While CCTV is the traditional go-to security device, wireless IP surveillance cameras are the future, writes Luke Frost.
Mine sites are tough environments. Between the general remoteness of many of our mines, the often adverse weather conditions, sometimes controversial nature of the mines themselves and the large, diverse workforces, security can be a big issue.
There are many ways that mines can be made safer for employees and the company alike, and a good surveillance system is at the top of the list.
When it comes to choosing between a traditional, analogue Closed-Circuit TV (CCTV) installation and a wireless IP (internet protocol) system, many factors suggest that the IPbased model will provide long and short term benefits for Australian mining facilities.
Facility managers are sometimes reluctant to move to the new technology however, preferring to stick with what they know. But there are a lot of reasons why IP cameras make plenty of sense, beefing up physical security while cutting costs and providing flexibility.
The main factor holding back the expansion of IP surveillance cameras is the up-front cost. CCTV cameras have been around for many years, they offer reliable surveillance and can be purchased relatively cheaply. So why bother changing over to an IP/digital camera that will cost up to three times more?
Firstly, there are time and cost-savings to be had during the installation. CCTV cameras need power and a video cable, so they need to be placed near a power point, or be hardwired back to a power supply. IP cameras need power and an internet connection. However, since many IP cameras offer Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) as an option these days, the cabling can be halved, since both power and data can be sourced via the one Cat.5 cable.
Further to that, if the camera is WiFi, it only requires power cabling, as data will be transmitted over a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN). Half the cabling means less time spent on site for the electricians installing the cameras. Less drilling and less time in tight crawl-spaces will reduce the labour costs significantly during the installation phase.
Power consumption is another area where a digital IP system will save a company money. IP cameras are often scalable, so power consumption can be controlled by the central server or PC. If the cameras are PoE as mentioned above, they can be turned up or down remotely, programmed to power down at certain times of the day or even switched off, all from a single central location. A CCTV installation tends to be fixed for the life of the system, so a camera will run on the same level of power both day and night.
“IP cameras easily integrate with existing network infrastructure whether it be wired or wireless, which makes them a highly cost effective and easily deployable option,” Shane Boswell, manager of surveillance and networking distributor Connector Systems, says.
“Cost and complication can be further reduced with the option of powering these devices using POE at any location, which removes the need to run power which can be tricky and expensive in remote locations.”
The most important difference between the actual performance of CCTV cameras and IP cameras is image quality. The resolution of traditional CCTV images stops at about 0.4 megapixels (MP), while an IP camera averages about five times higher at 2MP. Some cameras now go as high as 10MP, and manufacturers are working constantly to enhance this. CCTV images can be converted to digital in order to produce a High-Definition (HD) image, but the conversion process often results in a loss of image quality.
CCTV is also limited by the distance from the central server to each end-point. To send a true HD signal over video cables (and remember it has to be converted first), the limit is about 60 metres before the image starts to deteriorate.
“There are many ways that mines can be made safer for employees and the company alike, and a good surveillance system is at the top of the list.”
An IP system can send true HD signals over a distance of 100 metres, and by simply adding a switch, the range can be extended almost indefinitely with no loss of image quality. With the bandwidth achievable on a fibre-optic network, that range can even extend to several kilometres.
A wireless IP installation also competes well in terms of reliability and toughness, an essential element for most of our mines in Australia. Video cables will be exposed to external forces such as dust, heat and vibrations, all of which can reduce signal quality and over time reduce the reliability of the system. In a digital camera with WiFi that receives and transmits signals over a WLAN, each image is sent in a straight line from point-to-point. No corners, no exposure to external forces, so no weak points.
The cameras themselves can be designed to withstand these kinds of conditions as well, with industrial-grade IP cameras featuring housings that make them resistant to elements such as dust, high heat and humidity, vibrations and shock. In a digital installation, it is possible to have a mix of PoE IP cameras and WiFi PoE cameras, operating from the one central location.
This allows the convenience of WiFi in areas such as administration blocks, common rooms in the mining camp and even within each donga, combined with a hardy, long-distance PoE installation out to every corner of the mine site to secure all perimeters.
Another benefit to a big facility is the ease with which digital cameras can be installed and moved around inside the network. Without the video cables, installation of a WiFi camera requires no drilling, no tricky wire feeds and no tight crawl spaces – simply connect to the existing network signal, providing there is power nearby, and away you go. This allows a company to easily expand their premises, and thus their security system.
