How does one safeguard employees and monitor operations when they’re going on hundreds of kilometers offshore or in Canada’s harsh north? Part of the answer lies in technology – specifically IP-based network video cameras.
IP cameras have emerged as an effective way to provide eyes on the ground at remote sites to supplement existing field measurement instruments, improve security and personnel safety, expedite repairs and, ultimately, reduce wasted time and resources.
Right tools for the job
Modern IP cameras offer numerous features that make them ideal for far-flung sites and industrial applications, in particular: pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) and thermal imaging. These functions let businesses make more informed decisions about everything from how to respond to intruders to how to react to accidents.
Cameras ultimately serve three purposes: detection, recognition and identification. In expansive areas and harsh weather conditions, detection is often the primary security purpose. Thermal cameras help security personnel not only detect a presence, but also help determine whether the subject is a person, moose or fox. This alone can help eliminate false alerts and wasted resources on investigating the incident.
In applications where recognition is needed, HDTV cameras can provide high image quality and detailed video, even when zooming in.
For example, cameras placed around the perimeter of a fence-free site can act as a virtual barrier that when crossed sends an alert.
The operator can then take control of the PTZ camera, zeroing in on the source of the alert. Recognition, and in some cases identification, can be achieved even in difficult lighting.
For example, cameras with Lightfinder technology can still provide users with colour video even in extremely low light (think moonlight). Knowing that an individual wore a red sweatshirt and drove away in a dark blue car could make all the difference in identifying a repeat vandal.
Even signs warning of camera surveillance often act as a deterrent to fuel theft, vandalism or equipment damage. Many businesses find these events drop dramatically once people know cameras are in place. In fact, without a way to visually check, minor damage or vandalism could be missed until it snowballs into greater, more expensive damage.
More than security
While the first application envisioned for IP cameras is security, operational uses at remote sites are often even more important. Here, IP cameras complement the site’s existing data systems and instrumentation.
Consider this example: on-site instruments trigger an alarm at a remote location in northern Alberta. The business is in the dark regarding cause and current status until a technician is on site, which may require hours of travel from Edmonton or Calgary. Without knowing what is actually going on, a technician with the wrong skillset or incorrect tools and parts may be sent, causing a delay and requiring yet another trip. In the meantime, the company’s public reputation can also be damaged. And in a worst-case scenario, a technician could unknowingly be put in danger.
Using cameras in explosive environments – such as a petroleum refinery or a gasoline storage or dispensing area – allows remote observation and evaluation before sending personnel into potential harm. IP Cameras in these locations must meet the requirements for a Class I Hazardous Location.
IP video cameras can also help improve worksite safety in manned environments, since managers and safety officers can witness and quickly respond to safety violations, ending dangerous behaviour before a problem is caused. If an incident does occur, cameras provide insurers with visual documentation of compliance, and the footage can also be used for training purposes.
Hardened for the environment
Canada is home to harsh environments, so it is important to select cameras that can handle these extremes. Many IP cameras are hardened or ruggedized for various environments with some operating in temperatures as low as -50 degrees C, which is ideal for northern climates. Stainless-steel housing and tempered glass can make the cameras less susceptible to corrosion from the harsh chemicals or, in the case of offshore drilling sites, salt water that may be sprayed on site. And in certain gaseous or hazardous areas, explosion-proof housing up to regulatory standards is required to prevent the cameras from becoming ignition sources.
Connectivity often proves to be a challenge in remote locations where cellular coverage may be limited or nonexistent. Many sites set up their own network infrastructure from powered trailers, or must rely on expensive options like satellite. Integration with instrumentation is also critical, since IP cameras can be used more intelligently, for example, being activated only when triggered by a motion detector or alarm, resulting in efficient bandwidth use.
To make the most of IP-camera technology, get an early start: if possible, make video decisions when setting up the rest of a location’s infrastructure. At this time, even a comprehensive video system is a low-cost additional piece. Waiting to install video until an incident occurs means making decisions in a hurry, and this is often more costly. Also, the incident that finally prompted the installation could itself have been avoided. And the benefits of IP cameras are, after all, in what they help avoid: costs, accidents, losses and damages. Gavin Daly is the Field Engineering Team Lead for Canada at Axis Communications.