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Opinion piece – Thermal imaging cameras provide effective surveillance in challenging environments

18 January 2015

By Leon Cahill, Security Product Manager at Jasco Enterprise

Surveillance is an essential component of many security systems today, as it acts both as a deterrent and provides evidence to assist with identifying and prosecuting offenders. However, in many instances a detailed image of the perpetrators is not required, and standard CCTV imaging has limited application in certain environments, particularly when large scale or challenging outdoor areas need to be monitored. Thermal imaging cameras are the ideal solution to this challenge, as they do not require additional lighting and can operate just as effectively during the day and at night, helping organisations to bolster security and safety by ensuring that no persons enter restricted or dangerous areas.


One of the biggest challenges with surveillance is the lighting conditions in the area to be monitored. CCTV cameras rely on adequate light in order to capture an accurate image. This means that weather can have a serious detrimental impact on the effectiveness of the monitoring solution – heavy rainfall and dense fog can obstruct the camera’s view, which opens up security vulnerabilities that can then be exploited by criminal elements. In addition, environments that do not have a clear view of the area to be monitored can prove challenging, as CCTV relies on line of sight. During the hours of darkness, when the majority of criminals operate, CCTV surveillance requires adequate lighting, which is another vulnerability that can be exploited.


Thermal imaging security cameras solve all of these challenges, as they utilise the heat generated from objects and individuals to form an image of the environment. This means that regardless of the weather, the time of day or the number of superficial objects obstructing the camera’s view, it is still able to deliver a quality picture, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is therefore ideal in any environment where regular CCTV proves ineffective, as well as an additional solution in areas where night security needs to be enhanced.


One of the most effective applications for thermal imaging is perimeter surveillance and monitoring. Using these cameras, along with analytics that can be included with a surveillance solution, alerts can be created and disseminated to the relevant parties when a person crosses a restricted perimeter. Whether this is the outer fence of a farm, the boundary of a gated community or the walls of a prison, the thermal cameras will pick up the heat signature of any intruders. They will then alert the security control room for immediate action, regardless of the weather or the time of day. Thermal cameras are also useful inside buildings such a laboratories, where access to certain areas is restricted, as well as national borders where patrolling large areas is difficult to achieve effectively. In addition, thermal cameras can be used effectively for a wide range of other applications. These include marine environments, where the cameras are useful for navigation at night or in fog, as well as for detecting man overboard, the approach of pirates, and general security and perimeter monitoring. In addition, thermal cameras can be used in power plants and electrical substations to detect hotspots on equipment, which could potentially alert to danger before a major crisis occurs. With the addition of solar panels and battery cells, thermal cameras can operate regardless of the availability of external power, ensuring that even in a power failure, security is not compromised.


Thermal imaging adds an essential component to any comprehensive security solution, offering a number of benefits. Chief among these is its high level of accuracy. Standard CCTV cameras use motion detection to create alerts, which means that birds flying across the frame of image, or even fast moving clouds, can cause false alarms. Since thermal imaging cameras use heat detection, they are able to far precisely detect potential intruders, day and night. Thermal cameras also benefit from luminary independence – they do not require light to operate, so regardless of the conditions they will continue to operate effectively, whether in floodlit areas, complete darkness, or severe weather. In addition, thermal cameras have a range of between 10 and 600 metres depending on the environment, which provides a cost saving benefit for perimeter security. This wide range of detection means that fewer cameras are required along stretches of perimeter fencing or borders, saving money on equipment and installation without requiring additional lighting. Integration is also fairly straightforward, as the majority of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) offer the relevant video analytics and thermal cameras can generally be integrated into existing CCTV solutions.


In many organisations and industry sectors, CCTV surveillance is an essential part of security, however its application can be limited depending on the environment in which the video recording needs to take place. For challenging environments, outdoor applications, surveillance during the hours of darkness and a number of other applications, thermal imaging is the ideal solution as another component to add to the existing security arsenal. Partnering with a specialist security solution provider will ensure the right combination of solutions to deliver comprehensive security to meet the individual needs of any organisation, environment or community.