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Surveillance system use up for farms, stores, schools

Unusual activity at farmsteads in the middle of the night, fuel stolen from farm machinery and tools missing from work shops have prompted numerous people to seek a new theft deterrent, surveillance cameras.

3/19/14 (Wed)

Cameras keep watch... A surveillance monitor, mounted in the administrative office at Kenmare High School allows staff to see activity from 26 cameras mounted in various locations throughout the building. Numerous area farmers, too, are installing similar systems to detect suspicious activity on their properties.

By Marvin Baker

Unusual activity at farmsteads in the middle of the night, fuel stolen from farm machinery and tools missing from work shops have prompted numerous people to seek a new theft deterrent, surveillance cameras.

Quickly becoming the norm in North Dakota, surveillance cameras are being utilized as increased suspicious activity is reported across the western half of the state.

Surveillance cameras have been around a long time and were mainly used at businesses that could afford them, but with digital technology, prices have dropped considerably so homeowners, farmers and small business owners are taking advantage of the products.

“The initial start-up cost might be a little expensive, but at $20 to $30 a month, you can’t go wrong,” said Andy Mau, a rural Kenmare farmer. “I would rather spend that than losing $20,000 or $30,000, and if someone is going to do you harm, it is a good warning because you can’t replace your family.”

Mau is one of many area residents who aren’t willing to take risk involving his home or his farm. He said fuel, machinery, tools, and numerous other items could be jeopardized if he didn’t have a system in place.

According to Capt. Bob Barnard of the Ward County Sheriff’s Department, several camera models of varied quality and price are available, but as a law enforcement officer, he says there are key features that anyone installing a surveillance system should consider.

“Any system is better than none, but we see a lot of video that doesn’t do us much good,” Barnard said. “Sometimes you can tell it’s a light colored truck but the picture quality is so poor that you can’t tell who or how many people are in the truck.”

According to Mau, the best systems are going to be the ones that have a high megapixel rating. That way, the picture can be zoomed in to see a face or a license plate number.

Mau has a couple of friends who have systems with robotics that have a lot of extra features, but identification of intruders is the bottom line.

He said high definition is good because even though the camera can’t always read the expiration date on the license plate, it can certainly read the plate itself without getting pixelated when enlarged.

Mau has three systems on his property, two are commercial and one is residential. He has been using camera surveillance for nearly three years.

He installed cameras initially because of increased oil activity west of Kenmare. His biggest concern at the time was losing a 600-gallon tank of fuel.

“It’s low maintenance and it’s easy to learn how to run,” Mau said. “Some are motion detection that goes where the motion is located and you can set it up for 360 degrees.”

According to Barnard, placement is the most critical element in installing a surveillance system.

“We recently had a burglary where the suspects took items to include the DVRs for the camera system,” he said. “They need to be hidden well or secured so they can’t be stolen or your system does no good if the video or photos are taken by the bad guys.”

There’s also fake cameras but Barnard doesn’t have a lot of faith in them to deter crime. 

Certain retail centers will use false cameras as a deterrent to shoplifting. That might work in a retail setting where the cameras are visible, but a farmstead in the middle of the night is quite another scenario because the burglar isn’t going to be looking to see if there is a camera.

However, several people who do have surveillance systems, post signs on their property warning intruders, “You are under surveillance.”

It’s not mandatory to post signs on private property, but suspect(s) wouldn’t have a chance to argue in a court of law if signs are indeed posted.

Barnard believes a better option than a false camera would be a trail camera. That’s the type of camera that is normally mounted out in the bush where hunters are looking for animal routines as they pass by.

“They have worked well in some cases and aren’t very costly,” Barnard said. “The key is where you put them and your ability to hide them.”

Mau has used these types of cameras, but only on posted property where intruders might be trespassing.

The downside of a trail camera, according to Mau, is that it doesn’t offer an alert system.

He has an alert system at the farm and described a time when someone tried to pry open a door to his house. It set off an alarm and alerted him to the intruder.

A farm wife who declined to be identified, said a strong wind blew open a door to her house recently and the alarm was sensitive enough to be set off.

With that in mind, Mau said it’s important to have a reputable company nearby doing installation and maintenance. He said SRT Communications in Minot and RTC Co-op in Parshall both install surveillance systems and offer alert systems in case the need arises.

RTC leases and installs Panasonic High Definition Cameras. The cameras work well for various situations including small businesses wanting to monitor the inside of their buildings, oil companies wanting to monitor well sites, and families wanting to monitor their homes – just to name a few.

One camera can cover an area that would otherwise require multiple cameras and video analytics to provide intelligent motion detection using face finding and tripwire functionality. Other features include day/night functionality and environmental conditions monitoring. Cameras are fixed, with zoom, or include pan, tilt, and zoom options.

SRT’s LYNX Touch is an enhanced system that protects property and possessions and lets the homeowner control the security system, thermostats, door locks, lighting and more - all from a full-color touchscreen. SRT can customize a home security system for any budget. It lists a monthly price range of $30 to $70 after installation.

Ebel is another company in Minot that installs surveillance systems. Numerous retailers also sell the systems but don’t install them.

There are additional options for security cameras as well. A recent report in “American Dairyman” magazine suggests cameras are being used to monitor pregnant cows when they’re calving, and some farmers are mounting security systems on their tractors and combines in case fuel or tools are stolen from machinery left in the field.

Still other cameras can feature low light emission as well as night vision, which provides a green-tinted image similar to military night vision goggles.

Mau is convinced surveillance was the right thing to do.

“Yes, I would recommend it,” he said. “And yes, I feel better after having it. I’d never live in a place or work in a business that didn’t have it.”

For Barnard, it’s placement and quality of the recorded image.

“Placement of any system is really the key,” he said. “Get faces and license numbers on the film and we really have something to work with." ...Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!