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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Remote Installation Protection Using Thermal Imaging

25 August, 2010
FLIR Systems provides day and night protection capabilities for expensive and dangerous installations such as pipelines and railways
Imaging technology that doesn't rely on the visible light spectrum opens up an entire new world of possibilities for detecting intruders and trespassers that can breach protected installations in even the remotest and most inhospitable environments. Christiaan Maras of FLIR Systems explained the technology available.

With a pedigree in very high performance Government and Military grade thermal imaging applications, FLIR Systems is able to deploy this technology at lower cost in commercial applications bringing affordable thermal imaging to a wide variety of surveillance environments including the protection of railway installations and pipelines.

What advantage does thermal imaging offer over standard surveillance systems?

There are several advantages. The primary benefits that thermal imaging offer include night vision, difficulty in masking and continuous clarity in adverse weather conditions including bright sunshine, reflection, rain and light fog. Thermal contrast cannot easily be masked by intruders and so thermal cameras can detect intruders who try to camouflage their movements.


Pipeline and Railway Protection


Remote lengths of railway track and pipelines offer large rewards for potential thieves who take severe risks in either tapping oil from pipelines or severing copper cabling from overhead railway conductors. The cost of such criminal activity is high in both financial terms and also in lives lost through explosion, electrocution or train strikes. Protecting such installations represents significant challenges for the surveillance industry and thermal imaging has a significant role to play in overcoming these challenges.

Christiaan explained about the issues of terrain and camera "reach". Camera systems from FLIR are available with a variety of ranges enabling the detection of live targets up to as much as 20km from the camera thus enabling a lower quantity of required camera installations over a given length of pipe or track. For difficult terrain, PTZ cameras are also available from the company and can enable operators to view the surrounding area as well as the protected zone.

With such large distances involved, the use of video analytics is a key aspect of pipeline and railway protection to enable operators to respond only to alarm conditions. Video analytics can be applied very effectively to thermal imaging cameras with high thermal contrast providing clear alarm conditions with low error rates.


Cost implications


Thermal imaging systems carry a higher unit cost than conventional visible light based surveillance systems but this can be offset by range considerations requiring fewer cameras per kilometres coupled with the high accuracy night vision capabilities. With millions of dollars lost annually through oil and copper theft as well as the high cost of service disruption, the cost of any effective surveillance system can be quickly recovered in both the rail and the oil transportation industries.


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