Surveillance That Prevails, Rain or Shine

Almost as soon as CCTV cameras were placed indoors, end users and security professionals logically assumed the equipment’s added security and protection could be extended to the great outdoors.

And they were right — sort of. What about Mother Nature and neighborhood hoodlums? Certainly a fixed camera couldn’t withstand a torrential rainstorm or a miscreant’s baseball bat. This security equipment needed some extra security.

CCTV manufacturers then stepped in with various protective camera housings, fans, blowers and sunshields. With these protective measures, cameras could be placed outdoors and withstand the winters of Minneapolis and the summers of Las Vegas — not to mention the vandalism found both indoors and out, and in any weather climate.

Today’s weather- and vandal-resistant CCTV equipment is streamlined, lightweight and relatively easy to install. Security dealers and installers will find a variety of options when searching for protective equipment. Cheaper than ever and with no added maintenance, weather- and vandal-resistant CCTV remains an easy and necessary sell to end users.

With the outdoor security market growing everyday and perimeter security seemingly encompassing the galaxy, dealers and integrators will have plenty of opportunities to bring CCTV surveillance to the masses with neither rain nor sleet nor snow nor crowbars impeding their abilities to produce a high-quality installation.

Durable Plastic, Aluminum Keep Protective CCTV Equipment Strong
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that CCTV equipment and inclement weather don’t mix. Because line of sight is so crucial, wireless video transmission can be affected by snow and fog. Even more obvious, a camera whose lens has been bashed in with a hammer isn’t worth much. And a stolen camera? You do the math.

Manufacturers offer special camera housings as the first step in protecting against theft, blunt objects and acts of God. While housing materials vary among manufacturers, most products are made from either metal or plastic.

Believe it or not, plastic makes for a surprisingly strong and durable housing while being inexpensive, lightweight, easily molded and aesthetically pleasing. To get an idea of how durable it can be, remember that football helmets are constructed of polycarbonate plastic. Frequently used in the automobile industry, ABS plastic is another material some manufacturers work with.

Alain Botbol, branch manager for Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.’s Security One, says plastic housings do have their downside. While light construction makes them easy to mount, the same benefit makes them less resistant to strong wind, which can shift the camera’s angle and produce a shaky image. Drilling holes in plastic housings degrade the materials and can cause cracking.

While both materials have their pros and cons, Tim Feury, president of Altec Systems — a Marietta, Ga., security integration business — generally chooses aluminum over plastic. He says many people can’t believe plastic could work as well as metal.

According to manufacturers, prisons, schools and parking lots are common applications for metal housings, because of their propensity for vandalism. While stronger and more durable plastics are being introduced everyday, such materials are still often limited to indoor applications like office and commercial buildings.

Other options for more added protection in harsh environments are domes pressurized with inert gas like nitrogen. Honeywell Security of Syosset, N.Y., Clovis, Calif.-based Pelco and Videolarm of Decatur, Ga., all offer versions of this product. Providing extra protection against moisture, these domes are designed for harsh environments where standard weather-resistant domes aren’t sufficient.

Accessories Provide Extra Protection Against Harsh Elements
Despite housings’ durability and strength, CCTV cameras sometimes need more protection, especially from the elements. Excessive heat can affect a camera’s electronics and ultimately cause a thermal breakdown of its components. Depending on type, some cameras are more susceptible to heat-related complications.

Because of more moving parts, pan/tilt/zoom cameras produce more internal heat. That, combined with a hotter climate, often calls for a blower, which cools the camera by circulating air. A sunshield is another option for cameras in hot locales. Acting as an awning over a window, the shield extends past the lens like a hood and can cool the camera by 3° to 4°.

Unless temperatures exceed 130° to 140° F, small minidome cameras generally aren’t affected by heat, manufacturers say. They are, however, affected by cold climates, which can cause frosting that distorts the picture as well as damages its lens.

Cold weather can also cause cameras to shut down and remain so until temperatures increase and stabilize. A camera’s own generated heat can sometimes thwart frosting, but as added protection some manufacturers offer heaters. Working in conjunction with blowers, heaters keep cameras warm and circulation prevents fogging.

Before weather- and vandal-resistant CCTV equipment hit the market, manufacturers subject them to all sorts of abuse to ensure they’re up to snuff. Many companies use on-site testing and then send the devices to an independent third-party testing facility to verify their results.

Honeywell Security, for example, rates its vandal- and weather-resistant cameras and housings by joules. All equipment is subjected to a force of 120 to 140 joules — or foot-pounds. For example, if the camera housing is 120 joules-rated, it can withstand a weight of 10 pounds being dropped at 12 feet. A 10 joules-rated piece of equipment can endure 10 pounds dropped at 1 foot.

To pass muster, a dome should have no cracks, and there should be no impediment to a camera’s internal moving parts or video quality. Honeywell also ensures that if the field-of-view were disoriented, the housing’s lid could be opened to correct the problem.

The equipment is also subjected to hot/cold tests, often experiencing temperatures as low as minus-50° F and as high as 120° C, a range much broader than manufacturers publish in their specs.

Vibration and dust chambers are other vandal- and weather-proof CCTV equipment torture chambers. The time it takes for a product to be developed and withstand these tests to when it’s available for purchase is generally 12 to 14 weeks.

