Environmental conservation is a hot topic in a myriad of industries. With increasing flexibility, scalability and intelligence, security measures now also serve to combat environmental threats and problems.
In financially difficult times, manufacturers are starting to venture out to uncharted territories, looking for unique applications that could make more use of security apparatus. Monitoring facilities and evaluating their impact on natural resources have now become a trend.
Industry players, such as Axis Communications, Milestone Systems and Mobotix, are currently involved in projects that watch over the environment. For example, energy generation sites like windmills, dams, geothermal, solar and electrical utilities can benefit from real-time monitoring and receive instant alerts, said Lars Thinggaard, President and CEO at Milestone Systems.
Surveillance equipment, in particular, is instrumental in helping local governments detect environmental threats, as it can be combined with warning systems to monitor areas prone to environmental disasters, said Kyle Johanson, VP at J-Systems. "Remote surveillance, along with a warning system to alert the authorities, becomes a very powerful tool for this application."
Keeping an Eye
The residents in Taiwan, for example, are no strangers to floods as the subtropical island is subject to seasonal typhoons and torrential rain, where cities are inundated with peaked rivers in a short period of time. To better cope with severe disasters, the municipal governments adopted a video surveillance system, enabling hydrological conditions of sizable rivers and southwestern coastal areas to be monitored in case river water exceeds warning levels.
Timely and accurate information is essential to advance from flood notification to prevention. In the past, the work of monitoring water levels and flood valves were done by water gauges or through manual inspections, which often resulted in high false rates and outdated data. With Axis' help, more than 150 hydrological sites throughout Taiwan are now equipped with water-level monitoring systems, consisting of surveillance cameras and video management software that run 24/7 to provide important, real-time information for decision making.
Another application in Taiwan deploys surveillance devices to ensure river beds protection. To prevent contaminations, officials need direct access to live, onsite video footage to take preemptive measures when necessary. Rather than facing conventional theft and vandalism, water bodies and purification sites are often exposed to threats like unauthorized waste dumping and gravel mining.
Hsiu-Liang Ku, GM at Yann Shuoh Technology, emphasized that illegal sand and gravel mining near water streams is of the greatest concern. Inadequate excavations can lead to adverse effects, destabilizing riverbanks and endangering lives and properties. Furthermore, stirred riverbed sediments pose a threat to aquatic wildlife. "In Taiwan, an increasing number of remote monitoring projects with onsite surveillance cameras have been put underway to fight illegal mining," said Ku. Additionally, sand and gravel are required to undergo washing to remove mud for construction purposes, and the discharge from washing is another source of pollution.
Monitoring water turbidity can be a useful guidance tool as well. Not only does torrential rain brought by typhoons cause damages, it can also substantially affect the quality of drinking water. Stormwater, resulting from heavy rainfalls that do not soak into the ground, usually collects pollutants — pet waste, pesticides, fertilizers, oil — and fills reservoirs with highly turbid water. "With a video feed to remotely view the water condition, water companies are able to take prompt actions to suspend supply temporarily according to the turbidity," explained Ku.
Another closely related application is pollution control. J-Systems recently consulted for a pollution-monitoring project, involving the design of a solar-powered "remote capsule" capable of sampling air and water and sending data over third-generation cellular networks while utilizing a surveillance camera for evidentiary purposes, said Johanson.
Lenox Instrument helps combat air pollution by reducing harmful gas emissions. Its heat-resistant cameras along with remote viewing systems are used to monitor high-temperature, industrial and manufacturing processes inside boilers, furnaces and kilns. With the help of color images, not only is the status of igniters and flame intensity evaluated, but the emission of nitrogen oxides and unburned carbon can also be monitored. Through digital recording of combustion and heating efficiency control, the system effectively reduces pollution by as much as 20 percent, said Paul Lang, VP at Lenox Instrument, in a prepared statement.
Video monitoring solutions also help tackle waste dumping problems, said Peter McKee, Global Marketing Director at Mobotix. Surveillance cameras, with audio capability and two-way transmission, can provide personnel with an easy tool to prevent unauthorized landfill or serve as an inhibitor for illegal behavior.
Moreover, threatened discharge, such as radioactive materials and medical waste, can be kept out of landfills. Connecticut-based Defentect provides video radiation detection, where gamma detection technology is integrated with visual identification to safeguard people and the environment from dangerous radiological exposure. Being able to identify harmful isotopes from other benign background radiation allows the authorities to monitor high-level radiation areas in order to respond in a timely manner.
Many applications are outdoors, where weather conditions often interfere with surveillance results. Ensuring that cameras work reliably under extreme Environmental conditions — squally rain showers, gusty wind effects, heat and humidity — becomes a challenge. Equipment chosen often requires embedded cooling and heating functions in order to sustain harsh weather. Moreover, because of these facilities' remote location, normally unattended and hard to reach, minimal supervision and low-maintenance design are crucial, said McKee.
Primary challenges for remote monitoring always come down to power, communication and a suitable place to mount the equipment, said Johanson. Many remote systems opt for wireless connections and solar batteries. "Unlike typical wireless networks where point-to-point stations are required to be set within miles, microwave beams allow a greater transmission range, enabling connections across rivers or canyons," said Vincent Lin, Consultant at Axis Communications. The downside would be its higher cost as the authorities could charge considerable frequency fees.
To be cost-effective, integrated solutions encompassing surveillance cameras, broadcasting systems, alarm notification and remote management software are called for, said Qin-Mying Lai, GM at AKINO.
The future is full of promise for IP surveillance to solve many issues, including environmental monitoring, said Thinggaard. Currently, information gathering proves to be the major application (other than security); for instance, image data on water velocity helps experts calculate the water volume upstream, giving a better picture of riverbed sediments from possible landslides, said Lin.
Opportunities also abound in monitoring roadway conditions, Johanson said. In areas that suffer heavy winter snow and excessive summer rain, having the ability to monitor traffic flows as well as local weather conditions with surveillance cameras provides valuable information for motorists as well as the authorities.
Such innovative applications of surveillance devices reflect the fact that IP-based, intelligent surveillance has taken security equipment beyond its traditional realm, said McKee. In the face of the current economic crisis, the various financial benefits these applications bring may herald more creative solutions, suggesting a market with much potential.