Coastal surveillance challenge

July 2009 Surveillance

Hassan Ahmed of CBC (Europe) explains how detection and tracking systems are helping secure vulnerable waterside locations.

Coastal and waterside environments have long posed significant challenges for security planners, not just because of the toughness of the operating conditions and the wide areas that can need protecting, but because of the potential severity of the risk.

But industry is developing some increasingly effective answers. As recent incidents have shown, rivers and seashores are attractive operating grounds for some particularly unpleasant criminals – terrorists, pirates, traffickers – and they are notoriously hard zones for authorities to police. A combination of developments in surveillance hardware and software mean that new tools are available to detect, track and monitor boats, people and vehicles. These can be deployed either permanently or temporarily in response to intelligence. They can be used to protect the most vulnerable areas, including easy points of entry, harbours, sensitive installations – and private property – and they can also be set up in operations which proactively target areas where criminals are known to operate.

What has opened the way to more effective surveillance of these areas is, first of all, improved camera design. The availability of units which are capable of operating in very adverse atmospheric conditions and resisting the corrosive effects of sea-spray, dust and chemicals (as well as knocks and rough handling) has made remote CCTV surveillance along coasts practical and affordable. The cameras will not only do the job, they will not need replacing or servicing every few months.

Features such as built-in wipers and optically flat, replaceable windows, as well as IP67 weather rating, mean that cameras can deliver high definition images, close to the water’s edge, for much longer periods than older style units.

But this is just the first step. Equally important is the ability to detect and track potential suspects and to get clear images of them. And perhaps most crucial of all for these applications is the development of automated analytic systems which allow extensive areas to be kept under watch without the inevitable human error creeping in, or the need for unworkably large numbers of trained camera operators.

The latest systems use either radar or thermal imaging (or both) to detect potential targets whenever they enter pre-defined zones. These zones can be both on land and on water and they can be easily adjusted as environmental conditions change.

Suspects can also be automatically tracked and when they enter areas of particular concern, human operators and response teams can be alerted.

In more detail then, first, let us look at thermal detection. People, animals and vehicles give off characteristic heat signatures that allow thermal cameras to pick them out, translating the thermal signals into high definition images on-screen. Thermal image capture works even when intruders are camouflaged or hidden in overgrown terrain.

To supplement this advanced unit a range of specialist cameras is also available including a series of compact, fixed thermal cameras which can be economically added to existing CCTV systems, allowing security levels to be enhanced with thermal imaging.

The second technology advance, radar detection, is equally valuable for waterside applications. RadarView, will detect all intruders entering the secure zones and automatically track them, by controlling up to five CCTV cameras. In the control room security staff are alerted only when they need to be and so the system removes the need for operators to continually scan through monitors.

The radar units scan a complete 360° across open spaces – water or land – and will detect any person, vehicle or other object that enters the specified secure zone. It will operate without difficulty in all lighting conditions, down to complete darkness, and all weather conditions, including thick fog or smoke.

This capability makes it particularly useful for security for long border lines and open spaces and for giving advance warning of targets approaching.

Finally, the value of infrared surveillance should be remembered. Whether protecting private property, open spaces or sensitive installations the use of invisible infrared can give planners real flexibility. It not only delivers clear image capture without the disadvantages of floodlighting, it can help security teams keep one step ahead of intruders with totally covert monitoring.

Again, using the latest technology makes coastal surveillance applications more practical and affordable: today’s long-life LED-based illuminators will last for years before they need servicing or replacing.

Taken together, all these advances – in surveillance hardware and software – mean that coasts and waterside sites no longer need be as vulnerable as they once were. There is no reason why criminals should go undetected in these areas.

For more information Colin Harding, contact CBC (Europe), +27 (0)83 780 4123,,

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