Throwing money at security challenges

PureTech Systems has launched a 'dispatch drone-to-alarm' feature, which automatically dispatches a surveillance drone to an alarm location
PureTech Systems has launched a 'dispatch drone-to-alarm' feature, which automatically dispatches a surveillance drone to an alarm location
Guaymas port went for a wireless security solution over fibre optic because of cost. Credit: Infinet
Guaymas port went for a wireless security solution over fibre optic because of cost. Credit: Infinet
PureTech's wide area surveillance system is in operation at the Port of Tacoma. Credit; PureTech
PureTech's wide area surveillance system is in operation at the Port of Tacoma. Credit; PureTech
Industry Database

Ports are prepared to overspend on surveillance to ensure they have covered every eventuality, finds Martin Rushmere

One security solution does not, it seems, fit all. Ports today are under pressure to go from “almost secure and safe” to “over-secure and safe” to counter public and community sentiment that no longer tolerates the “we thought of everything imaginable” defence from port authorities.

In many countries, safety and security have morphed into each other. So much so that some ports are stretching budgets too far and loading up with debt to satisfy both needs.

However, in some cases, the main concern is clear. Africa's Gulf of Guinea is an obvious example, with maritime authorities continually guarding against terrorism and piracy. Systems such as HGH's Spynel infrared cameras have been installed with the main aim of spotting suspicious activity and boats; safety in berthing, terminal and container yard operations is a secondary consideration.

The trend internationally is of traditional optical cameras being used in combination with infrared, laser, thermal, radar and, in the last three years, drones.

New movers

“Drones are an exciting development in video surveillance for seaports,” says Eric Olson, vice president of marketing at PureTech Systems. The Arizona-based company develops its PureActiv video analytics surveillance software. “The drones are enabled with artificial intelligence algorithms and traditional video tracking analytics. Seaports have a significant area to cover,” he says, “and the ability to automatically dispatch a drone to the location of an event, to not only provide video verification, but provide a means of deterrence through the drone’s presence, can allow ports to not only react faster to events, but also manage day to day operation costs.

“Drones can also be used to perform guard tours following a predetermined route, collecting video for long term forensic use, and reacting to real-time situations automatically, or in conjunction with remote security personnel.”

Electronics and software are also changing, leading to a wider range of uses. Germany's LASE has installed 3D laser measurement systems for rail wagon unloaders at Ponta de Madeira Port in Sao Luis, Brazil for the Vale mining group.

Ports are also becoming more versatile in camera deployment, mixing fisheye, pan-tilt-zoom and other variants. “We find that for wide short-range operations, such as monitoring cruise terminal areas, ports prefer wide angle (90 degree to 360 degree) cameras to allow them a wide view of busy operation areas,” says Mr Olson. “These areas typically don’t require long detection distances, so ports choose the trade-off of more viewing area versus detection distance, which reduces the number of cameras required.

“For perimeter surveillance,” he continues, “ports typically choose a pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) sensor, which allows them greater detection distances, as well as the ability to zoom in on details and track potential intrusions. In many installations, these PTZ cameras can slew to an intrusion and automatically maintain video tracking without operator intervention.”

Quality improvements

Software advances and greater resolution of images are at the forefront of video analytics – allowing control room operators to get a much better idea of the likely intentions and dangers of both objects and people.

Port Miami implemented Qognify's NiceVision video management solution, which was integrated with the port’s other systems and includes advanced analytics capabilities.

"The port has been able to integrate existing analogue cameras and recording systems,” says Qognify, “allowing them to leverage and maximise past investment and at the same time benefit from today’s advanced IP technology.

“The port can create specific surveillance zones monitored by assigned operators and centralise the overall management of their surveillance operations,” says Qognify. “Security operations are able to view multiple cameras, from any of their cameras from a single screen.”

Access control systems have also been integrated: in the event of an alarm stemming from any access point, NiceVision automatically directs the nearest camera to the alarm and begins following the event.