This flexibility also means that cameras can be moved around in an existing security network, to fine-tune coverage areas or make adjustments to the way workers and equipment is monitored. Starting off with a WiFi system effectively future-proofs the premises – expansion will be simple, installation costs competitive, and integration into the existing network will be easy and trouble-free.
“Features like Pan, Tilt and Zoom (PTZ), video analytics and integrated audio can be easily be implemented at camera level without any additional cost or decrease to performance. Centralised management with support for thousands of cameras on a single platform make digital cameras supremely scalable,” adds Shane.
If a mine site or related facility has an existing analogue security network but wishes to expand using newer digital technology, software such as LevelOne Camsecure, can monitor a mix of digital and analogue cameras by converting analogue images to digital and integrating them. This offers all the benefits associated with a digital monitoring system, and allows an end-user to upgrade their network in stages, reducing the financial burden.
Fibre optic cabling solutions have recently been introduced that allow for a very fast, much larger security network. Fibre optic cabling is capable of transporting a greater capacity of data much further, and at greater speeds than traditional copper cabling. With a fibre-optic network it is possible to maintain a surveillance solution spread out over a one-kilometre radius or greater, whereas a copper network begins to lose signal strength and therefore image quality over about 100 metres.
Hybrid solutions also exist, that can link two separate surveillance networks by using a mix of power cables and fibre optics. A hybrid solution such as Fibre Power Hybrid Cable (FPHC) can extend a surveillance network up to two kilometres from the power source, and save companies money by negating the need for elements usually found in long-range PoE installations such as industrial-grade PoE switches, weatherproof outdoor enclosures and remote power outlets.
While software such as the LevelOne Camsecure suite can allow a mix of digital and analogue cameras in the one network, it should be mentioned that they will not be able to operate on a mix of cables. So if the current security system runs on copper wiring, it cannot be expanded using fibre-optic cables.
Fibre has the added benefit of emitting zero radio-frequency interference (RFI) and zero electromagnetic interference (EMI). This means that cameras and other equipment running off fibre-optic cable can be used in the same environment as sensitive equipment without affecting performance. Fibre-optic cable can even be placed in natural gas pipelines, for example, with the existing pipes taking the place of a normal conduit.
The latest developments in digital IP camera software also offer some cutting-edge features such as Foreign Object and Missing Object, that learn what should appear in front of any given camera and will sound an alarm if foreign objects such as bags, boxes, cars or people either appear or disappear from the scene.
Modern digital cameras also offer more flexible ways to access a system. Image information can now be controlled remotely from any computer on the network, with many vendors also offering smart-phone apps capable of live-streaming images from the network direct to a phone. Transmissions sent via the network can be encrypted, which makes them secure from external attack.
A modern digital surveillance network can also be combined to operate with other secure elements such as an access control system, alarms and even smart building features such as lighting. A converged system can be built on open standard software so that all elements of the mine’s digital security and safety are managed from one central point, working in conjunction with one another. An access control system allows staff to enter a secure perimeter, and can store employee details such as work history, OHS and qualifications; digital cameras can record activity in all parts of a mine site, monitoring traffic in and out of buildings and secure areas; and alarms can be set to activate in conjunction with the other elements to sound in the event that an unauthorised person accesses a secure area. Lights and cameras can be programmed to activate when movement is detected in an area, acting as both a deterrent and a safety feature.
An advanced access control system used in conjunction with a network of digital surveillance cameras can also be used to increase efficiency across an entire mining ecosystem. For example, areas of a mine that need to be locked down can have access shut off remotely by the central control room, so that doors will not open to admit personnel.
Members of staff approaching can be monitored on camera, and alarms or warnings issued over a public address system. Doors and secure areas can be set up to move personnel around a site by the safest and quickest route, avoiding hazardous or heavy traffic areas.
A converged system such as this can also record staff movements, and hold people accountable for their actions on the mine site. Each door or perimeter can record the details of the staff member or visitor, with cameras set up to record images if an unrecognised or unauthorised card is presented at any checkpoint. Machinery and vehicles can be monitored in the same way, requiring a card or secure token to start them up, and activating cameras if unauthorised access is detected.
So it becomes obvious that a digital or IP surveillance system offers substantial benefits to large-scale mining facilities, and a digital WiFi network boosts performance and flexibility even further, despite higher start-up costs. Better energy consumption will negate the higher price over time, and much higher image quality and cutting-edge features should make it an easy choice. A modern converged system allows several elements of a mines security and safety policy to work in conjunction with one another, increasing efficiency, safety and security across all areas of the mine.
“A converged system can be built on open standard software so that all elements of the mine’s digital security and safety are managed from one central point, working in conjunction with one another.”