Rich and Famous

A combination of challenges converge in high-end residential settings

Residential security involves a broad spectrum of physical layouts— from a simple family dwelling to a large estate or residential compound. Specifically, thermal cameras play a role in helping security professionals keep estate residents safe.

High-end estates present a multitude of challenges for the modern security provider or integrator. In addition to the sheer size of many of these compounds, families with children are often in the mix. Issues like broadly varied threats, the wide range of residential locations and the residential nature of the facility all complicate the job of the security professional.

The Challenges
The threats involved are as varied as the people living on estates. They may be business executives, movie stars, singers, technology innovators and current or former government officials. The wide-ranging nature of the protectee’s involvement in our world results in a multivariate threat profile.

Security professionals charged with securing these high-value homes, estates and compounds must be able to respond to anything from nuisance threats like tabloid photographers and nosy members of the public to actual threats such as stalkers, kidnappers and terrorists.

If you could live anywhere you wanted, you probably would. These clients can and do—on the water or in the mountains; in the tropics or in snowy climates; in the country or in the city—and each environment poses unique security challenges.

The professionals designing and installing security equipment need to consider form as well as function when securing someone’s home. When a person pays millions of dollars to live in an idyllic location, they want to be safe, but they don’t want to feel like they’re living on an army post.

A Thermal Estate
All of these factors mean that the equipment deployed has to get the job done transparently while providing operators the flexibility they need to react to ever-changing threats. For today’s residential security professional, thermal security cameras meet these needs.

Thermal security cameras let you see what your eyes can’t. Invisible heat radiation is emitted by all objects regardless of lighting conditions. Thermal cameras detect the minute temperature differences between objects and turn them into video viewable on almost any monitor.

Because they see heat, thermal cameras are effective in any environment. They can easily detect intruders and other potential hazards, regardless of lighting conditions or weather. To appreciate the benefits more clearly, end users must understand how these products create images differently from CCTV cameras. Most security installations include standard CCTV cameras that create images with visible light. Unfortunately, the ability of a given detector—be it in an eyeball or a camera—to create images with visible light relates directly to the amount of light available.

Contrast is another limitation. Like human eyes, these cameras create better images if the object in view has lots of contrast compared to its background. Thermal cameras don’t suffer from these limitations. First, they make pictures from heat, not light, and have nothing to do with reflected light energy. Everything encountered in daily life creates heat energy, called a “heat signature,” that a thermal imager can see. These heat signatures also create their own contrast.

What’s more, the thermal energy seen by thermal cameras creates a better image at night. They work fine during the day, as long as there is temperature contrast between an object and its background, but security professionals need the most help seeing at night.

Analyzing the Options
It’s important for security professionals to understand what technological advantages thermal cameras have over other options. First, they allow homeowners and security professionals to see in the dark, and at greater distances, which enables them to spot intruders without using security lights.

Thermal cameras also maintain privacy. Because thermal cameras can’t identify facial features, homeowners can use them without sacrificing the modesty of family members.

Versatility is one of the thermal camera’s great, unsung benefits. When used to secure estates located in wooded areas, thermal cameras can see intruders from ranges that give security personnel ample time to react. And, at an estate with extensive waterfront exposure, thermal cameras can be used to create a virtual perimeter along the beach without having to erect a fence or other physical barrier.

Wildlife is another element that highlights the 24-hour usefulness of thermal security cameras. In a secluded location, large estate perimeters are constantly being crossed or approached by animals. Fence sensors, motion detectors and other devices can help on-site security staff know when something is approaching, but they can’t identify what that something is. This can result in numerous false alarms. Enabling rapid and easy evaluation of these false alarms is an invaluable use of thermal cameras. The cameras see environmental elements for what they are, leaving time to pay attention to other— more serious—alarms.

Thermal cameras provide operators with impressive range performance. In some cases, cooled thermal cameras with 750-millimeter optics can detect activity from nearly 10 miles away. The same type of sensor can detect small vehicles and boats from more than 12 miles away.

This range of performance is vital for securing large estates and residential compounds that may have waterfront or open-land areas that can’t be secured by a physical barrier. Thermal cameras allow security staff to detect and assess activities with plenty of time to evaluate the threat and respond appropriately.

Another important consideration is police response time. In remote locations, it may take law enforcement considerable time to arrive in an emergency. The extra response time provided by the thermal imager’s long-range threat detection capability can make the difference between safely securing the client and an unfortunate face-toface encounter with a bad guy.

This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Security Today.

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