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Security on the Edge

​FRENCHMAN’S CREEK Beach and Country Club is a four-square-mile luxury gated community on the shores of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. The largest private community in Florida, it contains two golf courses, 16 tennis courts, private beach access, six dining outlets, and 605 luxury homes ranging from $750,000 to more than $5 million. Located in a neighborhood of affluent gated communities, Frenchman’s Creek is an attractive target for thieves, notes Mark Hall, the country club’s director of security.

When a gang of thieves began targeting nearby communities in 2009, Frenchman’s Creek began reassessing its security model. For years, security at the community consisted of eight-foot-tall chain link fences surrounding the perimeter, interior and exterior guard patrols during night hours, and three motion-detection sensors in areas prone to break-ins, according to Hall.

The club’s security team had to address many unique challenges when considering an upgrade, particularly with regard to the perimeter. The community is bordered by both roadways and water and is surrounded by heavy foliage, making the four-mile-long perimeter expensive to monitor, Hall tells Security Management.

The country club considered motion detection technology, which would alert security staff if sensors detected someone attempting to climb or cut a fence. They also considered laser beam sensors that would run parallel to the fences and send an alarm if the beam was broken. The problem with these technologies is that security personnel would have to respond to each and every alert, and with four miles of secured perimeter surrounded with wildlife and foliage, there would be a lot of false alarms, Hall says.

“When you start looking at the pros and cons of all the different perimeter protection systems that are out there, the shaker technology, the beams, et cetera, in the end, you still had to send somebody out to respond to the alerts,” Hall says. “We were looking to avoid the whole syndrome that occurs with the false alarms where your staff is doing nothing but responding to false alarms. It becomes a problem because they no longer want to respond or they don’t take the alarms seriously.”

Instead, Frenchman’s Creek decided to combine 36 FLIR infrared cameras. To maximize the effectiveness of the system, Frenchman’s Creek built a secondary fence inside the 8-foot perimeter fence to create a “no man’s zone.” The network of cameras monitors that area, Hall explains. The cameras “see” activity based on heat signatures. The thermal cameras can detect heat signatures through dense foliage at distances of up to 2,000 feet, which cuts down on the number of cameras needed. They also work in all weather, says Hunter Robinson, a FLIR district sales manager who worked with Frenchman’s Creek. (Some visible light cameras also are used for daylight monitoring.)

The thermal cameras are integrated with the VideoIQ thermal analytics program, which uses more than 250,000 different algorithms to interpret and respond to the heat signatures the cameras are capturing. “The thermal cameras are a very good detector, but they need an analytic processor to decide what is a person and not a dog or cat,” Robinson says. “Our thermal analytics processor provides the intelligence for the security system and decides what should be classified as a threat, based on a number of criteria or rules that the guard staff requested,” he says.

When an event is triggered, the cameras send the imagery in a live feed to the main gatehouse, where it can be reviewed by guards, but the benefit of the system is that guards can be elsewhere and can get an alert if an event occurs that the system interprets as a threat. The alert includes details of what was detected, which camera spotted the object, and when the sighting occurred. “It lets you understand that if you do have a breach, what that breach is, if it’s one person, five people, what section it’s in, what direction they’re traveling. Things of that nature,” says Robinson.

Security personnel at Frenchman’s Creek are constantly busy with residents, contractors, and phone calls, so they don’t want to have to sit at the gatehouse watching feeds. This way, they can rely on the system to alert them if there is a real threat, Hall says.

If the cameras capture something that is not a threat, like an animal, it will be tracked on the live feed but an alarm will not be triggered. For example, if the program is told to only track humans and vehicles, the system will not sound an alarm if a dog crosses the camera’s path, Robinson says.

In the event of an alarm signaling a possible threat, guards will respond by calling law enforcement. They will also go to the area and form a security perimeter where the breach was detected while awaiting the arrival of the police. Thanks to the analytics program, security guards are able to tell officers the location and nature of the breach.

Frenchman’s Creek installed the FLIR cameras along a portion of the perimeter in late 2012 to test the system and completed installation on the rest of the property at the end of September 2013.

During the first month of using the new system, Hall and his staff had to “teach” the video analytics system what to look for, he says. When the cameras began detecting objects, staff had to tell the system whether those objects were threats or not.

“Initially, when the system is learning, it’s like a child, and you have to teach it what you want it to look for,” Hall explains. “The staff had to understand that by paying attention to it now and going through the teaching process, we will eliminate false alarms, and we will teach the system to do what we want it to do,” he notes.

It wasn’t easy at first. “Getting the staff on board, up to speed, educated, and getting them to understand this new technology was a bit of a challenge,” Hall says. “Now they understand it; they’re on board with it; they appreciate it because it stops them from going to false alarms and gives them a better view of when there are suspected breaches.”

The initial programming process when the system was learning took about 30 days, but Hall’s team is still fine-tuning the processor’s detection system, he says. The older motion detectors are still in place, and guards still patrol the perimeter, but Hall has been able to reduce the number of guards due to the new system.

Hall notes that thermal cameras are also mounted on all three patrol vehicles and five security golf carts, and guards can also use hand-held thermal cameras to track down objects without having to rely on any light or illumination. Guards used the mounted cameras to track down a subject who ran through the gates in the middle of the night and hid in the bushes. The system was also used to help find a resident who got lost on the property and called security for assistance.

Frenchman’s Creek is one of the first residential communities in the world to install such an advanced system, according to Robinson. Hall says the system has met and exceeded his expectations overall.