Thermal Cameras and Compact Surveillance Radars, a Great Perimeter Security System Combination

Compact radars can extend the life, enhance the functionality, and reduced the number of cameras needed to secure a perimeter.
May 23, 2024 by
Spotter Global, Jamie Mortensen

In today's world, the protection of facilities from potential threats is of the utmost importance. Whether it is a government building, a commercial facility, or a critical infrastructure site, ensuring the safety and security of these locations is crucial to national security and in many cases may free up funds that can be spent preventing harm or encouraging growth elsewhere. Traditional security measures such as fences, gates, and security personnel have limitations and may not provide comprehensive protection. Extended perimeter security can be achieved, however, with smart sensors like thermal cameras and compact radar..

How Thermal Cameras Work: Understanding the Technology

Thermal cameras work based on the principle of thermal imaging, which involves capturing the infrared radiation emitted by objects and converting those signals into visible images. At all times, even in the dark, every object emits a certain amount of infrared radiation based on its temperature. Thermal cameras use sensors to detect this radiation and create an image based on the intensity of the radiation emitted by different objects. The result is a three-dimensional depiction of anything in the thermal camera’s range, with a greater contrast emphasis on objects that radiate more heat. The color range and resolution from thermal cameras are lower than that of traditional cameras, meaning a viewer may not be able to tell precisely what color the perpetrator’s coat is from a thermal camera view, but depending on the target distance they may be able to perceive generalities, including posture, clothing, rough facial features, and whether a target is carrying any medium to large objects, such as a gun. At greater distances, targets may appear as roughly human-shaped or vehicle-shaped images with little detail.

There are two main types of thermal cameras: cooled and uncooled. Cooled thermal cameras use a cooling mechanism to reduce the temperature of the sensor, which improves their sensitivity and image quality. As one might expect, cooled thermal cameras tend to be more expensive than uncooled cameras. Uncooled thermal cameras are more compact and affordable. Both types of thermal cameras have their uses in different applications, depending on the specific requirements of the facility.

Examples of thermal cameras used for perimeter protection include FLIR Systems' FC-Series ID thermal cameras, which offer high-resolution thermal imaging and advanced analytics for accurate detection and tracking of intruders. Another example is Hikvision's Thermal Bi-Spectrum Bullet Camera, which combines thermal and optical imaging for enhanced detection and identification capabilities.

Why Use Thermal Cameras for Perimeter Security?

With fences historically being the minimum requirement for perimeter protection in today's environment, in the face of modern threats, cameras are also quickly becoming must-haves for perimeter security. Various security camera brands are trusted and used to protect businesses, homes, and other smaller secure facilities worldwide. Regular security cameras can be relied upon to get the job done during ideal conditions such as good lighting and fair weather conditions. Unfortunately, ideal conditions seldom exist in the real world leaving higher-value sites including many critical infrastructure facilities needing something more. And in the sector of critical infrastructure and high-value property protection, where security incidents of theft or vandalism can quickly amount to hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars lost as well as lives and livelihoods disrupted or threatened and losses in reputation, there is a need for extended-range, around-the-clock surveillance. 

To that end, thermal cameras have become increasingly popular in high-value locations. Their reliance on infrared signals allows them to see targets in low-light or no-light conditions, making them ideal for use in remote facilities and sites that need 24/7 surveillance. 

Thermal cameras do have their limitations, however. Just because thermal cameras will pick up targets in less-than-ideal weather and at night, that doesn’t mean they will pick up the same quality of data that a traditional camera would at close range. They can detect the presence of a person or an animal and provide an image of those targets, but often will not be able to provide as much detail as a traditional camera would in close-up, well-lighted conditions. 

One of the biggest limitations of thermal cameras is around reflective surfaces for example mirrors, glass, ceramic tile, stainless steel, and most polished metals. These building materials can interfere with a thermal camera’s imaging process as the surfaces of these materials cause reflections and ambient heat, leading to inaccurate readings. Considering the typical use of thermal cameras outdoors, these daylight-reflected hotspots will shift over the course of the day as the sun moves across the sky, causing fluctuating inaccurate readings that thermal cameras may struggle to overcome. Also, if an intruder is hiding near one of these reflective materials, the thermal camera may not be able to detect them. Depending on the value of the assets and processes in a site, perpetrators may be willing to get creative to avoid detection. Additionally, thermal cameras, while able to detect targets through some obscuring conditions, environmental factors like too much rain, fog, smoke, or other obscurants may reduce their effectiveness.

