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FLIR Systems - Thermal Imaging for Airport Security

FLIR Systems : 31 August, 2007  (Company News)
The recent terrorist events at Glasgow Airport and in London, once again emphasize the need for constant vigilance and for our law enforcement and security teams to be equipped with the latest tools and technology. Thermal imaging is one such method that is increasingly being employed to protect lives as well as assets.
Although widely used by Governments and the Defence industry thermal imaging has not, until recently, been an option for commercial use as its cost has been too high. This is no longer the case and a leading driver of this trend is FLIR Systems. Thanks to the world wide demand for its detector cores the company has effectively commercialized thermal imaging and one of the main beneficiaries of this development is the security industry.

Airports security in particular can benefit enormously from thermal imaging as it overcomes a range of issues that traditional methods are unable to resolve. Whilst CCTV can provide effective monitoring during daylight hours its efficiency is compromised or even nullified in adverse weather conditions and at night. Range is also a problem. Airports have several kilometers of perimeter fencing and the cost of installation, monitoring and maintenance by traditional methods is often cost-prohibitive.

When assessing ongoing security needs in its critical security risk areas one northern UK airport has naturally taken all these issues into consideration. The conclusion drawn by management was that thermal imaging cameras should be integrated into the prevailing CCTV system. The thermal cameras, manufactured by FLIR Systems, were judged to not only meet the airport's technical needs but also to provide a highly cost-effective solution.

The location of the airport exposes several kilometers of perimeter fence to public open land as well as domestic and commercial property. Fence alarms were of course an option but the cost of this would have been more than 300,000 and could be subject to an unacceptable occurrence of false alarms. Furthermore such a system could not provide any form of verification resulting is security teams being dispatched unnecessarily is most cases.

Internal areas of the fence lines that abut the runways also have special needs. A typical example is an apron that is enclosed on three-sides but open from the runway. This potentially allows easy access by unauthorized personnel to both the terminal building and standing aircraft.

In this case the distance that needs to be monitored is approximately 500m, a range that is outside the effective area of traditional CCTV. Lighting, or the lack of it, is an important issue here. For safety reasons pole-mounted lights and cameras cannot be installed and without light a traditional camera cannot operate at night or in poor visibility.

Thermal imaging with third party analytics has therefore been selected to create a virtual trip wire that notifies security of any intrusion into this area. Two FLIR Systems' SR-50 thermal cameras were recommended to meet this requirement. In fact this model has a range of 800m and with the selected analytical software is easily able to differentiate between people and other objects such as service vehicles and planes.

Day and night trials as well as tests in rain proved their ability. Indeed the SR-50 cameras give the control room the same degree of visual detail during the night as in the day but without the benefit of ambient light. Management readily agreed that this was the only solution to provide the increased level in security needed 24/7/365.

Having satisfied the demands of this first phase, FLIR Systems is now addressing the perimeter fencing problem. CCTV had been considered as an alternative to fence alarms but the number of cameras required to monitor the distance, their need for illumination and the cost of associated manpower far exceeded available budget. The need for planning permission was also an impediment.

Again thermal imaging has provided the answer. This system will employ just three Sentinel long-range and two, short to mid-range SR-50 cameras to monitor the complete perimeter. The Sentinel is a dual mode camera that provides both thermal images and a traditional TV image for greater visual detail. With a detection range of 2000 3000mtrs

Analytic software provides the intelligence for the cameras to activate an alarm only when a person is gaining access into the risk area rather than, for example, a fox or a cat. Unlike a straight fence alarm the camera can also of course provide visual verification so that the security team is not dispatched unnecessarily.

Complementing this network is a PTZ-35x140MS, another TCP/IP dual purpose camera with pan and tilt mechanism. When an alarm is triggered this camera slews to capture the event to provide addition visual information from a different perspective.

This thermal solution from FLIR Systems costs substantially less than the fence alarm system on its own with no visual verification tools. The management team at this particular airport is so pleased with the capability and economics of the system that its details have now been sent to various other airports and Government departments for their information.
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