Features like motion activation and night vision can help contractors catch perpetrators

With such a large sphere of influence, the construction industry is very susceptible to crime, including theft and vandalism. Crime is most commonly a result of frequent turnover of staff, particularly seasonal employees, the mobility of the workforce and equipment and the temporary nature of project work. Each year, the industry suffers millions of dollars in losses from the impact of crime, not just accounting for the cost of the crime itself, but also for the financial penalties that owners and project managers incur.

The crimes committed against the construction industry vary and often reflect the type and location of the project. Thieves and vandals tend to go after equipment that is considered valuable and mobile, particularly pieces that can be easily loaded and transported in the back of a truck or a small trailer—everything from hand tools and generator sets to skid steer loaders. These perpetrators often target jobsites in remote locations or where they perceive there is little or no monitoring.

Historically, law enforcement recovers as little as 21 percent of stolen equipment, and it often takes years to retrieve. Because of this, many crimes go unreported, with equipment owners and project managers choosing to absorb the costs of the crime rather than recuperate them. In an effort to manage these costs, many equipment owners and project managers have found that their level of risk for theft and vandalism on a construction site significantly decreases with the more precautions they take to secure their site. This supports a need for remote security monitoring on construction sites.

The Technology Challenge

Because construction sites are often located in undeveloped areas, typically, there is no infrastructure available to equipment owners to provide them with jobsite security and surveillance to manage the risk of construction site theft and vandalism. Until 2011, construction site monitoring relied on large, tow-behind trailer equipment, which held multiple solar panels and a single Internet protocol (IP) camera. This type of remote jobsite surveillance system required the need to be connected to the Internet.

Over the years, this technology has evolved slightly by utilizing available cellular network, rather than a hard-wire Internet connection. But these oversized, overpriced camera units still needed to be plugged into electrical outlets for power.

Other surveillance systems construction contractors used were modified hunting cameras or time-lapse video cameras that do not offer motion-sensing technology. A hunting camera lacks picture quality and motion-sensing capabilities—a camera's SD card will show images of the perpetrator(s), but more than likely, it will not be enough detailed evidence to pursue and arrest them. Often, by the time a contractor using this technology has realized a site has been affected, it is much too late to catch the perpetrator of the crime.

The design intent of time-lapse construction cameras was for the purpose of taking high-resolution pictures on a timed interval in order to create a time-lapse video of the construction process. The design of these systems left out the ability to use the time-lapse construction camera as a jobsite security camera by not offering motion-sensing technology or night-vision capabilities. Other missing considerations include the portability, installation and power considerations of the time-lapse video camera that the contractor would need to effectively use the camera.

Many security cameras offer motion detection with their systems, but it is very important to understand the differences in types of motion detection technology and what the security camera does with the pictures once the motion detector is triggered. The most common method of motion detection used by security camera systems uses a method of change in pixels in the viewing area as a trigger and is completely driven by software. When the image sensor inside the motion-activated camera sees a percentage change in pixels, it triggers and takes pictures, resulting in an event.

Indoor motion detection cameras very rarely register enough movement, or change in pixels, to cause a false alarm, unless a window was left open or the air ventilation system causes paper or drapes to move. This type of trigger on an outdoor security camera system causes many false alarms because anything that changes in front of the motion-activated camera is considered an event; wind blowing leaves on the trees or trash blowing around a construction site.

When the motion-activated camera creates so many false alarms, owners and project managers have the tendency to not pay as close attention to the pictures received and eventually stop the system from sending the images because it becomes annoying and tedious. This ultimately eliminates the reasons for installing motion-activated security cameras on a jobsite in the first place.

A New Option

To work around the challenges of the market's current motion sensing technology, engineers have chosen to include an integrated passive infrared sensor into cameras that measure the changes in thermal activity in the camera viewing area. A passive infrared sensor (PIR) creates an invisible thermal grid in front of the construction camera viewing area. A human, vehicle or large animal emits their own heat source that the PIR sensor can see and immediately triggers the motion activated construction camera to start taking pictures.

Events captured using PIR motion-sensing technology are very important to the contractor because they are only concerned with human or vehicle activity on the jobsites after hours. All events captured by the motion-activated construction camera are time and location stamped. These events are immediately sent over a secure cellular network to the company's cloud-based servers, where notifications are sent via SMS to any mobile phone and email of a contractor or project manager.

Another feature that helps reduce construction site theft is a security camera's night-vision capabilities. For example, new cameras utilize infrared lighting to create a high-definition, black-and-white picture. The infrared light is invisible to the human eye but will produce a picture of the current night activities in the camera viewing area. On some camera systems, both motion detection and night vision have a maximum distance of 50 feet. If additional motion detection coverage area is needed, some cameras offer a trip wire motion sensor. This is a remote sensor that can be placed 100 feet away from the camera in an effort to trigger that camera further away than 50 feet with the standard motion sensor.

Crime Prevention

Theft and vandalism of construction equipment and material is a national epidemic. The only way to thwart it is to catch the perpetrators in action or pursue them with evidence. In order to do this, a construction jobsite security camera has to have the ability to capture images with infrared night vision technology and possess a motion sensor that will properly detect a perpetrator or vehicle in action while being powered by an internal battery.

A wireless, solar-powered construction camera fills a void in remote areas where security and surveillance could not be performed before because of the costly expense in trying to provide power and an Internet connection to those areas. Wireless, solar-powered construction cameras make remote area jobsite surveillance an inexpensive reality for all sizes and types of construction industry projects.