The Challenges of Thermal Camera Deployment: Cost and Maintenance

One of the main challenges of deploying thermal cameras for facility protection is the high cost associated with their purchase and installation. Thermal cameras are relatively expensive compared to traditional security measures and the cost increases with the level of sophistication and features included. Thermal cameras with cooling capabilities, AI filtering, and the best integration capabilities typically run in the range of $35,000 to $50,000 per camera. 

Thermal cameras like traditional cameras have a limited field of view. In other words how much the camera can see. Most common is the fixed thermal camera that points in one direction. For these types of cameras, several cameras are often needed to cover just a small area. To cover the entire exterior of a building, ten to fifteen or more cameras are not uncommon. Additionally, all of this typically also comes with the cost of a Video Management System (VMS) to record the feed from each camera.

Another challenge is the maintenance requirements of thermal cameras. They require regular calibration to ensure accurate temperature measurement and image quality. FLIR, one of the world’s top thermal camera vendors, for example, recommends annual recalibration for all its thermal cameras. 

Also, just like traditional cameras, thermal cameras have lenses and other precise sensing components that need to stay in functioning order. Dust, dirt, and other environmental factors can affect their performance, especially in certain dust-prone environments. Regular cleaning and maintenance will be needed to keep the cameras functioning optimally. 

To Optimize Your Cost and Use of Thermal Cameras, Consider Advanced Compact Radar by Spotter Global

Compact surveillance radar offers a new approach to facility protection that overcomes many of the limitations of traditional security systems and measures as well as those of thermal cameras. Compact radar systems use far-reaching radio signals to detect distant objects, providing real-time information about their location, speed, and direction of movement. This makes them highly effective in detecting potential threats at much greater distances than cameras can ever provide. As you might expect, early threat notification, identification, and deterrence are the three pillars upon which all good security systems rely. 

Even better than thermal cameras, compact radars have the ability to detect objects regardless of the current lighting conditions or environmental factors such as heavy rain, thick fog, or smoke. In fact, surveillance radars will generally “see” farther through denser conditions than thermal cameras. This is because, unlike thermal cameras, which rely on heat signatures that dissipate over distances, compact surveillance radars detect objects based on their physical properties such as size, shape, and movement. This makes compact radars highly reliable in detecting targets at even further ranges and in all weather conditions and environments.

Additionally, because compact radars typically can cover greater stretches of area, either inside or outside a facility, a single radar can often replace multiple cameras and/or allow a security system to cover the same area with fewer cameras. (See section below for a review on the benefits of combining thermal cameras and compact surveillance radar).

In terms of accuracy, both thermal cameras and compact radar can provide reliable detection and tracking capabilities. Compact radars are generally considered to be more useful for long-range target detection due to their ability to, in precise quantitative terms, measure the distance and speed of objects while cameras, including thermal cameras, are better at picking out more visual details in the object identification process. 

Upgrading Perimeter Security to Include Compact Surveillance Radar: Factors to Consider

Some sites may need one or two radars to extend their perimeter security, others may need more. Depending on the specific layout and security needs of a site, radars may reduce the number of cameras needed. Or, by giving security personnel a wider view of the activity around their site, may reveal site locations where more visual coverage is desirable. When considering implementing compact radar solutions into perimeter security systems, customers should consider: 

Site Needs

  • How much area do you need to cover? 
  • Consider the value of your property and how long it would take your security team or law enforcement to arrive on site and stop a determined intruder. How much time, and therefore space, can you afford between target detection and target intervention?
  • How far beyond your fence line does your perimeter security need to go? 
  • How far do the surrounding legal boundaries and geography allow your perimeter security to go? 
  • How often and to what degree do environmental-obscuring conditions affect the area surrounding your site?

Cost

The comparatively low initial cost of compact radar when compared to other perimeter security measures, combined with its lower maintenance requirements and broader detection area typically makes compact radars a solid investment for the protection of larger facilities, especially when considering the long-term cost savings. In many instances, a single radar can replace multiple cameras or otherwise reduce the number of cameras needed on a site (more on this below) while also providing better perimeter situational awareness than fiber fencing, lidar, and other perimeter security intrusion detection technologies. 

Adding to their ROI, compact radars also offer impressive scalability and flexibility. They can be easily expanded or reconfigured to adapt to changing security needs or facility layouts. This means that as the facility grows or changes, the compact radar system can be easily upgraded or modified without significant additional costs.

