Remote Monitoring of Critical Infrastructure
Quicker response times to disasters lead to less crisis situations
- By Matt S. Nelson
- Oct 01, 2013
Remote monitoring of critical infrastructure used to be very difficult,
but thanks to available technologies, this task can be achieved
with a fraction of the resources required in the past.
Almost everyone has experienced a time when a major storm or
other natural disaster significantly altered his or her life. Most of
the time, these interruptions are temporary and only last a few minutes or a couple
of hours, but there are times when lives are disrupted for days, weeks and even
months. While these disasters cannot be eliminated, our ability to prepare for and
respond to them can be greatly enhanced through remote monitoring of critical
Understanding Customer Needs and the Problem
Understanding the needs of the customer and the complexity of the problem are
the first issues that need to be addressed, as they are critical to getting to the root
causes of the problem(s). This exploration also helps the integrator fully communicate
the various technologies that can be offered to the customer.
For example, in the case of a hydroelectric dam, a power company needed to
figure out a way to see what was going on without physically having someone onsite,
monitoring the situation 24 hours a day. Thus, the solution needed to work
in complete darkness and in a wide variety of weather conditions, not just rain or
shine but also in snow and ice. Taking into account various seasonal differences in
a remote location is very important and can account for the success, or failure, of
solving a customer’s issues.
Using a combination of surveillance cameras with wireless communications ultimately
enabled this power company to remotely monitor the hydroelectric dam,
enabling any change(s) in the structural integrity of the dam, the reservoir water
level or the arrival of any intruders to be detected and appropriate actions taken.
When involved in a project that is in a remote area, it’s important to focus on all
of the details and doing it right; in other words, “failure is not an option.”
The Solution and Installation
A number of possibilities were presented, but the power company and integrator
decided it would be best to install a number of networked, IP-based surveillance
cameras, with some being thermal, along with a combination of wireless communications to offer redundant paths
that would ensure communications
with the system would always operate.
And because the location did not have
power available, solar and wind power
After initial site surveys were conducted,
the list and placement of the
camera systems were determined for
the dam, taking into account future tree
growth, sun position at various times
of the year and allowances for significant
snow accumulation. It was also anticipated
that moon illumination would
not be available at all times, making the
thermal imaging cameras key.
Using multiple technology partners
was important in ensuring the installation
plan was covering all issues. Once
the vision and plan was developed, the
system came together and was thoroughly
tested over a period of time, prior
to final installation at the remote site.
Using IP camera systems enabled the
power company to monitor the system
anytime and anywhere by simply logging
into the system. To ensure successful
communications, remote industrial
cellular and 2-way satellite was used. If
cellular communications failed, the system
would automatically switch to satellite
communications, and redundant
uplinks from more than one location at
the remote site ensured that communication
would not be an issue.
While a no-fault tolerant system is
perfect, using multiple layer redundancy
can greatly reduce any interruption
in system operation.
Once the system was completely
installed and operating, multiple tests
were conducted over the course of a
few months to ensure functionality. Additionally,
a maintenance plan was determined
to make sure the system would
remain operable for multiple years.
Analyzing the Installation
This hydroelectric dam monitoring system
had many components that worked
well and some that didn’t. It is always in
the details, and it seems like it is the simple
things that can be the resulting cause
of major issues. For example, we learned
that you can almost never have enough
batteries or solar coverage to satisfy
your “expected” power consumption.
In the midst of a large project like
this, it is easy to lose touch with problems
that need solutions, so communication
with the customer is critical.
There are always ways to improve your
process; we consistently hope that we
never make the same mistake twice.
The United States has some of
the best infrastructure systems in the
world, but many things in our culture
have been taken for granted over the
course of time. If we want to minimize
the impact of natural disasters and protect
our infrastructure from terrorism,
remote infrastructure monitoring systems
are excellent ways. Remote infrastructure
monitoring allows us to make
better choices in reacting to situations,
which adds to our quality of life and
helps ensure our society’s safety and
security. After all, the quicker the response,
the less severe
This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Security Today.