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What is an Infrared Surveillance System?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated: Feb 19, 2024

An infrared surveillance system uses an infrared camera to observe people or areas that the system covers. In the electromagnetic spectrum, infrared (IR) waves hold a place between visible light and radio waves. Anything that gives off heat emits infrared radiation. An infrared detector (IR detector) senses infrared radiation, and can therefore detect things that might not have been detectable by other surveillance systems. For this reason, IR surveillance is helpful in a variety of ways including maintaining electrical or other heat-related systems and operations, surveilling areas during night hours, and researching any number of environmental conditions.

An IR camera uses a specialized lens to focus the IR emissions from the objects before it. IR detectors create a thermogram, which shows the temperature patterns, if any, of those objects. The thermogram is then translated into electric impulses and sent to a processing unit. The information might be stored at that point, or it might be displayed on a monitor for observation. In addition, sophisticated calculations of the heat can be made, analyzed, and presented to the viewer or stored.

There are a number of critical maintenance operations that benefit from IR surveillance systems. They can help predict maintenance needs with power lines, for example, preventing an emergency. Within buildings, they can provide early detection of sealing failures in insulation, windows, and roofing. Another use of infrared surveillance is finding gas leaks, whether volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or greenhouse gases. Finding these problems can allow fixes before larger problems develop.

Surveillance of intruders, suspects, and enemies, is another important application of an infrared surveillance system. Security teams, law enforcement, and the military employ the technology for these purposes. Handheld systems can be used by patrol or SWAT teams seeking suspects in the dark or fog. Such a system also allows surveillance of a room or space without entering it, keeping security personnel out of harm’s way. Systems, for example, are used to safeguard critical facilities like nuclear power plants.

IR security systems are also of essential importance to firefighters. An infrared surveillance system can help detect hidden fires, assist in finding the source of a fire, and monitor how effective cooling efforts are. It can also provide invaluable help in search and rescue operations being conducted in deep water, for example. Research applications, such as in the study of avalanches, also get a lot of use out of infrared surveillance systems.

Training in the use of infrared surveillance systems is offered internationally. There may be two or three levels of training, depending on the country in which it's offered. One can also find training specific to different applications of an infrared surveillance system.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for WiseGeek, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
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Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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