Integration Capabilities

Seamless security integration is key to a site’s ability to respond to threats and live security incidents. 

As such, security system designers should keep in mind that different thermal camera and compact surveillance radar vendors offer different integration capabilities. When considering which security solution is best for a site, consider if they have integration capacity with the security measures already in place on the site in question. If you intend to make use of radar-enabled custom alarm zones (more on this below) integration capacity will be even more important. 

AI Filtering in both Thermal Cameras & Compact Surveillance Radar: What does it Add?

AI or “machine learning” offers several perimeter security advantages, one of those being the reduction of false and nuisance alarms.

Many top-grade thermal cameras and most compact surveillance radars include AI filtering capabilities. Among other things, AI software allows thermal cameras and compact surveillance radars to detect, almost instantaneously, the nature of detected targets. Human, vehicle, and drone targets can be quickly flagged for further investigation or security system response. Other targets such as grazing deer, night-hunting birds, or large tumbleweeds can be just as quickly identified, classified as “not a threat”, and dismissed, reducing the number of nuisance alarms security personnel need to investigate, classify, and dismiss themselves. 

Given that false and nuisance alarms exist and, in some cases, account for up to 95% of security system alarms, the inclusion of AI-filtering can save tens of thousands of dollars every year in false alarm fees and alarm review labor hours. This frees up security resources, including staff attention, to be used more efficiently, while still ensuring actual and truly viable potential threats are detected. 

Custom Alarm Zones through Compact Radar AI

A unique offering of Spotter Global’s compact surveillance radar system is the creation of site-customized alarm zones. 

While smart thermal cameras can detect, identify, and track targets, compact surveillance radar systems equipped with the right software, such as the NetworkedIO offered by Spotter Global, can enable a facility to respond to detected threats automatically. During the radar’s initial setup, alarm zones appropriate to the site’s security concerns can be defined with a few simple clicks of a mouse. Alarm zones are radar-monitored areas which, if intruded on by a viable potential threat, immediately trigger specific security system responses. For example, if a human or vehicle target crosses into an alarm zone, perhaps coming within 300m of the fence line, the radar may instantly trigger the activation of floodlights on that area. Another alarm zone may trigger a siren, security notification, or call to the authorities if a ground target comes within 200m of the fenceline or gets too close to a sensitive area or piece of equipment inside or outside the facility. Yet another alarm zone may be set to respond to intrusive drone activity.

Radar-enabled alarm zones may be set up anywhere within the radars’ geographical coverage area. Spotter Global Radars also integrate smoothly with most Video Management Systems (VMS) to send and combine surveillance data, trigger events response protocols. Plus through an Application Programming Interface (API) the Spotter radar system can integrate with the other site security systems. This can create a system ready to detect and respond to threats with maximal efficiency and cost savings.

Benefits of Combining Thermal Cameras & Compact Surveillance Radar

To maximize the advantage of compact radar and thermal cameras, these technologies should be combined into a security system. When used together, these measures create a perimeter security system that is more layered, comprehensive, and achieves greater situational awareness at a lower cost. 

The top recommended way to combine radar and thermal cameras is as follows: A site uses compact surveillance radars to monitor all the areas of interest within and outside a facility’s fenceline. This ensures no target will go undetected no matter the environmental conditions. Then a small number of thermal PTZ cameras are set up in strategic locations. These cameras, directed by the radar’s NIO software system, automatically pan, tilt and zoom to focus any targets picked up by the radar system, providing visual confirmation of targets in seconds. This provides maximal situational awareness at all times to security personnel, allowing the system to get the most, and least cost, out of its cameras. 

Making the Right Choice for Your Facility Protection Needs

In conclusion, choosing the right perimeter security measures for your facility is crucial for ensuring its safety and protection. While traditional security measures have their limitations, advanced technologies like thermal cameras and compact radar offer new possibilities for extending situational awareness beyond the fence line. This allows for the most robust and effective detection, deterrence, delay, and defense against potential security threats as well as response and recovery in the event of a security incident. By combining thermal cameras and compact radar into a hybrid system, facility owners can benefit from the strengths of both technologies and provide comprehensive protection for their facilities.

If you would like a free site design analysis by one of our Field Service Engineers (FSE) please contact Spotter Global at 801-742-5849 or fill out the “Contact Us” form by clicking the “Contact Us” button at the top of the page. 



Spotter Global, Jamie Mortensen May 23, 2024
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