“Today’s seaports are predominantly IP-based security systems,” says Mr Olson. “In the US, the Homeland Security Grant and Seaport Security Grant Programs did a great job at helping seaports with older technologies upgrade those systems. Most existing IP surveillance systems at seaports are H.264, with new installations or upgrades moving to H.265 encoding.”

Expenditure concerns

That said, costs of installation and maintenance are a worry for smaller ports. Fibre optics are a tempting option compared with cable and wireless connections, but each has its limitations.

Says Mr Olson: “Due to the vast physical area ports need to protect, the use of wireless makes a lot of sense, as it reduces the need for expensive trenching and installation costs. However, this same need to monitor a large area also means ports need as much resolution as possible from their video sources to provide proper levels of detail around events and the ability to extend the detection range of the camera.

“In these cases,” he continues, “wireless installations typically cannot support these desired levels of resolutions and frame rates. So, in practice, we still see most installations going with fibre and cable, using wireless for select areas where video surveillance is needed, but installation costs are problematic.”

A new closed-circuit camera (CCTV) system was installed at the port of Guaymas, in north western Mexico, to minimise the risk of theft and drug trafficking. According to the supplier, InfiNet Wireless, Guaymas port management considered a fibre optic solution, but thought this was too expensive, so selected a more cost-effective wireless solution that could reliably operate in adverse weather conditions.

InfiNet said the old wired system “was inadequate for the port environment as it was severely affected by factors such as hurricanes and corrosion”. The port said it did not want another cabled system because the standard UTP cabling reduced the viewing range down to just 100 metres for security officials.

Security moves

While wearable equipment is rapidly coming into its own – and the trend will “certainly move into seaports,” according to Mr Olson – take-up will not happen as quickly as in other public safety markets, primarily due to lack of available budgets.

Artificial intelligence has been slow to come to port operations, but its value is still recognised. “AI is based on the video itself, not the camera,” explains Mr Olson, “so seaports can upgrade to this capability using existing cameras, which avoids costly installation updates.”

From a value proposition, AI applied to video is currently helping seaports in two primary areas:

  1. Reduction of false alarms – Seaports are very busy places and span large geographic areas. The result is that very few video pixels are available to determine what is an intrusion, versus a nuisance alarm, versus a non-alarm. Deep learning methods applied to seaport environments help increase the success rate of these difficult detection scenarios.
  2. Non-intrusion scenarios - Ports are always full of activity. Although there are restricted areas that can be monitored using traditional surveillance technology, a port must also monitor and police areas that are open to the public. Ports must be able to quickly obtain usable surveillance data in the case of an event and use advanced technologies to help them prevent these events.

“Artificial intelligence algorithms are helping ports to more effectively monitor for ‘soft events’, whereby the event does not entail an intrusion but rather a set of suspicious actions that may indicate threat, vandalism or other form of security breach for which the port requires notification so it can quickly react,” says Mr Olson.

Room to improve

There is still room for further improvement, not least of which is closing the gaps in the ability to monitor very large areas economically in both day and night conditions. For example, thermal cameras might work very well for night time detection at distance, but they do not allow for detailed identification.

“While CCTV cameras do a good job at this, they require a large amount of illumination to do so during night time surveillance,” says Mr Olson. Radars can cover large areas, but do not provide a visual confirmation. “The key is combining these solutions in an economical and intelligent manner to provide ports with this wide range of coverage.”

Meanwhile, the recent ability to combine geospatial alarm and tracking with video-equipped drones is moving security in ports forward. This allows ports to perform guard tours and react to events using automatically deployed and controlled drones. This technology not only allows ports to react faster to events, but also to manage day-to-day operational costs.

As a parting comment, Mr Olson reminds ports that maintenance costs have to be factored into surveillance systems – for software updates, hardware refresh efforts and general system upkeep. “However,” he points out, “these same systems bring more automation and intelligence; this gives the port the option to cover certain security aspects with a capital expense rather than maintaining or increasing security payroll budgets.”


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