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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Protection of Railways and Pipelines

26 August, 2010
With oil industry losses through pipeline tapping running into billions of dollars annually, the surveillance industry now has the technical capability to provide viable protection to remote infrastructure facilities at affordable cost
Cutting into a 600psi pipeline may seem like an enormous risk to take but the financial rewards for oil thieves is very high. In China alone, where pipelines stretch through some of the remotest territories imaginable, the country loses over 18 million dollars a year in oil revenues through theft from the country's pipelines.

For railways, loss of human life far outweighs any other considerations with trespassing incidents having enormous significance. In the UK during 2009, 50 trespassers lost their lives, there were 500 near misses with moving trains and over 9000 trespassing incidents were reported. Such incidents cause investigations, delays, financial loss and very high levels of anxiety for railway employees, particularly train drivers who are regularly faced with frightening situations that could result in a loss of life.

Protection of such difficult environments typically involves Detection â€" Analysis â€" Response.


The ability to detect intruders has taken giant strides in recent years. The first consideration is infrastructure and the rise in IP technology has provided the glue holding together surveillance system components as well as giving the ability to integrate other security elements such as alarm management, voice communications, signalling and PA.

IP Megapixel cameras are able to cover wider areas in greater detail than legacy analogue cameras as well as providing the means of incorporating more functionality "onto the edge" using the processing power on board the camera for performing additional functions such as video motion detection, video encoding and making transmission "decisions" to facilitate a reduction in the video traffic that is streamed across the network.

Thermal Imaging Technology is also accessible for commercial use in large scale deployments at affordable cost, bringing round-the-clock detection capabilities of human intruders at distances of up to 20km. Once the domain of Government departments and high end military systems, companies such as FLIR Systems now offer commercial sensors that are ideally suited to such challenging surveillance environments.


The next challenge for such large scale projects is how to react to detected events. Wild weather, stray animals, swaying camera poles, vehicles, movement of other objects within the field of view all need to be filtered in some way to prevent control room operators from having to react to every event regardless of what it involves.

Video analytics come in many forms from simple motion detection to full meta-data analysis for forensic investigations. Companies like SightLogix provide packaged solutions with outdoor cameras with built-in motion detection that have algorithmic error elimination which copes with adverse weather and flying debris which present alarm incident data to PTZ cameras for further investigation before streaming the results to control room operators for their judgement. ObjectVideo takes an open standards approach, building their analytics software into cameras, recording systems or Video Management Systems to perform detailed rules based analysis to distinguish between, for example, a curious intruder and a gang of thieves trying to penetrate a pipeline.


Response options are more based on the application rather than the technology. In the case of pipeline intrusion, once an incident is detected and analysed, there is generally sufficient time to deploy a response team even to the remotest locations as it can take several hours to extract a tanker load of oil from a pipeline using small tapping equipment even at high pressure.

For railways, the response is more complex since time is more critical. With detailed analysis and threat management rules, there can be links to signalling or warnings sent to train operators. Trials have been performed in the USA on linking alarm events to public address signals and klaxons to warn intruders and disperse groups of children who are trespassing on tracks.

Read an interview with FLIR Systems on Thermal Imaging for Pipelines and Railways

Read Axis Communications View on the Use of Megapixel Cameras for Pipeline Protection

Read an interview with ObjectVideo on the use of Advanced Video Analytics

Read an interview with SightLogix on Automated Outdoor Surveillance Systems
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