Homeland Security Insider
Getting a Foot in the Federal Door
The security of critical infrastructure and facilities is vital in today's world. With recent advances in technology, there are more choices on how to protect facilities from crime, terrorism, sabotage and intruders. Unfortunately, criminals and would-be terrorists are often armed with this same technology, and it is a fierce battle to effectively survey and secure commercial properties.
There are a large number of facilities located in the United States designated as critical infrastructure, including chemical and manufacturing plants, ports, transportation and refineries. If attacked, not only are the facilities at risk, but so are the millions of people who work in those facilities or live near them.
In recent years, there has been an increased focus on the security of the nation's critical infrastructure and facilities. With that focus, thermal imaging is increasingly becoming the choice for many security professionals wishing to enhance existing security systems. While no one technology is the silver bullet for securing a facility, thermal imaging has proven to become a critical weapon.
Because thermal imaging strictly measures and images heat and not light, it can easily and quickly detect suspicious activity approaching a perimeter, day or night. Most affordable thermal imaging cameras operate in the 8 to 12 micron range of the electromagnetic spectrum, called long-wave infrared. Long-wave infrared is not visible to the naked eye, but thermal imagers translate the data into an image visible to the operator. Thermal imaging offers the unique capability to see through challenging weather and obscurants like dust, smoke or light fog.
An advantage of long-wave infrared over other ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum is the optimization to view objects that are the same temperature as human skin. This identifies people in a background of foliage, buildings or waterways. The natural highlighting of people makes it very difficult to avoid detection by the sensor.
Advances in thermal imaging have made the technology much more affordable and adaptable for integration into large security systems. While originally developed for military use, thermal imaging has extended capabilities with new features and applications. Thermal imaging is used extensively in law enforcement and firefighting applications where critical decision making is enhanced with data provided by long-wave infrared imagers.
Most facilities that use security cameras currently rely on a CCTV network for detection and assessment of intruders or other suspicious activity. These systems have strengths and weaknesses. CCTV systems cannot see adequately in the dark, over water or through challenging weather to provide the same level of security provided in daylight. Even with lighting, standard CCTV cameras do not penetrate the darkness beyond the small splash of light. The cameras often set off false alarms initiated by small animals on the fence line.
Thermal imaging is a synergistic addition to existing CCTV security systems. Not only is thermal imaging designed to see in the dark, over water and through challenging weather, but it also can help reduce the number of false alarms caused by shadows, small animals or glare. Installed and used together, the technologies can greatly increase the overall effectiveness of facility security -- thermal imaging for detection and CCTV for evaluation and assessment.
The addition of thermal imaging dramatically increases the ability for a security force to detect activity -- especially at night. Because no lighting or illumination is required, suspected intruders don?t even realize they are being watched. Simply using standard CCTV in these situations would not reveal the intruder and will not help assess the situation. That is where another burgeoning technology comes into play -- low-light or low-lux cameras.
When used in conjunction with low-lux technologies, thermal imaging still provides preliminary detection. The situation is then assessed in more detail with a low-lux camera. Together, these cameras get the job done. Recognition of the limitations of each technology is a key first step. An integrated approach is quickly becoming a popular trend for advanced security surveillance systems. To ensure the end user receives the best product to meet the challenges faced by the facility, thermal imaging camera manufacturers developed integrated systems that include complementing technologies, dual sensors, software and video analytics.
Video analytics are a fairly new offering for security systems. Analytics are a combination of software and hardware that continually analyzes video frames for movement and change. When these changes occur with the parameters of the system algorithms, the software generates an alert or alarm. This highlights the area of interest and keys the operator to a potential intrusion. With some security systems employing hundreds of cameras and other sensors, operators can easily be overwhelmed by the task. Video analytics make the system smarter and better able to help ease the stress of watching all of the monitors.
Initially employed on visible cameras like CCTV, video analytics are now used with low-lux and, even thermal imagers. The additional tool has proven itself invaluable in reducing false alarms and allowing for more efficient use of manpower.
Where to Begin
With all of the options, it is difficult to decide where to start when installing a new system or upgrading an old one. Modularity is the key to new systems. It allows security professionals to install, features they need now and to upgrade features later. Looking for systems that will fit into a current system and allow for systems upgrades is difficult but well worth the effort considering the lifetime cost of ownership for integrated systems.
