Security Challenges in Harsh Environments

Oct. 19, 2009

Wireless video transmission technologies are meeting the demands of security needs in environments which were once off limits while opening new avenues of opportunities for integrators.

Skilled in understanding the needs of clients in industrial and harsh environments, Data Consultants Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., provides the technology know-how to clients in the Great Lakes region of the U.S.

“We work with companies, way up north, whose work takes place in very cold and icy climates,” explained Josh Bylsma, physical security consultant for Data Consultants. For these companies, he said, there are situations which need surveillance by technology which can take the extremes. Data Consultants met this challenge with a phase-in approach for a ferry company located along the U.S. and Canadian border. “The customer had a unique situation with his ferry operation that needed surveillance for several reasons including monitoring operations and recordkeeping.”

The installation took place at Champions Auto Ferry which serves Harsens Island, a remote town with less than 2,000 in population located 25 miles northeast of downtown Detroit. “Champions Ferry provides transportation to and from Harsens Island across the St. Clair River, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The only way to get to Harsens Island from mainland Michigan is Champions Ferry, who have been providing this service since 1937,” said Bylsma. The ferry owner, David Bryson operates this service during the harsh winters through icy water conditions.

The weather provides a juxtaposition of scenery and concerns. Each summer, Harsens Island is transformed into a vibrant vacation destination with bustling shops, bed and breakfast hotels and restaurants attracting thousands of tourists as well as boating and outdoor enthusiasts. During the winter, the island all but shuts down, save for essential businesses and stores that remain open for the island’s year-round residents.

“Champions has been providing ferry service to island residents and visitors since 1937 when my grandfather first started the business,” said David Bryson. “Even the harsh winters and icy waters don’t stop us from operating.”

To better monitor the number of cars being transported on the ferries, and to ensure a safe and relaxing environment for passengers, the company sought a video surveillance solution that would record transactions and activities and serve as a reliable backup if incidents needed further examination or investigation.

Due to island’s proximity to the Canada border, there were additional security concerns with regards to the installation, according to Data Consultants’ Bylsma. “The issue of border surveillance is very real here. There were a number of homeland security issues that arose and surveillance in this location was important to provide a video record if needed,” he said. The system also provided the ability to monitor, document and audit the vehicles that were coming and going instead of always relying on the human component. “Cameras were installed on the boats and this required an IP video surveillance solution that would run on Champion’s wireless mesh network. The owner looked to us to provide the security solutions needed to meet his goals. The ferry already had a legacy surveillance system in place. It was an outdated VHS system recording with old black and white cameras. With Champions’ 24/7 operations, they required something that provided high-resolution images in an outdoor, day/night environment.”

Data Consultants suggested VideoIQ iCVR cameras which is a complete, all-in-one solution, “VideoIQ iCVR had everything Champions was looking for in a video surveillance solution, including the ability to automatically capture critical events at the highest frame rate and quality, while recording everything at a lesser quality to maximize storage,” said Bylsma. “Because the video is stored in the camera, network requirements are minimal and that saves Champions money.” The cameras would provide the staff better monitoring of the number of cars and people being transported on the ferries. The iCVR, according to Bylsma, is now running on the mesh network enabling the cameras to be installed on the boats while being simple to set up and operate.

“Training was very simple--the client picked up on it right away and there was great support from the manufacturer.”

The first phase of the installation took only two days to complete and of course ultimately that’s the beauty of a wireless infrastructure.

“The first phase started with only four cameras and then the second phase added 12 more. The special iCVR software application automatically counts and reports to the network the number of vehicles travelling on the ferries, saving the company time, energy and expense in their daily auditing procedures.”

Data Consultants found the environment harsh but not impossible. “We have worked and installed systems in very dirty and hazardous conditions, where frequent visits to clean cameras were part of the maintenance schedule; the ferry just had cold conditions and ice.” In business since 1980, the company plans on continuing to focus on security for information technology management whereever it is needed.

Harsens Island—A Ferry Ride Away

Located at the top of Lake St. Clair and at the mouth of the St. Clair River, Harsens Island serves as a destination getaway for many visitors heading north during the summer months. A remote town with less than 2,000 in population located 25 miles northeast of downtown Detroit, Harsens Island offers a multitude of recreational activities for visitors and year-long residents, including fishing; boating; hunting; golf; and freighter watching.It is even a great place for those just looking to explore nature through the eye of a camera lens. Champions Auto Ferry serves the island year-long, as the only way to get to Harsens Island from mainland Michigan is through the Champions waterway taxi transportation.

Project Partners

Data Consultants—Security integrator and solutions provider

Champions Auto Ferry—End user and ferry operator