One of history’s great twists of irony occurred in Wales in October 1913, when a disastrous mine explosion killed 439 miners. What was the source of the irony?

To help protect the miners, their employer had installed low-voltage signaling bells to improve communication and safety in the mines. But far from protecting the miners’ safety, one of these bells produced a spark that touched off methane gas present in the mine, triggering the tragic blast.

Just as back then, technology today is being used in an effort to remotely assure safety of workers in dangerous settings. But these days there’s a difference. Utilized to track workers’ safety procedures, Bosch Security Systems Extreme CCTV cameras for harsh environments are engineered to contain explosions within their housing, meaning the cameras won’t produce a spark that could ignite a potentially explosive environment, says Fairport, N.Y.-based Bosch product marketing manager, Willem Ryan.

This is just one of many examples of state-of-the-art surveillance cameras being used for purposes other than to capture illegal activity. Today’s surveillance cameras are utilized for purposes that range from translation services at important world summit conferences to studying pedestrian and vehicular traffic patterns, perfecting process automation in factories and monitoring proper usage of signage in stores. Your security clients may be great target customers for some of these non-security applications.

“Video surveillance cameras are being implemented today in applications that reach far beyond traditional security uses,” says J.M. Allain, president of Panasonic System Solutions Company (Americas).

Today’s open architecture and convergence of solutions enable video surveillance systems to be integrated with other systems in a facility or enterprise to add value to the information collected, and increase the functionality of the system as a whole... the applications for video surveillance are unlimited and growing quickly.”


Surveillance cameras are now being used for purposes other than to identify and help apprehend offenders. One of the most important is to protect workers in oil, gas and petrochemical facilities, both off shore and on shore, says Bosch’s Ryan.

“Any surveillance cameras in those environments are not for security,” he says.  “They’re used for safety or process monitoring. Because these environments are very volatile, employees working in them need to be monitored to ensure they are safe.

“It’s much more cost-effective to do it through video monitoring than by having additional people present at the site. It allows them to look for debris in a workplace that could cause problems. It can look for faulty equipment, or a crack or a leak,” Ryan describes.

Industrial settings requiring Bosch Extreme CCTV explosion-protected cameras might include those where supervisors plan a release of chemicals or water, and want to make sure the area impacted is clear of people who might be hurt, Ryan adds.

They might also include settings where excavation work is required, and cameras are used to ensure there are no factors that might damage multi-million dollar pieces of equipment or harm operators. They can be used to monitor manufacturing at air mattress or airbag plants, where a single spark could wreak enormous damage.

Another common use of surveillance cameras in non-security situations is to monitor process automation, says Allain. Because its advanced analytics and automated push software can bring instant attention to specific incidents, Panasonic’s IP camera video is ideal for process automation, and is currently being used for just that purpose in the Nitta plant in Fayetteville, N.C.

“Surveillance cameras can also help stadium, transit and other facility management with traffic and crowd control, employee productivity evaluations, identification of hazardous issues, liability prevention and much more,” Allain says.

In addition, Pansonic’s Virtual Site Manager (VMS) retail solution offers benefits to retail enterprises, he says.

Many retailers with multiple locations need to determine whether company-provided signage is being used properly in each of its stores, says Jon Hughes, video product marketing manager with GE Security in Costa Mesa, Calif. The company’s TruVision line and UltraView Series of cameras can both be used for this purpose.  In addition, retailers and retail bank operations can utilize them to determine how well customers are interacting with elements of the retail environment.

The cameras are also used by medical centers to monitor traffic patterns or attempt to find important pieces of equipment that sometimes go missing, Hughes says.

Efficient use of energy is another objective the cameras can help bring about.

“At GE, we’re very big on Ecomagination, an initiative to look at ways not only within our own organization but at customers’ facilities to reduce energy consumption,” Hughes says. “You can use the camera to make sure loading dock doors aren’t kept open, making sure employees are taking the right measures to conserve energy.”

Another application may call for customers to be counted in a store, restaurant or casino while in a defined area such as an aisle or entrance, says Sarah Wielens, the Surrey, British Columbia-based product manager for analytics for Louisville, Ky.-based Honeywell Systems Group, maker of a variety of surveillance cameras. “What this really means is you’re looking at the amount of traffic in a time frame and the dollars spent in that time frame.  That’s important to assess the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.”

Just as in applications where authorities are watching for illegal activity, numerous non-security applications require a company or organization to watch for unusual patterns of activity or movement. These needs can be met through the AISight Surveillance Software offered by Houston-based BRS Labs, says chief technical officer, Eric Eaton.

AISight system is a learning-based approach to video surveillance. It uses a reasoning process that involves three stages: observe, learn and respond.

Cameras observe a scene, resulting in “hypocepts” or hypothetical concepts. Later observations are measured against these hypocepts, then color-coded to identify actions, behaviors or movements that are out of the ordinary, Eaton explains.