Products with a built-in capability for upgrade can allow for growth over multiple fiscal years. A basic system that allows for ready, in-the-field expansion can be the best choice for a facility with a budget. Upgrading cameras by replacement is difficult to find, but systems that allow for extensive upgradeability are available from select manufacturers.
Some thermal imaging camera manufacturers offer customized functionality. Today's security professionals are demanding upgraded features and functionality, and manufacturers are answering the call. Units can be purchased in a fixed-sightline mount or pan-and-tilt mount. Some systems can even be mounted on vehicles for mobile patrolling of perimeters. The cost can vary greatly, depending on the needs of the customer and the functionality required.
IP connectivity and networking is another hot button for many security professionals. Integrating a thermal security camera into existing systems is not always necessary, but beneficial. The major areas of concern in wireless IP connectivity versus point-to-point wiring for information dissemination include connectivity and integration into existing infrastructure -- wired and wireless; transmission bandwidth of digital data versus analog data; display and recording of data; and controlling the sensor suites.
Wireless capabilities also are becoming a highly-requested feature for many security systems. Cables can be time consuming and difficult to run under the floor or through walls, up poles or to even more physically challenging locations. Wireless installations are less infrastructure dependent, but there is still the question of having batteries or wired power for the sensor. Wireless systems must consider RF noise or clutter, range issues, frequency choice and bandwidth for data in place of the cable issues. After a choice of infrastructure installation, the remaining hurdles in configuring either wired or wireless systems differ little.
The costs associated with wireless systems are dependent on how much of a security system already exists or needs to be applied for the new sensor hardware. Expansion of existing systems with new wireless nodes can be very attractive from a cost standpoint. Wired LANs offer superior performance over wireless LANs, but the amount of data being transmitted should not seriously challenge today's router technology. For any wired LAN connected to the Internet, firewalls are the primary security consideration. Broadband routers offer equivalent firewall capability built into the device, configurable through software.
A World of Applications
The applications for thermal imaging in security and surveillance are endless for facility security and critical infrastructure. For general protection of facilities or plants, the technology can detect a predator hiding in the parking lot under the cover of darkness and brush, waiting to attack an employee leaving work late. There are many places for criminals, perpetrators or terrorists to hide on the grounds of a facility. Thick brush and foliage provide excellent cover, as do shadows. As part of an integrated security system, a thermal imaging camera can instantly detect trouble or someone hiding or lurking where they shouldn't be. A traditional visible camera might not pick up someone hiding in a shadow or behind a bush. But suspected intruders can't hide from the power of thermal imaging, the glowing heat signature gives the intruder away.
Thermal imaging cameras can be installed on perimeters to detect or monitor approaching vehicles or people. Both short and long-range cameras are available on the market to meet individual needs of a facility. The thermal imaging cameras are not blinded by headlights from vehicles or other sources. The image produces no glare and does not respond to light at all -- only heat. Perimeters can be more safely guarded and secured with the addition of thermal imaging technology. Many cameras now feature video analytics, which can instantly analyze video and set alarms based on pre-programmed parameters selected by the user. Trespassers approaching a perimeter can be detected, and an alarm will notify personnel long before reaching the fence line. Incorporating thermal imaging technology also allows end users the ability to be proactive about security. Breaches can be anticipated and stopped, instead of trying to review footage later or react when it is too late.
Thermal imaging also offers the ability to see clearly over water. With many of today's facilities being located on or near water, this is a key benefit. Perpetrators or terrorists approaching on a boat will be spotted by a thermal camera immediately with the heat signature of the boat and people glowing against the background of the water. Lighting also can be a big issue with facilities located on the water. Often facilities are restricted from illuminating certain areas due to nearby neighborhoods or regulations. This greatly impairs the ability of visible cameras to detect suspicious activity at night. Thermal technology solves the problem. It can clearly see anything approaching on the water or land, night or day without the need for obtrusive lighting or illumination other systems might require.
Facility security will continue to change as new struggles, challenges and technologies arise. Fortunately, thermal imaging is quickly becoming a common complement to many security systems, improving the ability to detect intrusions at night. Companies will continue to rely on thermal imaging for its abilities to deliver in vision, all day, all night and all year. No longer seen as a military technology, thermal imaging is now a proven solution for commercial use in facility security, offering features that no other solution can provide.
As critical infrastructure labels encompass more of what was once considered benign, a choice of products that allow for expansion to meet the future threat is imperative. The future of surveillance security starts now. Security systems designers are facing new challenges with each new revelation of danger. It is time to ask the question: Can your system meet the challenges of tomorrow's threat?