Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister was Editor of IFSEC Global from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam is also a former Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
April 4, 2017

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Low-light surveillance

In what scenarios are thermal surveillance cameras the best choice? Axis Communications speaks to Securitas

When is a thermal camera the best choice for a low-light surveillance scenario?

This was the theme of an interview conducted with Jonas Bergström, business development manager at Securitas, by Axis Communications, which is a major partner of the manned guarding giant. Securitas regularly installs thermal cameras from Axis.

Axis Communications: What is the single greatest advantage of thermal cameras compared to optical cameras?

Jonas Bergström: The absolute greatest advantage for us is that thermal cameras result in significantly fewer false alarms. This means our operators in the security operation center do not need to evaluate as many incoming alarm calls and therefore become significantly more time-efficient.

For what installation scenarios are the thermal camera models most suited?

JB: We primarily use thermal cameras in perimeter protection installations. An intelligent video application is integrated into the cameras and forms a virtual fence. If anybody or anything crosses this virtual line then an alarm call is sent to our security operation center (SOC).

What have thermal cameras contributed in terms of savings for Securitas with the reduced number of alarm calls?

JB: Securitas always aims to minimise the number of false alarms. A minimum number of false alarms means that the operators can be more efficient when authentic alarm calls come in. In extreme cases, too many false alarms can affect an operator’s attention and ability to identify authentic alarm calls.

We estimate that the ratio of false alarms generated by intelligent video analysis in a thermal camera in relation to an optical camera is approximately 1 in 10. By keeping down the number of alarm calls per camera, each operator can handle more alarm events within a certain time frame. The result is major savings.

Do you have an example of an installation where thermal cameras have been of great benefit and resulted in different types of savings for both the end customer and yourselves?

JB: For a very large number of our customers, the implementation of thermal cameras, with intelligent video analysis connected to our security operation center (SOC), has resulted in major savings. The result has been reduced vandalism, interrupted and halted burglary attempts, reduced number of emergency call-outs from security guards and reduced use of operator time.

AC: Why have you chosen to only use thermal cameras for perimeter monitoring?

JB: The number of alarm calls generated is significantly lower than when using optical cameras. Thermal cameras do not need extra lighting to be installed.

Thermal cameras are not as sensitive to different weather conditions, such as snow, rain, fog, etc. We can cover a larger area with a smaller number of cameras.

With thermal cameras we can detect movement in areas of vegetation. In this environment we would have greater difficulty in creating enough contrast in the image to generate an alarm.

AC: At what distance from the camera can you detect people with a high degree of certainty?

JB: It all depends on the camera model used, with regard to the focal length of the lens. At up to 200 meters, it is normally no problem to detect and generate an alarm for people or objects moving in the image.

AC: Based on your experience, are there any weather conditions that are particularly tough for thermal cameras?

JB: Dense fog, very heavy snowfall and certain reflections from puddles of water may cause problems, even for a thermal camera. Our experience is that thermal cameras work considerably better than optical cameras in unfavorable weather conditions.

AC: Are there any other conditions that make things difficult for thermal cameras?

JB: Yes, vibration caused by an unstable mounting surface or a wind-sensitive mast is always a problem when working with alarms triggered based on intelligent video analysis. This primarily applies to long distances, because here even small vibration has a significant effect on the camera.

However, Axis thermal cameras have built-in electronic image stabilisation (EIS) that helps in these conditions.

You may also encounter problems even when the surroundings or backgrounds are the same temperature as an object in the image. This happens because a thermal camera cannot distinguish an object from its surroundings.

Exactly as with optical cameras, its surrounding environment affects the thermal camera. In general, the point is that a thermal camera is less affected by external factors than an optical camera.

Check out the latest thermal cameras and other surveillance solutions from Axis Communications at IFSEC International, 20-22 June 2017, London ExCeL. You can find Axis on stand E1000. Get your free badge now.

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