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An Introduction to Thermal CCTV Systems

Believe it or not, the first known record of what has now evolved into today’s thermal CCTV dates back to 1800 when Sir William Herschel discovered infrared. Several other discoveries and inventions for thermal detectors followed including those which helped mariners detect icebergs.

The first thermographic camera came in to use in 1929, when Hungarian physicist Kálmán Tihanyi invented the infrared-sensitive (night vision) electronic television camera for anti-aircraft defence in Britain. Albeit these camera’s took nearly an hour to produce their image!

The basic premise of a thermal CCTV camera is to differentiate sources of heat and thereby provide a signal of potential risk. As you would expect, over the last 100 years technology has moved on leaps and bounds and whilst there are also many domestic applications, the following reasons explain why commercial businesses usually install thermal CCTV:

  • To protect the perimeter of buildings and storage yards to identity and prevent unauthorised intruders.
  • For process and equipment monitoring to give early fault diagnosis warnings.
  • For body temperature screening to help prevent the spread of diseases.

What is a thermal CCTV camera?

A thermal CCTV camera (also known as a Thermal Imaging Camera TIC) is a type of camera that senses heat and produces images based on the silhouette of the heat sources it detects. By rendering infrared radiation as visible light, thermal CCTV cameras enable those who are monitoring their recordings to ‘see’ areas of heat through darkness, smoke, or other heat-permeable barriers.

Thermal CCTV

What is a thermal camera used for?

 The primary uses for thermal CCTV are:

  • Law enforcement by preventing unauthorised access and criminal damage.
  • Loss prevention and fire risk reduction by providing the early signs of excessive heat and a potential fire or explosion.
  • Help prevent the spread of disease.

Traditional CCTV surveillance cameras have limitations when conditions are dark as potential intruders can hide behind obstacles to evade detection. Similarly when used for equipment monitoring industrial machinery, traditional CCTV only enables you to monitor the external environment. Often the very first sign of a fault and subsequent fire risk is a build-up of heat which a thermal camera can detect and therefore provide an early warning of a potential hazard.

Perimeter Surveillance

One of the limitations of conventional HD CCTV camera systems as a security solution for perimeter surveillance is that if an intruder chooses to attempt access during times of limited light or by using camouflage tactics to conceal their movements they can evade detection.

High quality 24 hour surveillance systems are commonly used to protect critical infrastructures. As technology has advanced and when high risk perimeter protection is vital, the use of thermal image CCTV cameras can provide real time intelligent video footage when potential intruders are trying to gain access.

Equipment Temperature Monitoring

Many research and development and manufacturing processes involve friction, heat tempering or testing materials at high temperatures or involve the use of flammable chemicals, gases and liquids.

Temperature is one of the most common indicators of the structural health of equipment and components and therefore many businesses rely on condition monitoring systems that use temperature sensors and real time thermal imaging as part of their risk management practices.

In order to reduce fire risk, prevent unplanned breakdowns, minimise system downtime and maintain maximum production capacity many companies have installed thermal CCTV systems for equipment temperature monitoring.

Equipment Temperature Monitoring

Thermal imaging for detecting elevated body temperature

Whilst thermal imaging has been used within the agricultural sector for many years to monitor live stock for signs of ill health to avoid spread of disease and contamination of the food chain, its use to monitor human body temperature has increased.

In March 2020 the UK was hit by the global Coronavirus pandemic which literally saw the entire country go on lockdown for months. As a result, the use of thermal imaging to detect elevated body temperatures increased dramatically. This is because the thermal camera has the ability to scan a human from a safe distance and highlight people with an elevated temperature. This enables actions to be taken to isolate the person in order to assess if their elevated temperature has been caused by a fever. Use of thermal CCTV means that the individual can be made aware of that they may potentially be ill, which can help to reduce the spread of an infectious disease.

Thermal CCTV systems are ideal for identifying persons who are potentially infected and as yet unaware of their symptoms (high temperature) and allows real time body temperature measurement. Because Thermal CCTV cameras can detect heat from distance the surveillance monitoring can be done from a safe area.

