The big picture at Fort McCoy

Fort McCoy uses solar energy to power surveillance network for Army training ranges

Life on the cutting edge can be exciting. But mature technologies combined in creative ways often yield the best results.

At Fort McCoy, Wis., a Total Force Training Center, the problem was how to use a single range tower to monitor 27 Army training ranges sprinkled among stands of trees, mountains and canyons on a 60,000-acre site. The answer was a combination four mature technologies: video cameras, IP networks, solar panels and wireless connectivity.

Telos, a systems integrator located in Ashburn, Va., put the solution together for the Army. Installed last October, the system monitors three of Fort McCoy's ranges, which cover some 3,500 acres.

Video cameras are mounted on poles, along with a Motorola wireless access point and solar panels. The solar panels ' monocrystalline silicon collectors ' deliver their charge to a battery bank at the foot of the pole.

'The guy in charge of the range normally is working out of the control tower,' said Terry Hoff, range officer at Fort McCoy. 'Before, he was dependent upon people working for him to make sure that things went well. He really couldn't see what was going on down there. He was relying upon radios.'

Now, Hoff said, one range officer can monitor all sites directly. 'We can monitor all three cameras at the same time if we need to,' he said. 'And we can control each camera separately.'

Tom Badders, director of wireless networking at Telos, said Fort McCoy's video surveillance system is missing one major feature: wired connections. 'When you consider being able to run the wireless and solar as opposed to running cable all over the place in this type of environment, the cost is definitely a lot less than it was a few years back,' Badders said.

Another major plus is the use of IP-based cameras and sensors. 'A few years back, your video surveillance system was a closed network, most likely a proprietary network,' he said. 'Now [it] can be part of the enterprise network solution. You can take a video surveillance capability and put it in a fixed or deployable environment and be able to connect within an overall network. And that enterprise network could be a deployed incidence site, a building or, in the case of Fort McCoy, a training range.'

Badders said reliance on IPbased equipment also promises greater flexibility in developing custom solutions. For example, you might program a sensor to trip if a specific threshold of input ' such as light or sound ' is crossed and have that incident cause an automatic recalibration of the nearest camera to move in and focus on that sensor. 'There are a number of different things that can be done now when you have video surveillance as part of an enterprise network that was not available previously,' he said.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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