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Network / IP - News

Signalling a sea change in maritime security

Published on 20 October, 2008

In 1960, the Canadian mass media theorist Marshall McLuhan commented, when discussing the impact of the new electronic media, that 'the world' had been transformed into "a global village".  The example given was that when a major event such as an earthquake occurs, we all end up knowing about it.  Of course the connections which now bind the far-flung corners of our planet are not confined to television or the virtual world of the Internet.

For a physical indication of our mutual interdependence, one only has to visit the dockside of any major sea port, where the markings displayed on row after row of shipping containers offer up a veritable who's who of trading nations.  In Britain, the sea has been our lifeblood for many centuries and continues to be the preferred route for our exporters and importers.  We are not alone in this as 90% of all global trade is conducted in this way, carried by more than 50,000 merchant ships, and - despite advances in airfreight - the bottom line economics mean that this proportion is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Given the pre-eminence of this mode of transport in global trade, it is not surprising that great efforts are now being taken to secure all aspects of the maritime supply chain against attack by pirates, terrorists and criminal gangs.

Great efforts are now being taken to secure all aspects of the maritime supply chain against attack by pirates, terrorists and criminal gangs
Many larger vessels are now being fitted
with shipboard CCTV systems to provide
some early warning of an impending attack
On the high seas, it is the world's naval forces and coast guards who provide protection for merchant ships and their cargos.  Off the coast of war-torn Somalia, according to the IMO (International Maritime Organisation), there have been 55 attacks by pirates this year.  To tackle this, the UN Security Council now allows other countries to send their warships into Somalia's territorial waters if a cargo is being targeted by pirates.  The recent seizing of a Ukrainian ship and the ongoing standoff between the pirates and the US Navy underlines the more proactive efforts now taken in this area.  Increasingly, many larger vessels are now being fitted with shipboard CCTV systems to provide some early warning of an impending attack.  These can help with low level threats but without concerted international action, if vessels stray too close to the coast, the odds are still stacked firmly in favour of the heavily armed pirates in their small, fast-moving and highly manoeuvrable boats.

Turning from the sea lanes to the protection of ports and the valuable cargo they handle on the dockside, we are seeing ever more sophisticated networked CCTV systems being applied and the growing application of associated techniques such as video analytics.

In the port environment, video analytics is being utilised in a growing number of areas to manage risk.  At the perimeter of these large-scale sites, it can detect human intruders, and further into the port be applied to count people in or out of controlled areas or to trigger an alert based on the direction of flow of people.  Video analytics also comes into play with regards to the detection of left or removed objects.  A left object - in light of the terrorist threat - could potentially be an explosive device, whilst a removed object could be a valuable item of cargo.  Other types of video analytics which are proving effective on the dockside include ANPR to log number plates allowing the port to build-up "friend" or "foe" databases and advanced video smoke detection to provide vital early warning of fires in warehouses and fuel/chemical storage areas.

More and more ports are also adopting a common architecture for their CCTV systems from mobile digital DVRs to IP cameras to facilitate deeper integration in large-scale distributed video applications.  The attraction here is that any device attached to a port's network will integrate seamlessly with other compatible systems, allowing common image indexing techniques to be employed and managed, without the potential loss of performance or functionality.  Effective integration with access control is also essential in this kind of environment where a visual confirmation of a person can be achieved through the CCTV system.

Given the scale of a typical port, it is critical that any IP CCTV solution can be readily managed through an effective Graphical User Interface, with easy access to live and recorded images.  An interface should be intuitive for the port's security staff.  This greatly simplifies and speeds up image retrieval, which can be so critical if an incident does occur.  Ideally, operators responsible for a port's security should be able to simply drill down from an aerial view of the port to select and zoom in on an area of interest - for example where trailers are parked-up - and pick and click cameras from the site's database to view the images they require.

More and more ports are also adopting a
common architecture for their CCTV systems
from mobile digital DVRs to IP cameras to
facilitate deeper integration in large-scale
distributed video applications
Another key issue for security managers at ports is the capability to record at the resolution, quality and type of compression and frame rate demanded by the events to be captured.  With the latest CCTV systems, it is usually possible for information quality background images to be continuously recorded at relatively low frame rates and, when an event occurs, for example someone tampering with a container, the system can switch to high-resolution images at a high frame rate.  This has obvious advantages in an IP environment by providing port operators with complete control over bandwidth utilisation of their network and in both IP and standalone solutions by levering the maximum recording performance from the DVR.

In the end, given the pre-eminence of maritime trade, the emphasis which governments and ship and port operators are placing on security has to be welcomed.  For today's ports which are at the very heart of these operations, the latest network-enabled Video over IP CCTV systems bring a new level of flexibility to surveillance operations, support image storage, fast retrieval and wide distribution, and can easily be extended to meet changing demands.


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