Specialty technology now beginning routine in security solutions
- By Dwight Dumpert
- Jul 01, 2017
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.
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
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
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
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.