Options Allow for Freedom of Choice, Custom Installations
While installers have many options in terms of materials and features of vandal- and weather-proof CCTV housing, they also have several choices of manufacturers.

Companies like Safety Technology Int’l of Waterford, Mich., offer several types of protective CCTV housings and domes that can be used with various cameras. Other companies offer “prepackaged” units where cameras come preinstalled with the protective housing or domes. Videolarm, Aigis Mechtronics of Winston-Salem, N.C., and Pelco offer both.

Puchniak says contractors don’t save money ordering one way or another. He estimates the cost of a basic body camera housing with heater, blower and sunshield at about $150. Ordering the housing alone might seem cheaper, but don’t forget one important detail: the cost of the camera itself. Puchniak estimates that the domes that come with cameras already installed may run anywhere from $500 to $600.

To get an idea of what an end user might pay for such equipment, Feury and Puchniak add a 35-percent markup, so a client could pay about $700 for a $500 camera with housing.

End user and dealer costs, of course, increase as the housings grow more sophisticated and the materials more durable, but the expense is balanced by the protection the materials provide. A camera in a har
d-to-reach environment plagued by harsh conditions might be made of expensive steel. When compared to the money, time and hassle of repairs or replacement of equipment, that cost is negligible.

A Little Research Goes a Long Way When Installing This Equipment

With a good knowledge of the availability and options for vandal- and weather-resistant CCTV equipment, installers are ready to bring surveillance to Eskimos and inmates. But like with any job, installers must first do their homework.

First, consider the project and the client’s needs. What will be under surveillance? Where will the camera be located? What kind of conditions must it endure? What camera angles must be achieved?

These questions will help determine what type of camera, housing, brackets and accessories the installer will need before beginning the installation.

“Knowing your system and doing most of the work yourself so you get familiar with what you’re trying to do is important,” Puchniak explains. “I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve found. There’s nothing worse than showing up to a job site with the wrong product!”

When installing weather-resistant equipment, installers should also be mindful of — what else — the weather. Puchniak avoids installing this equipment when it’s raining or moist outside as not to get any water inside the camera during installation. For the Vancouver-area-based contractor, such a policy is easier said than done, but the results are well worth it.

“You either have to keep it undercover very well or wait until the weather clears up,” Puchniak says. “It can be an ongoing problem. Once moisture gets inside, you’re fighting it forever and a day.”

Even when using such a high-rated device, installers should use a proper silicone sealing around backings, conduits and domes as an extra safety precaution against rogue raindrops, Botbol instructs.

In addition to sealing correctly, Puchniak recommends following manufacturer instructions as well paying attention to details like conduits. “A lot of people don’t follow directions,” he explains. “They throw them together real quick or they put the conduit hole facing up where the rain is going to pour inside. Use your head and keep the holes facing downward.”

During the installation, a contractor has other considerations to make, such as the power source, Feury explains. “You have to worry about the heater and blower because it’s going to pull more power than just a camera,” he cautions. “You might have to increase the gauge of cable. Instead of going with an 18-gauge cable, you may have to go with 16, depending upon the distance from your power source.”

In terms of aesthetics, Rodney Bruton, senior vice president of Richmond, Va.-based Quality CCTV, says color is important: “You don’t want to paint a camera black and put it outside because it’s going to absorb more heat. When we do custom installations, we tend to steer toward lighter colors.”

Although Simple, InstallationRequires More Time, Extra Thought

The good news for installers is manufacturers and experienced dealers agree that this equipment is relatively easy to install and not much more complicated than a simple camera installation.

“It’s basic installation stuff,” Feury remarks. “You can have somebody on the job for a month and they should be able to do this if they have basic technical skills.”

Still, Feury warns that extra equipment logically requires more time on the job. “Typically, when we look at stuff, I may give the installer an hour for the camera, an hour for the housing and an hour for the mount,” he says.

Location can also affect installation time, Bruton says. “If they’re mounting to a granite wall, it could take three hours just to drill the holes. I look at it based on the building or facility or what the mounting situation is.”

Camera choice also affects installation time, Puchniak asserts. Unlike basic body cameras, pan/tilt/zoom dome cameras can be installed faster because focusing the devices is much less of a concern.

Maintenance time, however, does not increase with this equipment. In fact, if the installation is done correctly, the camera inside should need less maintenance — that’s the goal, after all!

Should a pressurized dome need maintenance, however, an installer can expect a more lengthy process. Special seals must be broken to work inside the dome, and once repairs are complete, the seals must be replaced and the dome again pressurized.

Like with any camera, Bruton recommends keeping the lenses clean and maintaining focus and iris adjustments. Installers must also be mindful of a camera’s angle and placement, and ensure that over time it doesn’t shift or move because of wind or other impact.

Still, should anything malfunction, heaters and blowers would be first, Feury says. “Other than that, there’s no difference and I can probably count on my hand the number of times in the past three years when I’ve replaced one of those.”

Manufacturers stand by Feury’s claims: Most offer a 2- or 3-year warranty on the devices and some offer up to five. And with that kind of manufacturer confidence, these products are stronger than ever, as is their demand. In fact, as surveillance needs increase everyday, contractors and installers are left with many opportunities and reasons to perfect an outdoor installation.

With CCTV surveillance expanding to the far corners of the earth, durable equipment that can withstand the hand of mortals and Mother Nature will become increasingly important to end users and profitable to installers.

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