that are fully integrated with third-party analytics, to ensure maximal flexibility and adaptability to project needs.


Brigham Young University’s LaVell Edwards Stadium, in Provo, Utah, is a good example of using thermal analytics in a location with constantly changing variables. Since 2003, the stadium has undergone a series of renovations, including an updated natural grass field and luxury seating. After determining that a mixture of thermal security cameras would provide the right imaging quality and range performance, the university integrated the FLIR cameras into their existing security network, tying everything together with a video analytics package.

The analytics allow operators to set up pre-determined alarm areas that are active at different times of day. For instance, during daylight hours, the perimeter, stands, and field are open to maintenance crews. Later in the afternoon, the stands remain open, but access to the field is closed and the field is alarmed. When school officials close the stadium for the day, they activate the automated surveillance and alarm system, which encompasses the entire facility.


In addition to cameras and analytics, the third component to a complete solution for perimeter protection is video management. Top-of-the-line security cameras with analytics should have an equally robust video management system for gathering, controlling and storing video content.

FLIR recently worked with a major North American energy company that supplies electric and natural gas power to homes and businesses across a significant part of the United States. As such, it maintains operations in many different geographical areas, with facilities ranging from massive power generation plants to local billing offices.

The company sought a state-of-the-art, unified security system that would provide more than just central monitoring for surveillance cameras. Senior management wanted to know immediately when a threat arose so they could notify other facilities and send assistance, if needed. This new system would require the ability to monitor and report on all security incidents, so that the company could streamline its security operations and ensure that proper standards were being maintained at each and every location. FLIR’s Latitude network video management system (NVMS) now serves as the utility’s integration hub linking multiple layers of video surveillance, access control, and other detection systems into a single, unified video platform.

Security operations at headquarters use Latitude to monitor and manage security operations at all facilities from a single command-and-control center. Each facility uses FLIR visible light and thermal imaging cameras, linked to access control and audio sensors, to provide real-time threat identification and visual verification to eliminate false alarms.

FLIR’s security solution uses IPbased network infrastructure to deliver HD quality video, even during difficult lighting conditions or adverse weather. Fixed, dome and PTZ cameras can be configured and managed remotely, lessening the need to send staff into the field for minor operational issues. FLIR’s ioi analytics provide early audible alerts of potential intruders in the vicinity of a boundary fence.

The power company now leverages its video surveillance, access control, and other physical security sensors to trigger alerts, automate device actions, and present real-time, actionable video to internal clients. In addition, it uses the FLIR system to maintain close collaboration and open communications between various departments. Legacy systems have been enhanced or replaced with open-systems-compliant upgrades that work seamlessly with each other, and with the FLIR management infrastructure. Additional improvements can be deployed quickly, without extensive testing.


So, what should you look for in perimeter protection? At the very least, it should be able to detect potential intruders, provide adaptive alarming, and notify appropriate personnel, even when they’re away from the facility.

The choice of whether to employ thermal cameras with analytics exclusively or in combination with visible light cameras is a matter of application. Is the primary concern being able to detect intrusion? In that case, thermal will suffice. If it’s necessary to identify alleged suspects for future prosecution, gather a higher level of details, or continuously track intruders while they are already inside the perimeter, fixed and PTZ driven visible-light cameras will be needed.

Fixed-site thermal security cameras offer high-performance thermal imaging in all-weather enclosures that are easy to install, simple to integrate, and compatible with a wide variety of third-party accessories. When eliminating other needs for protecting critical infrastructure, and focusing on the perimeter itself, thermal cameras, in most cases, are the most reliable perimeter intrusion detection devices available.

Because they make images from tiny differences in heat, thermal cameras provide a naturally high-contrast video signal that can achieve significantly higher detection distances, and in addition is immune from camouflage, sun glare, total darkness, and most inclement weather conditions.

Thermal security cameras can be inexpensive and easily networked. They work better with video analytics packages than other “lowlight” imaging solutions, and they don’t require any auxiliary lighting infrastructure. They are more affordable than ever, and cost very little to operate; thermal cameras offer the full package of affordability, capability and return on investment.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Security Today.


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