Your CCTV Can't See in the Dark

Criminals are a varied bunch. Their intelligence levels cover a wide spectrum, but, regardless of their IQ, most criminals will not try to break into the average facility in broad daylight. The night offers more cover, both for the infiltration and...


Criminals are a varied bunch. Their intelligence levels cover a wide spectrum, but, regardless of their IQ, most criminals will not try to break into the average facility in broad daylight. The night offers more cover, both for the infiltration and the escape. The thing is, most facility video surveillance equipment is designed to be effective primarily during the daytime. Extreme darkness can severely degrade the performance capabilities of industrial video surveillance systems.

Many security consultants believe the best way to combat the darkness is with security lighting systems. While security lighting can be effective, purchasing and installing an adequate amount of security lighting can be expensive. In addition, some facilities are located in areas where security lighting is obtrusive or impractical. Such locations include residential areas. While many different techniques and technologies have been tried as solutions for nighttime surveillance (ie; infrared lighting, standard lighting, intensified imaging), the benefits of thermal imaging are attracting more and more security managers. To understand why thermal imaging is becoming so popular, it helps to review the attributes of several of today's popular forms of surveillance technology. The most common types are as follows:

  • Thermal Imaging
  • Day/Night Cameras (Dual-Chip Technology)
  • CCTV with Infrared Illumination
  • Image Intensification

Thermal Imaging
Thermal imaging detects the self-emitted heat of objects. As such, thermal imaging cameras need no visible light to produce an image. Typically, the image produced is black and white, where the hotter objects are whiter and the cooler objects are darker. Thermal imaging essentially makes people and running vehicles glow white against the darker, cooler background. When you view a display screen, it is virtually impossible to miss the glowing intruders, and they cannot use camouflage to blend in with the background.

Unlike other security camera solutions, thermal imagers are extremely effective for long distances, identifying objects with a heat signature from a few feet away to a few thousand feet away, and they "see" objects through smoke. In addition, because they detect objects based on differences in temperature, they can be effective both day and night. With the proper, interactive triggers and/or video motion detection systems, thermal cameras have the advantage over other styles of specialized imaging systems in extreme lower light levels and total darkness. Thermal imaging has proven to be a successful solution for a host of security scenarios, including the following:

  • providing vision at night where lighting is undesired and 24x7 surveillance is needed
  • conducting surveillance over waterways, lakes and ports where water and lighting options are impractical
  • enabling surveillance through weather conditions where other technologies will be challenged
  • providing low maintenance requirements for facilities based in remote or difficult locations
  • offering low-cost operation over the life of the product

Thermal imaging is slowly but surely emerging as a common addition to integrated security packages. Companies are able to rely on thermal imaging for specific applications where no other technology has been able to perform as well in the past.

There are several situations within security applications where standard or specialized lighting techniques will not work. With thermal imaging, security professionals can detect intruders at long ranges with unprecedented clarity and under extreme lighting conditions.

Day/Night Cameras
Day/night cameras use either dual-chip or dual-scan technology, allowing for color images under normal lighting and black-and-white images under lower or nighttime lighting. The cost of individual cameras is not high, but in some situations, large numbers of cameras and multiple lights may have to be installed to cover a facility adequately. This can drive up the cost of the solution. In addition, such increased lighting may call attention to a facility, especially if the location is remote or on a coastline, where lights become a beacon.

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