Ask LH: How Can I Run Surveillance Cameras In A Remote Location?

Ask LH: How Can I Run Surveillance Cameras In A Remote Location?

Hey Lifehacker, My father runs a factory which is about 20kms away from our home. It’s in a remote area with iffy phone signals and no internet connection. Trucks comes at around midnight every day for loading, but my father suspects the drivers are also stealing some goods during this time. What’s the best option for monitoring the area? Does it matter that the cameras can’t be connected? Thanks, Insecure

Desert security camera picture from Shutterstock

Dear Insecure,

Depending on how “iffy” the phone signal is, you may be able to get away with a 3G/4G LTE surveillance camera using a pay-as-you go SIM card. Your dad can then keep tabs on the live security feed on a compatible mobile phone and record any dodgy behaviour as evidence.

You can even get wireless, solar-powered models. These tend to be a bit more expensive but don’t require an additional power source to run (and yes, they will still work at night.)

If cellular networks aren’t an option, he could try a motion-activated security camera connected to onsite drive storage or an inbuilt SD card. This will require driving to the location and checking the footage regularly, but if your dad’s employees are stealing on a regular basis it shouldn’t take too long to catch them on video.

Naturally, you also need to ensure that the camera’s native resolution is capable of capturing identifiable number plates and the faces of individual truckers. If the loading area is poorly lit, you’ll also need inbuilt night-vision.

We’re also going to throw this one over to our readers: has anyone ever had to set up a surveillance system in a remote location that lacked internet access? Share your tips in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Note there may be some legalities concerning filming of your employees in the conduct of their duties. Not saying I agree with it (particularly if they are knocking off stuff) but you could get yourself into more strife.

  • I don’t have anything that’s helpful for Insecure, but it does remind me of a story.

    When I was working in retail (at a chain discount store), I often worked at the registers. I started right when the store was built. Above the registers, there were dark glass hemispheres (about 30cm in diameter), the ones used to hide which direction cameras are facing. I always assumed they were pointed at the registers, partly so we wouldn’t steal from the tills and partly so that we would catch hold-ups or stealing. There were a couple of others scattered through the store as well.

    One day, while I was working the registers, an electrician was in to fix the lights near these hemispheres. I’m not sure why, but he needed to take one down to access a dodgy light (I think he needed to get to the wiring?). I watched as he pulled it off, chuckled to himself, and put it down.

    There was nothing there. No camera. No wires where a camera could go. It was just a piece of glass. I’m sure lots of stores do this, but during our training when we were taught about hold ups, they specifically mentioned that they could just cameras to track people down, so not to worry about trying to look crooks in the face (which is a good way to get them angry).

    Naturally, I took all of the money from the register that day, since they weren’t going to know (joking).

  • We have had some setup around the state of Tasmania for fisher’s. The setup is basically a Telstra next g hotspot, and an IP based streaming webcam. Our first issue with that setup was we couldn’t predict the amount of data usage each month from going to ‘0’ users to just over 100 all streaming at the same time. So we setup a server that captures the stream once every 5 minutes, then publishes it to the customers website.

  • Why not simply install IP cameras and a point to point wireless link? Surely less expensive than mobile broadband.

    20kms is nothing if you have line of sight.

    • I think this would be the best option in the long run, it’s easy to expand and has low ongoing costs.

      The only difficult part for Insecure is if there isn’t line of sight, then the fun begins.

  • I used to look after site office IT and security.

    At one site in the middle of a pine plantation we put a security camera on a pole inside a cyclone razor wire topped fence. The camera was stolen. Everything in the donga was stolen. (EITDWS).

    We put up 2 cameras, each one looking at the other. The power pole was pushed over so the power was cut and the cameras were stolen. EITDWS.

    They also opened the comms pits and cut the phone lines. This was in the days before mobile data.

    We had steel mesh on the windows. They cut through the walls of the donga. EITDWS

    We reinforced the walls of the donga with steel mesh. They cut the padlock. EITDWS

    We put the padlock in a steel box. They came in through the roof. EITDWS

    One of the contractors on site had all of his equipment in a sea container. He parked his front end loader in front of the doors to prevent access.

    The bad guys started the front end loader and used it to load the container onto a truck that was left on site. Then they self loaded the front end loader onto the truck and drove away.

    Moral of the story – you can’t keep the bad guys out of an unmanned site.

    Two options:

    * take everything of value like PCs out of the donga at night. This doesn’t work because the bad guys don’t know this and they still break in.

    * hire a security guard to be on site all night.

  • How about some dummy cameras, the ones with blinking LEDs and some large “area under surveillance” signs to start with.

  • There is an aussie company that does these cameras for our tough conditions.
    Check them out at
    Designed for remote, sola rpowered installations. You will need cellular access, but jump on telstra with a range booster and I imagine you will be fine. I think they record to SD card as well, so you can have your images in two places.

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