Smart Thermal Cameras

Maximizing security for petroleum, transportation and electrical assets

Achieving security awareness around perimeters and outdoor areas comes down to timely, credible and detailed alerts. Knowing the nature and location of an intrusion is the key to mounting an effective response. While there are a number of options available for perimeter security, thermal cameras with video analytics have become the fastest-growing technology for perimeter detection. Smart thermal cameras provide detection over large outdoor areas and operate day or night.

Using smart thermal cameras for perimeter security applications has historically been seen as a costly solution better suited for government, military or specialized applications. However, recent developments in thermal camera technology provide greater accuracy and clearer images at mainstream prices. Thermal video analytic cameras can now operate in harsh environmental conditions, such as rain, humidity, fog and bright sun, which in the past yielded poor images, nuisance alerts and mis-detects. The combination of lower costs and higher performance is rapidly expanding the market for protecting critical infrastructure assets in the petroleum, transportation and utility industries, among others.

Petroleum Market

Securing petroleum assets involves a range of requirements. These include protecting large perimeters, often many miles long; enclaves where public trucking needs to enter and exit; and isolated assets inside the perimeter where chemicals of interest (COI) may be stored. In the past, petroleum assets located along water have been regulated by the Coast Guard Maritime Transportation Security Act. Looking forward, the Department of Homeland Security will play a role in regulating chemical facilities under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), a comprehensive set of security regulations governing chemical facilities.

There is still some debate regarding how water-side assets will be regulated and when CFATS will be finalized. Assuming that CFATS regulations emerge as the primary regulating body for petroleum assets, its 18 Risk-Based Performance Standards (RBPS) represent a helpful guide for chemical facilities to select and implement appropriate protective measures to reduce vulnerability and manage risk for the range of requirements mentioned above.

While various technologies can be used to protect chemical facilities, video systems are playing an increasingly important role in the protection of all outdoor facilities. Specifically, the CFATS RBPS require chemical facilities to detect intrusions at the perimeter and internally around COI. This helps to avert internal and external theft or sabotage, as per RBPS 1, 2, 4 and 10.

A number of automated detection technologies including coax and fiber-fence sensors, microwave, seismic sensors and radar can provide some level of perimeter detection. However, intelligent video systems with advanced analytics provide advantages over these alternatives. One advantage is speed, which is paramount when thwarting an intruder. The CFATS RBPS specifically call for creating sufficient time between detection of an attack and potential danger to site assets. When speed is critical, intelligent video systems can provide an intrusion alert along with immediate information about the size, location and nature of an event as it unfolds.

On-board image processing enables smart thermal cameras to accurately detect the presence of unauthorized persons anywhere across site perimeters, enclaves and isolated outdoor assets while filtering the effects of environmental elements. Smart cameras with sufficient processing can provide accurate detection over large areas, regardless of wind, weather or the movement of small animals, trees or blowing trash.

Achieving security awareness also depends on knowing the precise location and nature of an intrusion. To meet this objective, some smart thermal cameras employ GPS-based analytics that determine the size, speed and bearing of detected objects according to their precise location they also can project the location of security events onto a site map of the facility for quick response.

Transportation Market

Protecting transportation assets involves covering a wide range of modalities and industries. Since Sept. 11, 2001, airports have been a particular focus. For all transportation facilities, now that passenger access points have been secured, more attention is being paid to the perimeter, the next line of defense against security threats. In fact, more than 1,300 perimeter security incursions have been reported at U.S. airports since 9/11, making airport perimeter security an important concern.

Airports of all sizes have a critical need to detect people or vehicles moving from the public side toward the runways. This was made very evident with the March 1 incident when a vehicle broke through perimeter fencing and drove onto the runways at Philadelphia International Airport, creating a threat and endangering the lives of passengers on approaching aircrafts.

The TSA Airport Perimeter Security (APS) projects work to assess and mitigate vulnerabilities through technology. TSA also funds the National Safe Skies Alliance, a third-party, nonprofit testing organization that evaluates technology with potential for security applications at airports. TSA evaluators conduct numerous test scenarios to determine the effectiveness of various perimeter security systems. The tests are designed to simulate a human intruder attempting to defeat a system by breaching the perimeter detection zone without causing an alarm. The scenarios are tested in multiple areas throughout an airport’s perimeter.

A recent TSA test at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, the busiest airport in upstate New York, highlighted the value of smart surveillance systems. The test showed that it is possible to ensure accuracy, even in an uncontrolled environment with constant changes in lighting, wind, clouds and other variables, and to provide effective outdoor security that isn’t plagued by nuisance alarms and mis-detects. The perimeter of the Buffalo Niagara airport is a difficult environment, with varying topology and inconsistent illumination, but the application challenges are similar to many airport perimeters.

TSA’s APS project deployed a smart thermal camera system by SightLogix Inc. at the Buffalo airport as a test bed for future perimeter security technologies. According to TSA’s final report, the “evaluation team performed more than 900 scenarios in which every alarm instance was accurately reported.”

The system included Thermal SightSensor video analytic cameras for detecting and tracking intrusions over large areas and SightTracker PTZ controllers to automatically steer Pelco cameras to zoom and follow detected targets. Fixed Thermal SightSensors were installed to protect critical regions of the perimeter and to provide automated monitoring to detect people or vehicles moving from the public side toward the runway. Cameras were positioned to provide additional surveillance across multiple access gates and portions of the perimeter that are adjacent to public roadways. Video and alarm data was networked to a central monitoring station via fiberoptic cable.

A system like this can deliver cost savings—savings that also are applicable to a range of transportation markets and other applications. On-board image processing offers extended detection capabilities, reducing the number of poles, trenching and communications needed for a deployment, while exceeding the automated detection area originally specified in the design. The result at Buffalo airport was a more accurate perimeter security system that met the airport’s available budget. The TSA testing emphasizes the DHS concern in this particular area, and the results show that these technologies are now proven for widespread developments at other airports and transportation facilities.

Electrical Market

Electrical facilities and other utilities often have a need to protect geographically distributed sites that are typically smaller than petroleum and transportation facilities. Protection of electrical assets involves detecting a wide range of intruders, from saboteurs to copper thieves, often in different weather conditions. Intrusions onto the sites can be expensive: Replacing equipment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, although the value of stolen copper might be only a few hundred dollars.

Also related to electrical utilities, protection of hydroelectric sites involves a need to view intruders as they approach a dam, for example, and requires a smart video system that can provide reliable surveillance despite the challenges of flowing water.

Distributed sites often call for securing multiple locations with a single smart camera—or dozens of cameras— at each site. The use of thermal analytic cameras at electrical utility sites demonstrates the flexibility of intelligent video systems. These robust and dependable systems are designed to achieve the highest levels of detection accuracy at the lowest overall project cost.

Mainstream Applications

Web-based tools can simplify system design and enable integrators to quickly and easily model an automated outdoor area and perimeter security system layout. Using a design tool enables systems integrators and consultants to walk end users interactively through the process of system design for their facility. Simplified integration facilitates the evaluation and adoption of these technologies in mainstream markets. SightLogix offers a Web-based tool for efficient security designs using the Google Maps interface.

Combining better thermal images with edge-based video analytics yields accurate and dependable outdoor security at mainstream price points. Enhanced image processing enables new thermal cameras to adapt to dynamic outdoor conditions and provide good, clear images, day or night, that are close in quality to black-and-white photographs.

New systems that provide twice the detection distance and four times the detection area with greater detection accuracy can have a major impact on return-on-investment considerations about perimeter security systems.

Smart thermal cameras for protecting critical assets also offer the advantage of greater security at lower operating costs.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Security Today.

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