“The technology is capable of learning anything it observes,” he says. “There is a possibility of using this with a thermal camera to, for instance, watch for leaks at a refinery or a manufacturing plant... if you have a second home, it could tell you if your basement is flooding. Because the system color-codes everything and learns behaviors, you can learn what’s typically happening over time. That information can be used to change procedures or policies and make an area more efficient.

Safety as far afield as the Alaskan wilderness and as near as the closest fog-enshrouded airport runway represent other non-crime-fighting settings that can be monitored by means of thermal surveillance cameras. So says Alex Doorduyn, product marketing manager with Clovis, Calif.-based Pelco, which offers two thermal cameras, the TI2500 series fixed and the ESPRIT Ti PTZ thermal imaging cameras. 

“Thermal imaging cameras’ benefit is they can see in zero-light applications, giving you images without any light at all. So in areas where there’s poor lighting — or where it’s difficult to install lighting, such as on waterways — the cameras are ideal.”  

One Pelco customer has installed ESPRIT Ti cameras in Alaska to watch for polar bears entering a facility with their young, in an effort to prevent dangers from the bears, Doorduyn says. “Another application is on airfields,” he adds. “Again, when fog threatens visibility you want to see if the runways are clear, and this camera can see through fog to determine whether the runways are clear or not.”

Pool safety can also be addressed with the right surveillance camera system, says John Whiteman, New York City-based president Americas with Dallas-based ioimage LLC. “It’s very easy for us to take our intelligent cameras and sensors and place it on the side of a home, aimed at a pool. One application could establish an invisible fence or trip wire around the pool, allowing kids to play around the edge of the pool, and only provide alerts when someone goes in the water.”


Surveillance cameras are also being used more often for security applications outside the norm, manufacturers report.

Health care facilities are one such setting. In hospital labs where very sensitive materials are monitored, administrators often establish a “two-man rule” to limit the number of individuals who can access those labs. Surveillance cameras can be trained on such rooms to ensure the rules are maintained, says GE Security’s Hughes.

One of the big challenges faced by motion picture companies in recent decades has been that of movie piracy, in which pirated versions of first-run films appear for sale on the black market within hours of eagerly anticipated movies’ release. Bosch Security Systems’ Extreme CCTV line of cameras are being used to combat the scourge of film pirates using handheld camcorders in dark movie theaters to literally record the action on the screen.

“The infrared cameras can see perpetrators in a dark theater who are invisible to the human eye,” Ryan says.  “The thing people don’t know is the infrared cameras produce an added benefit — a light that will blind the camera that is being used to record a movie off a screen. The human eye can’t pick it up, but it blinds the camera.”

Pelco’s TI2500 series fixed cameras and ESPRIT Ti PTZ thermal imaging cameras capable of seeing in zero-light applications are being used to monitor outside areas around upscale homes. These cameras do away with need for additional security lighting, Doorduyn says. “In private residences, [owners] don’t want their backyards suffused with light for security purposes,” he explains.

“They use thermal cameras to detect any kind of intrusion. It’s also a green product, if you will, because it cuts down on the use of energy needed by these lighting systems in the backyards of mansions.”

In any physical security setting that requires identification of out-of-the-ordinary actions or occurrences, BRS Labs’ AISight surveillance software can provide solutions, Eaton says. For instance, a guard can choose to be alerted only to the hot color bands of the cameras, which identify abnormal activity, letting him monitor more cameras than normal.

One BRS Labs client used AISight to watch its facility’s tree-lined perimeter. AISight learned the typical reaction of tree branches and leaves to winds by watching, observing and developing hypocepts. It then filtered out normal tree movements.

“But there was a guy wandering around amid the trees who was barely perceptible to the human eye,” Eaton recalls. “However, his movements were so atypical for that scene that the system alerted the monitoring parties to the anomaly.”

In addition to identifying criminal behavior, video surveillance cameras can help an organization or entity protect itself from false accusations, says Panasonic’s Allain.

For example, after public transportation accidents, it’s not unusual for people who want to cash in on the incident to climb aboard buses and claim they were among the injured. When that happened in New York City, cameras caught people rushing onto a city bus after it bumped a car in front of it.

“These people were looking for a payday – to reap some kind of settlement from the city,” Allain says. “But this was thwarted when the video clearly identified them getting on the bus after the accident.”

Finally, surveillance cameras can be used for security purposes to ensure employees don’t take actions endangering their safety, says Honeywell Systems Group’s Wielens. “One of our clients has an aluminum melting plant,” she says. “The employees are monitored by means of the cameras and if a perimeter is breached by a worker, it automatically triggers an alarm. At the same plant, the speed of forklift trucks carrying the aluminum melting pots is monitored to ensure employees are kept safe.”