Thermal Enhancement

Thermal Enhancement

Specialty technology now beginning routine in security solutions

Securing airports, seaports, railways, bridges and tunnels is no easy task. One technology that transportation agencies are increasingly relying on to secure these environments is thermal imaging.

In the past, some security practitioners viewed thermal imaging as a specialty technology, only used for specialty applications. The reality is that thermal imaging is a robust, reliable, and interoperable technology that has become a security standard in today’s general surveillance, intrusion detection, and end-to-end perimeter solutions. Thermal imaging cameras enhance security across many transportation domains, enabling the increased protection of people and property all over the world.

Heat Signatures

Thermal imaging measures electromagnetic radiation, or invisible heat radiation emitted by all objects. Because thermal cameras produce images based on heat signatures, they do not need light to produce a clear picture. It is this unique ability that gives thermal imaging cameras an advantage over other surveillance cameras.

Thermal is particularly effective in low-light or no-light environments. Visible cameras rely on reflected light to create images and show contrast, which is difficult at night in remote areas. This is not the case with thermal cameras, which generate video of people or objects in the scene in the darkest nighttime conditions.

A common misperception among security integrators and end users is that thermal imaging is applicable in only a few scenarios. The truth is thermal cameras are a powerful tool for around the clock surveillance as they can see through total darkness, camouflaging foliage, smoke, dust, light fog and precipitation. Additionally, when thermal cameras have embedded video analytics, they serve as an all-in-one intrusion detection solution with very few false alarms.

There are several thermal camera options available in the market today designed to fit a variety of applications. Most commercial thermal security cameras use uncooled sensor technology. Uncooled thermal cameras are responsible for the rapid growth in security applications. Cooled thermal cameras offer superior sensitivity, so they are ideal for viewing at great distances. Large sites such as airports, harbors and waterways which feature long distances may benefit from the deployment of at least some cooled cameras for alarm assessment and general surveillance. For applications that don’t require a high level of sensitivity for the thermal image, cameras with uncooled sensors are the best option.

A key benefit of thermal cameras is that when deployed in a welldesigned installation, they provide cost-savings. Because of their superior detection range, enterprises can deploy fewer thermal cameras along a perimeter than if they were installing visible light cameras for the same coverage. Having fewer infrastructures saves both time and resources for the end user and integrator.

Additionally, the cost for thermal cameras has also gone down significantly over the last several years. In fact, the pricing for thermal cameras is now similar to that of visible cameras, which has led to an increase in deployment across all verticals, including transportation.

Deploying Thermal Imaging

In general, a greater number of transportation-related projects are incorporating thermal solutions at some level today, and adoption is growing at a much faster rate than previously. There is greater awareness that thermal provides significant benefits in a wide range of environments, especially in the airport domain, which tends to feature large areas to monitor and extensive fence lines that need tight security. Plus, in bridge applications, where there may be no fences but open areas that require general surveillance, thermal is ideal due to its 24/7 observation capabilities. Here’s a look at how thermal enhances situational awareness and provides invaluable monitoring for transportation applications.

Seaports. With an influx of commercial trade vessels, situation awareness is critical for seaports for safety and security. By deploying long-range thermal pan-tilt cameras on high masts and piers, staff can observe water vessels both near and far – up to 12 miles away in some installations. The technology aids coast guards on search-andrescue missions by allowing them to assess swimmers and recreational boats that may be in distress; it is particularly useful at night, or on days with rain or light fog. Thermal cameras also serve to monitor the physical and virtual perimeter of ports, identifying and assessing unauthorized personnel. Thermal zoom lenses, a recent technology advance for uncooled cameras, also provide convenience.

Roads, bridges and tunnels. Municipalities use thermal cameras to provide 24/7 observation of critical transportation infrastructure, such as roads, highways, bridges and tunnels.

When it comes to roadway monitoring, thermal cameras are not adversely affected by glare from car headlights. As such, they allow staff to clearly see vehicles, analyze traffic patterns and assess the cause of traffic disruptions 24/7, reducing congestion and potentially speeding the dispatch of roadside assistance or maintenance crews. When fixed thermal cameras are deployed for the detection and counting of cars at stop lights, they are a cost-effective alternative to ground sensors, which requires the breaking up of pavement.

Thermal imaging also improves coverage of key areas around bridges and tunnels to detect unauthorized entries, monitor unusual activity and detect hot spots that have the potential to turn into fullblown fires.

Railway tracks and yards. Railroad security applications are designed to ensure both passenger and cargo safety. For example, safety monitoring and object detection by thermal cameras on or near railway tracks can help identify stopped cars or crossing pedestrians, and send early warnings to operators. Thermal cameras with video analytics provide virtual perimeters in complex railyards, detect trespassers and ultimately deter and prevent cargo theft.

Airports. For airports, it’s imperative that no threat goes undetected. Along those lines, airports are increasingly deploying thermal imaging with radar, integrated through advanced video management software (VMS), to provide superior perimeter protection both inside and outside the perimeter.

Pan-tilt multi-sensor thermal cameras are ideal for this application, with a thermal camera for 24/7 detection and the visible-light camera for color images and visual evidence. Radar for the longrange detection of people and vehicles up to several miles is also recommended. Meanwhile, alarm management, pan-tilt-zoom control, GIS maps with camera overlay, and incident/case builder functions are all controlled the VMS. Together, these technologies enable the airport to perform a more information-rich, intelligent assessment with maximum flexibility.

By deploying an integrated solution with radar and thermal cameras, security personnel can monitor the “buffer zone” outside of the airport or the restricted zones within the fenced area where only certain objects (such as airplanes) should be. If the radar detects a target on a restricted zone, that information is sent to the VMS. The VMS software will show the event detected by the radar on a map and trigger pan-tilt multi-sensor thermal cameras to slew to that location, lock on the target, and show live video of the incident. Security personnel can use the video to assess the target and determine whether it is an intrusion event or something else that needs to be managed. One potential outcome would be to ascertain that a ground crew member is doing maintenance and forgot to get clearance. These sophisticated operations are possible using VMS solutions with rich radar, mapping and alarm management capabilities.

Looking Bright for the Future

The future looks bright for thermal imaging systems. New developments are constantly being introduced to further enhance their capabilities. As previously mentioned, the dual-sensor, pan-tilt-zoom camera with both visible and thermal sensors has been met with great success and is seeing a higher demand across the industry. Another noteworthy innovation is automatic pan-tilt-zoom tracking of intruders detected by fixed thermal cameras. Plus, there are a growing number of initiatives being developed by market leaders to educate the industry, including site design and thermal product selection tools available on manufacturer’s websites. Many applications have already benefited from deploying thermal cameras. As awareness of thermal technology and advanced perimeter solutions continues to grow, thermal camera imaging should find its way into even more applications in the years ahead.

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Security Today.

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