A thermal imaging camera (TIC) is a specialized camera which converts infrared radiation into a visible image, allowing the camera's user to visualize a scene more completely, even if it is obscured by smoke and other visual disturbances. There are a number of uses for thermal imaging cameras, ranging from firefighting to public health, and this technology has been widely adopted in many nations around the world. The cost of thermal imaging cameras tends to be quite expensive, especially with high-end models, which range from helmet-mounted portable cameras to vehicle-mounted versions.
In a classic example of how a thermal imaging camera is used, a search and rescue team looking for someone lost in the woods could scan an area with a thermal imaging camera, looking for the heat signature of a human body. Using the camera would allow the team to work at night and in inclement weather conditions, greatly increasing the speed of rescue, and therefore the chance for survival.
This technology evolved in the military, where it has a number of uses, and spread outwards to law enforcement, firefighting, security, and other industries. A typical thermal imaging camera depicts objects within normal or expected temperature ranges in grayscale, highlighting unusually cold or hot areas in color. Generally, cooler regions are shown in blue, green, and violet, while hotspots are red, orange, and yellow, since people are familiar with this color code. Extremely hot areas may be shown in pure white.
For firefighters, thermal imaging cameras are incredibly valuable. They can be used to examine the site of a fire before going in to look for hot spots, the source of the fire, and human victims who might need assistance. Thermal imaging cameras are critical safety tools, as they allow firefighters to get an idea of what is going on in a fire before they respond to it, and many fire departments have pushed for grant money, community assistance, and other sources of funds which will allow them to buy a TIC.
In public health, a thermal imaging camera can be used to quickly identify people suffering from fevers or hypothermia in a crowded setting, which could potentially be useful in controlling disease outbreaks. For security, thermal imaging reveals approaching individuals, even if they are visually camouflaged, and thermal imaging also allows law enforcement to check on the location of occupants of a house before entering, or to look with the high heat signatures associated with certain criminal activity, such as the production of drugs.