Thermal CCTV systems are now considered one of a wide range of protective measures required to prevent the spread of infection as businesses returned to work in accordance with Government compliance guidelines.

Where can Thermal CCTV be installed?

Following the pandemic, many transport hubs such as railways, airports and bus stations installed thermal CCTV systems to screen travellers on before entering and exiting.

Building owners and business owners also installed stand-alone body temperature scanning units in entrance foyers to scan employees as they entered and left the building.

Thermal CCTV can also be installed internally within factories and warehouses to monitor production facilities and storage. External locations include building walls and fencing to monitor perimeters and outdoor storage areas and parking.

What is the difference between infrared camera and thermal camera?

The main differences are the type of heat waves each has the ability to detect and their sensitivity to the heat source as this determines the image they are capable of producing. Price is also a differentiating factor as thermal CCTV is still a relatively new technology and is therefore more costly.

Thermal imaging cameras aren’t really camera’s in the true sense – they are heat detectors. They contain a special lens which focuses on the heat, or infrared energy which is given off by an object onto a detector which is sensitive to heat which creates an image. Thermal CCTV is therefore unaffected by light and will work just as well in daylight as in complete darkness. The hotter something is the more thermal energy it emits. This emitted thermal energy is called a “heat signature.” When two objects next to one another have even subtly different heat signatures, they show up quite clearly to a thermal camera regardless of lighting conditions.

Like our eyes, night vision or infrared camera’s see reflected light. Daylight cameras, night vision devices, and the human eye all work on the same basic principle: visible light energy hits something and bounces off it, a detector then receives it and turns it into an image.

With night vision or infrared the heat is detected but it will only display as an outline of the heat source on the monitoring device.  The variance in temperatures emanating from the heat source is not ‘graded’ therefore it is not possible to differentiate if the temperature of the heat source is elevated and therefore a potential fire risk.

Thermal cameras are able to detect tiny differences in heat, often as small as 0.01°C, which are then displayed as shades of grey or with different colours that can also show the exact temperature so operators can decide if intervention is required.

How to choose a thermal CCTV system

 Sadly there are still far too many business owners who wait for an incident of theft or vandalism to occur before going in search of a suitable CCTV system. Sometimes, this because insurers have made it a stipulation of ongoing cover

Most commercial buildings will benefit from installing CCTV, not just buildings in higher risk areas where the threat of criminal or terrorist activity is high. If you are considering installing a CCTV system our article on how to choose a CCTV system will help.

In practice, once the business rationale for installing CCTV has been established, the system specification will detail the type of CCTV camera’s to install. Depending on the circumstances this could be a traditional CCTV system, all thermal CCTV, or is often the case a blend traditional and Thermal CCTV.

Thermal CCTV cameras have some limitations such as poor visibility when weather is bad and the image quality when recording through glass isn’t as the same quality as might be achieved from a traditional HD camera. However, some CCTV cameras have inbuilt technology to provide both options which the operator can chose to switch between to achieve high quality imaging. The type of CCTV camera to install will be determined during your security risk assessment and will depend on the area and assets that require CCTV surveillance.

How can Tecserv UK help?

As an SSAIB Certified company Tecserv UK Ltd is a fire protection and security solutions provider you can trust. Although formal accreditation is not yet a legal requirement for all companies that provide fire protection systems and advice, at Tecserv UK Ltd we believe it should be. Tecserv UK Ltd is fully committed to having all the relevant accreditation’s we need to ensure our customers have peace of mind.

We have over 15 years of experience and have installed and maintained both traditional CCTV Systems and thermal CCTV systems for many of the UK’s leading retailers, hotels, schools, universities and heritage buildings.

If we can help ensure your people, processes and property are protected please get in touch.

Mick Brooke

Mick has over 30 years experience working within the Fire and Security industry. Starting as an installation engineer and quickly progressing into both operational and sales management roles.

Posted on: 22 June 2020
Posted in: CCTV
Author: Mick Brooke