Surveillance in Alaska

March 2009 Surveillance

Usibelli Coal Mine relies on Avigilon and Fluidmesh for efficient surveillance in tough conditions.

The only operational coal mine in Alaska is tucked away in a range of mountains near a small, rural town called Healy. This mine is called Usibelli Coal Mine and supplies coal to six interior Alaskan power plants and several Pacific Rim destinations.

Usibelli Coal Mine, founded in 1943, is an important strategic operation in a cold and remote environment and for this reason, both safety and security are paramount. Fortunately this remote location does receive cellular phone service which made the option of network communication viable, linked to a control room.

When the owner of this mine, Joe Usibelli Jnr., wanted to make major improvements to the mine’s processes and safety, last year, he had to do his research in choosing the equipment that would be easy to install, reliable in extreme temperatures and work in low light. What he wanted to do was to create a more secure environment for his team by monitoring operators and the status of equipment by video, both above ground and also in the mine shafts.

After extensive research he chose the Avigilon High Definition system as he needed quality footage in low light situations; Avigilon’s 14-bit CCD chip technology and its megapixel cameras which provide an effective choice for the mine environment.

A wireless mesh network (a communications network made up of radio nodes organised in a mesh topology) was the smart way to go, especially because the mine features a vertical underground shaft and a tall pole in the centre of the field. Both locations have a relatively clear line of sight to the new control room. This made for a very effective, non-trenching way to link the field cameras to the head-end.

Chris Ragula of ATS Alaska, the company which served as integrator on this project explains, “The vertical shaft had many environmental challenges, namely low lighting and tight viewing angles. The viewing angles required were wide angle and made a perfect fit for high resolution/low light cameras as supplied by Avigilon Corporation. Fluidmesh has the technology needed to tackle the infrastructure requirements. The customer required EMT conduit for cable runs and had a tight schedule of operations that would not have lent well to trenching.

The special challenges that the installation did present, however, included coal dust, fine particles, cold temperatures, and frozen ground, comments Ragula. “The dynamics inherent to this installation that make wireless mesh technology a good choice are long distance line of sight camera locations, multiple control room scenarios (for redundancy purposes), and the constantly changing layout of the site.”

Using the Avigilon cameras, with the variety of lenses and high definition surveillance software in conjunction with the Fluidmesh technology covers two sites. The first site is the vertical shaft of the mine where four Avigilon megapixel cameras are connected to the surface at ground level where the Fluidmesh 1100 wireless system is situated. The second site consists of a single explosion-proof PTZ camera equipped with an Avigilon encoder and located at the top of a tall light pole and connected to another Fluidmesh 1100. Both sites are streamed live to the control room where a Fluidmesh 2200 is hardwired to an Avigilon NVR for recording and displaying.

Although the initial design required a combination of point-to-point and point-to-multipoint wireless connections for a high-end Ethernet-based CCTV system, for future expansion there will be requirements for multiple wireless hops to transmit the video back to the head-end, which makes Fluidmesh a good fit for all the requirements. Both The Avigilon and Fluidmesh wireless mesh solutions are scalable and highly re-configurable. Removing the complexity of the hard-wired approach allowed ATS to go from a site visit to a working solution in a two-week timeframe.

The end-user, Ragula reports, was immediately satisfied with the results and began plans for further expansion of the system. “We intend to visit the site in the coming months to re-locate one of the FM-1100s to accommodate a reconfiguration of the site. We plan to expand the system by eight or more Avigilon cameras.”

What has been supplied in a harsh environment with difficult accessibility, is a robust solution which can stand the test of time using Fluidmesh Technology for the networking and the Avigilon high definition cameras for the surveillance and recording. This gives Usibelli Coal Mine the ability to monitor the safety and security of its workers and mine.

For more information contact Niall Beazley, Vision Catcher, +27 (0)11 463 9797,,


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