Understanding Beach Camera Placement for Lifeguard Support and Drowning Prevention

Applied Monitoring

With the myriad of offerings on the market for video surveillance and digital cameras systems that allow remote control and vision, it’s easy to think popping in a few cameras for your beach environment is simple. You need only click the “one-click-buy” button at one of the many discount camera vendors then get your maintenance guy to plug it in. Right?

Not necessarily.  The relative ease of installation for digital video cameras often disguises the more daunting task of making the camera systems useful as more than a picture, especially if you’re on a budget or have a focused goal in mind such as drowning ‘prevention’ instead of drowning “recording”.

In this article I’d like to give a few quick examples of how even the seemingly simple act of camera placement can impact the long-term value of a camera purchased in support of lifeguarding and public safety.

The Challenge of Placement

Take the beach landscape below as an example of a lifeguarded beach with free parking, a well maintained public access area, and a lifeguard tower stationed near the public access point. Just down the beach I’ve attempted to draw in something we see often, a rocky point that obscures an accessible pocket beach.

CoastalCOMS Beach Illustration - Camera Placement

Now a quick disclaimer that this article won’t deal with all of the hazards and factors that influence management of risk in the depicted environment, as the diagram above isn’t addressing key components or telling you things like seasonal coverage pattern, rates and types of visitors, swell history and wave info, or any of the many, many factors that could influence lifeguard operational planning for these beaches.

Focused on camera placement, let’s move forward with a few assumptions:

  • Many people will visit this beach and stay near the parking area using the public access point and swimming near the guard tower, maybe because they saw the marketing material/signage telling them to swim near a guard or near the flags, or maybe because it’s just easiest.
  • Many people will know about the pocket beach. If they are locals they might be slightly better informed about the hazards of the area.
  • The pocket beach is desirable because it is secluded, and may have been promoted by private tourism interests. If visitors to this beach found out via tourist websites or travel guides, they may not have forewarning of the potential for danger in the unguarded area.
  • The point presents an issue, as the guard tower only has visibility on one side, and the swell may break on the rocks while Tourist Dan takes his family trekking around the point to get away from crowds or ‘footprints’
  • The pocket beach will be patrolled only on a schedule if at all based on distance, staff and resource availability and many other factors we won’t discuss.

So you’re lucky enough to have a camera budget, where would you recommend placing the camera(s) for best coverage?

Possible Solutions

Many well-meaning security companies or your own staff may look at this and suggest one of the following options. If it’s a security company, they probably won’t understand half the assumptions we’ve made above, or be able to detail what I’ve left out!

Here’s a couple of suggestions I’ve heard before:

  • Place a controllable pan, tilt, zoom camera on the lifeguard tower. It’s cheapest and easiest (because there’s electricity perhaps), and it’s probably the safest as people may be less likely to tamper with the camera system.
  • Place a controllable camera on a pole on the point, which allows for views of all areas and a high resolution zoom. It would be run with solar and wireless networking.
  • “Just buy extra cameras, and we’ll happily sell them to you and install them.”

In many cases what we hear is the last option, where multiple pan, tilt, zoom cameras are spec’d because they “cover the most ground”.

Since any solution should be tailored to needs and desires of the customer, I won’t say the above option are wrong, but here’s how we would look at the coverage issue, with a quick list of pro’s and con’s.

Here’s what we would suggest:

  • Depending on budget, we would suggest a pole mount installation on the point. We might spec two high resolution fixed cameras that would look perpendicular to the beach down an imaginary line that people must cross to reach the water. Above the two stationary cameras we would mount a lower resolution high zoom pan tilt zoom system that can see both sides of the point and the associated beaches.

Beach Camera illustration - Possible Solutions for Placement

Pros (including some assumptions on workflow):

  • The Pan Tilt Zoom Camera is the “action” camera, in that it can be ‘slaved’ or driven by what occurs in the video that the two stationary cameras see. This system allows 100% recording coverage of the two beaches, with the ability to have “eyes on” any incident or rescue for supporting staff/resources.
  • The two fixed/1 pan camera solution is a low cost solution compared to multiple pan tilt zoom cameras.
  • High resolution fixed cameras while not movable allow for digital zoom of the images they capture.
  • The 100% coverage described here yields a higher likely hood danger situations can be spotted automatically, and incidents or drowning death can be averted
  • This setup allows for the capture and tracking of shoreline change, people counts in each area of concern, and other data gathering of interest in long term planning, beach management and operation, and science/research.
  • Solar power and wireless works well with this setup, assuming you have the bandwidth.

Cons:

  • Three cameras require higher bandwidth utilization. This may mean a slight increase in costs on the network side.
  • The complexity of understanding the interaction between the three cameras may seem a bit much as first, though if there is a technology savvy guard on staff, this is often overcome.
  • Budget for three cameras is higher than that required to mount a single pan tilt zoom system that while not providing the highest percentage of coverage may provide “enough” for operational support.
  • Buy in for data gathering is some times a challenge, as it’s a bit like buying insurance unless your organization has experienced how proper data gathering can influence budgets, civil action/suit outcomes, etc.

Conclusions

It’s just a camera, right? You plug it in – it runs.

Perhaps some would say we’re thinking too deeply or too far ahead about the usage of these types of systems, since most people just want “vision”.  Suffice to say, we see many variables that might be considerations for correct placement of camera systems in environments as dynamic as beaches and coastal zones, especially given increasing interactions between safety and law enforcement partners organizations.

Correct placement of a camera(s) should be influenced by multiple factors and a clear decision process that takes into account operational integration, desired prevention/support outcomes, and which partner organizations might benefit from having a multi-use beach camera in place as a start. If we can be of assistance with this process please contact info@coastalcoms.com.

1 Comment

  1. 09 March 10, 10:24pm

    Excellent article. It is interesting how you’ve addressed law enforcement in addition to safety, and video analytics.

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