VICTORIA, British Columbia — New Canadian regulations requiring construction, mining and other firms to better monitor stockpiles of explosives used for industrial applications have created a new role for a satellite-based service.
The regulations being phased in this year call for enhanced security of explosive storage facilities, a development that has prompted Blue Oceans Satellite Systems Inc. of St. John’s, Newfoundland, to introduce a new surveillance system relying on the Iridium satellite network.
The SkyHawk system is designed to monitor activity at explosive storage facilities using the Iridium satellite network’s Short Burst Data (SBD) service, said Craig Pollard, director of data services for Blue Oceans.
The Iridium system is particularly useful since many of the explosive storage facilities are located in remote locations, such as in the Canadian north or in mountainous areas where cellular or regular phone service is not available, Pollard added.
Such storage facilities are common among oil exploration, construction and mining firms but are also kept by a variety of other customers such as ski resorts, which use explosives for avalanche control.
The SkyHawk surveillance system uses door sensors and runs on solar power during the day, with an internal battery for use at night. Any unauthorized entry, or a sudden loss of power which could suggest an attempt to tamper with the storage facility, sets off an alarm which is transmitted via satellite to a secure Web server.
Blue Oceans then alerts its customer via their computer system or various mobile devices. “It’s up to us to alert them and they determine how they’ll respond,” Pollard said.
The Blue Ocean’s Skyhawk system is bidirectional, according to Pollard. The advantage of that is that companies can remotely update access controls governing the storage site. For instance, it could remove an individual from the security roster if he is terminated from the company or no longer requires access to the site. With the satellite link there is no need for crews to travel to the storage site to update security codes.
The system also allows for the remote diagnosis of problems, which largely eliminates the need to dispatch service personnel, according to Blue Oceans.
Pollard said there are thousands of such explosive storage sites in Canada, with many in remote locations.
The system is now just starting to be sold but he expects the sales to increase as firms realize they are required to comply with the new regulations by the end of the year. “There’s 80 to 100 of them already in the field but we’re at the beginning of the curve,” Pollard said.
He said the system can be used to monitor two explosive storage sites with one SkyHawk unit. Usually, such sites include two storage facilities; one for the actual explosives, the other for the igniters for the explosives.
Pollard said such satellite-based surveillance systems could also be marketed more broadly to provide security at vacation homes or other buildings in remote locations out of cell or regular phone service.
Pollard said Blue Ocean has established a similar monitoring system for commercial fishing vessels in Panama, again relying on satellite links to communicate location data to the Panamanian government. Such vessel monitoring is required under Panamanian law.
In 2006 and 2007, Blue Oceans in cooperation with a Canadian research institute developed a satellite-based alarm system for grizzly bears. Alarm sensors on bear traps signaled research personnel via a satellite uplink whenever an animal had been captured.
The wireless sensors detected the traps springing, and alarms were sent to the base station, which in turn routed the alarm to a server. A message identifying the trap site location and individual trap was then delivered to the researchers in the field to their cellular and satellite phones. They could then respond, going to the site in question, collecting the data and freeing the bear.
This cut down on travel time to such remote locations since researchers only visited sites when a bear had been trapped, according to Blue Oceans.
Anthony Salloum, a space industry analyst with the Rideau Institute in Ottawa, said Canada’s vast expanses and remote areas make the use of satellites natural for such communications or monitoring systems. “The remoteness of some parts of the country speaks to the need that Canada has for such satellite-supported systems,” said Salloum. “We’re the perfect country to market such products in.”