EXCLUSIVE: Situational awareness with thermal cameras at critical sites

Pylons - thermal cameras at critical sites

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Thermal cameras are a key piece of equipment for vital infrastructure, writes Chris Johnston, Regional Marketing Manager – Video Systems, Bosch Building Technologies.

Early detection with thermal cameras

Allowing for video monitoring in dark areas where there is no added light source, thermal cameras can enable the early detection of potential risks.

They can detect objects at distances that are up to four times greater than those achieved by optical cameras with integrated infrared or with white light illuminators.

In addition, thermal cameras will detect the heat signatures of people who are attempting to hide behind bushes or other foliage to evade being seen.

As a result, thermal cameras are ideal for high-risk sites that need long-range perimeter intrusion detection, such as along fence lines at energy or utility facilities, government installations, data centers, airports or beside shipping channels and borders.

They help to secure areas with high value assets to deter possible equipment damage, such as at remote energy substations or theft of materials, like copper.

Automatic alerts

Security or facilities personnel responsible for these sites need to know as soon as possible if there is a risk to the area or assets they are securing, so they can respond faster.

Combining thermal imaging with video analytics enables long distance detection and classification of a person or vehicle loitering or attempting to breach the perimeter of a monitored location.

Advancements in video analytics have made it possible to alert when there is a person or vehicle at a perimeter while ignoring wildlife.

The ability to discern between a person and wildlife, as well as the robustness of the analytics to ignore false triggers, such as rain, leaves blowing in the wind and camera shake, helps reduce the number of false detections at a site.

Reducing false alarms improves the efficiency of personnel by decreasing the time and expense of security operators investigating alarms – especially those in remote or unstaffed locations.

The range of available analytics functions for perimeter security include line crossing, loitering, object left behind and more.

Line crossing

With line crossing, video analytics built into the thermal camera detects a person or vehicle crossing an invisible line in the scene, issues an alarm and brings up video of the scene on the operator’s screen.


To detect loitering, video analytics are configured to issue an alert if a person or vehicle enters an area and does not leave that area after a specified time, while ignoring those that innocently pass through the scene.

When programmed for loitering, the thermal camera provides an early warning to alert security personnel that someone may be looking for an opportunity to enter the grounds.

With advanced warning, security personnel can send a patrol to the area before the person breaches the perimeter.

Object left behind

Operators can be alerted if a car is parked or idling in an area where it should not be, such as in front of a perimeter fence.

This could indicate a person may attempt to gain access to the building or grounds. Analytics can be configured to detect idle objects or objects left behind in this type of situation.

For added security when a thermal camera detects these events, a nearby color moving camera with advanced low light imaging technology can be triggered to pan, tilt or zoom to capture and track the object of interest, giving operators more detail to assess the situation.

Dual thermal and optical imaging solutions

Cameras that offer dual imagers – thermal and optical in a single housing – enable detection and tracking with a single device.

When the thermal imager detects a person or vehicle at the perimeter, the video analytics can automatically trigger the camera to track the object of interest as it moves throughout the field of view.

Operators can view and record both the optical and thermal streams. With an optical imager that offers low light imaging technology, operators gain additional details about the object of interest.

These cameras can also be paired with other technologies, such as gunshot detection solutions. When a gunshot is detected, the camera focuses on the precise location within a second to capture video evidence.

Combining gunshot detection with the ability to view the shooter and their surroundings in both thermal and HD video provides a powerful solution in areas where a person may use gunfire to disable equipment and cause damage, such as at energy, utility or other critical infrastructure sites.

In addition to perimeter security environments, dual imager cameras are also well suited for other applications, like monitoring tunnels.

While the visible imager can be used to monitor normal activity inside the tunnel, the thermal imager can assist in the event of a fire or when smoke is present.

The thermal imager can provide those monitoring the area with needed information when smoke obscures the view of the visible imager.

When using video analytics with dual optical and thermal imaging cameras, devices that offer metadata fusion provide operators with improved situational awareness.

This capability blends object data from both thermal and optical video streams and displays the analytics metadata overlay on both streams.

It provides operators with overall awareness of their environment regardless of which video stream they are watching.

Metadata fusion helps users to focus on unseen things that need attention, such as a person or vehicle in a smoke-filled tunnel or other area.

If such an event is detected but not visible in the video stream being watched, an alarm is still triggered.

Users can then select the stream with the best video data related to that event to determine the appropriate action to take.

Integration with security and communications technology

Integrating a video solution that incorporates thermal cameras with audio communications creates a powerful deterrent to potential risks.

Audio responses can be implemented automatically or triggered remotely by personnel when a possible intruder is detected.

If a video analytic alarm is triggered by the thermal camera, a message can broadcast through a loudspeaker, warning the intruder they are on camera.

This alert may be enough to cause the person to flee before inflicting damage. Messages can play throughout a site or at a particular location within a site to target an individual’s specific location.

In addition, video integration with the intrusion control panel enables the analytic alert from the thermal camera to immediately fault the corresponding point on the control panel until the alert clears.

This prompts the control panel to send a video snapshot in an event notification via email or text message to one or multiple recipients.

Security personnel or facility managers can receive email alerts on their smart phones, including a snapshot, showing an event detected by the thermal camera.

By including the camera’s DNS or IP address in the notification, authorized personnel can connect directly to the camera simply by clicking on a link in the notification.

The future of thermal technology

As the sensitivity of thermal cameras continues to improve, the accuracy of detection also increases.

The sensitivity of a thermal sensor is determined by how well it can distinguish between small differences in thermal radiation in an image.

This is known as noise equivalent temperature difference or thermal contrast, which is measured in millikelvin (mK).

The lower the mK, the more sensitive the thermal sensor is and the better it is at producing high contrast images.

Greater sensitivity provides more details of an object, making it easier to classify the object to determine if it is a possible threat, such as a person or if it is non-threatening, such as wildlife.

New developments in thermal sensors will provide more detailed and higher contrast images in the future.

In addition, the increased use of radiometrics will allow more thermal cameras to measure the surface temperature of an object.

This can be used in many applications, such as measuring the temperature of industrial equipment and proactively triggering alerts if the equipment exceeds a specified temperature.

This technology will expand the use of thermal cameras beyond security to solve operational challenges for users.

With their ability to detect people and objects in challenging environmental conditions and poor lighting, thermal cameras are an important tool for critical sites.

By combining these advanced imaging capabilities with automated alerts to potential risks and other security and communications systems, users have a powerful solution to deter theft and damage and increase safety at their locations.

This article was originally published in the July edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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