Pushing the Limits of CCTV

While CCTV gear has become significantly hardier as product lines have matured, there are those applications that will test the limits of any equipment. 

Mother Nature and the environment can present a number of extreme conditions for products to operate under, and many manufacturers are attempting to meet the challenge. Systems integrators have a part to play as well in the mission to maintain product viability. 

When coming to a purchase decision on CCTV cameras, housings and accessory devices, the selection process often transpires without first considering durability and environmental specifications. 

Many systems integrators are spoiled, considering that equipment from established manufacturers is by and large reliable. And so product decisions are frequently based on brand preference, cosmetic appearance and performance. Mostly, in that order. 

Integrators surely know the difference between indoor and outdoor housings, but do hardwearing products and environmental considerations matter? 

Surprisingly, for a variety of applications, durability is a critical factor. It’s not that the standard housing or enclosure construction is inherently flawed. It’s just that, in many cases, a specialized application requires a specialty solution.

Using a product in an environment that exceeds its design parameters can cause more than premature failure. It can severely damage an integrator’s reputation as well. 

“One thing that has troubled our industry for years is trying to make a product do something it was never intended to do,” says Rick Verbsky, president of American Video and Security of Black Creek, Wis. 

Too often in the security industry, uninformed integrators push the limits of a product just to make a sale, he says. While they may close the deal, it is truly at the expense of the customer. 

“In the past, the CCTV manufacturers did not offer products capable of meeting some of the specialized needs that customers had, so some tried to put the preverbal ‘square peg in a round hole,’” Verbsky says. “The final result was the end user feeling like the security industry was less than professional.” 

Many manufacturers now offer a more diverse product line, allowing integrators to properly address these specialized needs. From mainstream manufacturers to specialty companies, there are a variety of solutions. Let’s take a look at some of the various options. 

Heat Buildup, Cold Can Disrupt Gear Inside Specialty Housings
Heat buildup may not be one of the first issues to consider when selecting a specialty housing, but it should be.

Regardless of a housing’s priorities — size, strength, appearance, or other specialized concerns — if the equipment inside gets too hot it will fail. This is made more complicated by the sealed nature of these types of housings. Maintaining the housing’s efficacy won’t allow for a hole to be drilled and a fan added where needed.

To determine whether the housing will accommodate the device in question, systems integrators need to talk to the manufacturer. Ask them about the specific paring of the device used with their enclosure. Provide the minimum and maximum temperature ranges, and see if they will approve the pairing in writing. Even unitized units (all-in-one devices that come with the internal components in an integrated housing) need to factor in environmental temperatures to ensure long-term reliability. 

One way of keeping the temperature down is to install a fan inside the housing so air can circulate internally. While this won’t allow heat inside the housing to vent, it will prevent the buildup of heat pockets, or concentrated areas where heat collects. It may be necessary to consider selecting a larger housing, accordingly. With a greater volume of internal air to circulate, heat buildup is mitigated. 

Cold can be a factor as well, says Larry Kokx, business development manager for EO Integrated Systems Inc. of Washington, Mich. 

“One challenging project for us was the Michigan Youth Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Mich.,” he says. “This project was completed a few years ago, and they had to use traditional pan/tilt units outdoors. Even though the camera housings were environmental with a heater and blower installed, that still did not prevent the harsh Michigan winters from covering the pan/tilt unit with snow and ice. Now with more modern dome units, the mechanical parts are better protected, and this is typically no longer an issue.” 

Threats From Invasive Elements Call for Proper Level of Sealing
The tendency of outside elements to invade and disrupt the sensitive inner mechanics of CCTV equipment is the second priority concern, and one that is not always fully appreciated. 

A standard outdoor housing is the first line of defense against the elements. When properly installed, outdoor housings are water-resistant, although they are not generally sealed. There is some provision for allowing them to “breathe” in order to prevent the buildup of condensation. However, they will occasionally take on water during a driving rain or when hit with a power washer. Look for alternatives in applications where that is a concern. 

Sealed or dust-tight housings allow the use of cameras in environments where small particles and dust are prevalent. They are generally waterproof as well and are sealed when installed properly. (Most vandal-resistant and other specialty housings are sealed to stave off outside elements and are rated, accordingly.)

Especially in industrial settings, the location of CCTV equipment can be exposed to corrosive substances. For these settings, consider units with stainless-steel housings, which offer the best defense in caustic environments. 

Finally, the ultimate in sealed containment is the pressurized housing. These must generally meet NEMA Type 6 and IP67 standards, which are sealed, dust-tight housings with an added line of defense: they are filled (at the factory or in the field) with dry nitrogen to 5 pounds per square inch (PSI). The air pressure inside ensures that there is no humidity, and that dust and other contaminants cannot intrude, thanks to the outward pushing force. 

Pressurized housings should be purchased with a pressure sensor kit, which triggers an alarm (via a contact closure) if the internal pressure drops below 2 PSI. The sensor kit is vital since there is no other indication if a seal is broken. In the event of a seal failure, this “early warning” system is a primary advantage of this type of housing because it allows for the prediction and correction before a problem develops. 

A pressurized housing constructed with stainless steel is easily the most hazard resistant type available. While these are available in both fixed (that can be mounted on conventional pan/tilt drives) or dome configurations, the appearance or functionality is not always the selection criteria. 

“Other applications for nitrogen pressurized cameras are seaports [salt water], and near swimming pools [chlorine],” says Kokx. “These environments can be extremely harsh on both mechanical and electrical components.” 

Often these corrosive environments can be harsh on clear viewing windows, and the plastics used in dome housings can become optically damaged in a short period of time. If this is the case, you’ll need to select a housing with a glass window or ensure that the window can be easily changed. Keep in mind that changing the dome or window on a pressurized housing requires a repressurization kit and the tools and knowledge to use it. 

Vandal-Resistant Housings Are Common; Be Wary of Scratching< /span>

As product lines matured and housings began to shrink, the term “vandal- resistant” became a fashionable way to describe a ruggedized housing able to withstand intentional abuse.

These are generally fixed cameras in an integrated housing that can be securely mounted against a wall, in a corner or on the ceiling. They must be securely mounted: the No. 1 tool the public uses to test durability is a baseball bat. In the event of a home run blow, the housing may remain intact and the camera unmoved, but if the housing is knocked across the room, its functionality may be limited until corrective action can be taken.

Windows and bubbles on vandal-resistant housings and domes are usually made of injection-molded polycarbonate plastic, which is extremely strong. They are able to resist hammer blows, baseball bats and other hazards, but the material is somewhat soft in comparison to the ABS plastic commonly found on standard models. To some degree this gives the material the ability to flex, which can prevent cracking, but sometimes at the expense of optical clarity.

While many manufacturers have solved the clarity issue, it is something that should be verified during installation. A tip: rotate the bubble or lens and see if the focus changes. Installers may have to play with it to find the clearest spot, or swap out domes or lenses with the manufacturer if they cannot position the camera away from bad areas. With pan/tilt/zoom (p/t/z) dome cameras, the evaluation of the optical clarity is even more important, so be sure to  check it carefully.

Another side effect of the softer material is the susceptibility to scratching. It may seem ironic that the housing can resist a hammer or crowbar blow, but be rendered useless with a couple of swipes from a scratchy paper towel. This is a common predicament. Make sure that the manufacturers’ recommended cleaning instructions be stringently followed for vandal-resistant cameras.

One weak point of vandal-resistant domes is the ease in which the lower bubbles can be knocked off. While the bubbles themselves may be extremely rugged, the area where the bubble mounts to the rest of the housing is a well-known weak point. Many manufacturers offer cages or metal covers to add further protection. These can interfere with the recorded image to some extent – there have been cases where the auto focus locked up trying to focus on the cage – but they do close the protection gap on these types of cameras.

Ballistic Rated Housings Can Prevent Bullet Penetration

Another type of vandal-resistant housing is ballistic rated, better known as bullet-resistant. These include housings specifically rated to withstand the impact of a bullet without penetration. The window on the housing should also be designed to not break into shards, although there are no guarantees the efficacy of the image quality can be maintained once fired upon.

Note the specifications when comparing bullet-resistant housings, as they are often rated with different caliber handguns and at different distances, making comparisons difficult. The governing standard for bullet-resistant housings is UL 752, but there are nine levels in that standard, ranging from 9mm (Level 1) to shotgun fire (Level 9).

As an interesting side note, Yacov Pshtissky, vice president of Technology and Development for Vicon Industries, was once quizzed by a salesperson about bullet-resistant housings. “Why can’t we just call them ‘bulletproof,’” asked the salesperson. “It would be less confusing for our customers.”

“You are bullet-resistant,” deadpanned Yacov in response to the question. “But, are you bulletproof?”

Don’t Be Confused by the ‘Explosion-Proof’ Moniker

To continue with that theme, there are also explosion-proof housings that are most definitely not explosion proof in the way you might first think. These are rugged housings that are designed for hazardous environments, although they are not designed to resist the aftermath of an explosion. They are tagged with the “explosion-proof” name because they are sealed in such a way that the electronics and equipment inside cannot emit any kind of spark or electrical discharge.

This allows them to be used without fear of reaction in oil refineries and other combustible areas. Systems integrators need to make sure their customers understand the precise meaning of explosion proof in this particular application or be prepared for some strange warranty claims.

We have just scratched the surface (no pun intended) on the tremendous variety of offerings available for specialty, hazardous or environmentally challenging applications.

“If an integrator works at staying up on the latest offerings from the manufacturers that they work with, most applications can be addressed properly and professionally,” adds Verbsky. “Some extreme examples can require a little extra ingenuity and thought, but those are the ones that get you called back for the next project.”

If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

Security Is Our Business, Too

For professionals who recommend, buy and install all types of electronic security equipment, a free subscription to Commercial Integrator + Security Sales & Integration is like having a consultant on call. You’ll find an ideal balance of technology and business coverage, with installation tips and techniques for products and updates on how to add to your bottom line.

A FREE subscription to the top resource for security and integration industry will prove to be invaluable.

Subscribe Today!

Get Our Newsletters