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4 Effective Ways to Protect Outdoor Security Cameras from Lightning

IP security cameras are increasingly used in both residential and commercial applications for the protection of people, assets, facilities and other places of interest. They have become a critical part of today’s society to support public safety, monitor traffic, settle disputes and combat criminals. And they are often installed outdoors to cover the blind spots of your property. Today’s video surveillance systems are mainly run on Ethernet cabling where data and DC power can be transmitted through the same network cable to eliminate additional power cabling on the job site. But one of the hazards when deploying IP cameras outdoors is the lightning strike. Lightning can damage your devices, disrupt signal transmission and leave your properties exposed to intruders.

Lightning poses great threats to your security systems

Lightning spike is a serious concern when deploying network devices outdoors, especially for mission-critical applications, i.e. surveillance camera systems. Only in very few cases will the outdoor cameras get directly hit by lightning. It’s the power surges induced from a nearby lightning strike that Sometimes, thunderstorms will only cause the cameras to reboot, but in severe cases, accidents like fire and electrical shocks might happen. Even though electrical surges are not common and are largely environmentally impacted, it’s possible that lightning strikes will induce on data lines, damage connected devices, increase network downtime and cause you to lose important data. Worse still, even the IP security cameras that are installed indoors won’t be completely safe since electromagnetic waves traveled from the lightning can still induce any power, video or data lines and ruin any connected devices along the path before they find an exit for grounding.

Why Do Security Cameras Attract Lightning?

Usually, security cameras are mounted at a height of 10~50 meters and usually on a metal structure. Metal is a highly conductive material that carries a high risk of getting struck by lightning. Even with a lightning rod on the metal pole, lightning will still damage the outdoor cameras and create additional maintenance costs and increased network downtime. Lightning arrester will attract the lightning, collect the surges on itself and disperse them to the ground through the shortest and fastest way. And the camera pole is exactly the perfect carrier for grounding. When the lightning flows through this channel, it’ll damage the camera mounted on the pole and break down the connection between the surveillance units and the data center.

Best Practices to Save Your Security Cameras from Lighting

Here, we’ve introduced 4 solutions to protect your outdoor cameras from power surges.

Solution 1: Proper Mounting and Grounding

An improper installed security camera will end up damaged in a thunderstorm. Oftentimes, outdoor cameras are installed in the driveway, the corner of buildings and open areas like parking lots that can easily get hit by lightning. So the position where you install the cameras matters a lot to ensure the safety of your appliances and cabling. It would be best if you refrain from placing it high and keep it away from any sorts of conductive materials that are meant to attract the lightning, like lightning rods. What’s more, avoid mounting the cameras directly to the metal pole. As previously mentioned, the camera pole is a great channel for lightning to discharge the surges to the ground.

In addition, setting up a proper grounding is also crucial to protecting the IP cameras from lightning strikes. It’s one of the best ways to prevent power surges caused by thunderstorms from tempering the data lines. If your security camera is installed on a non-metal structure, you should ground it using a copper strap that runs from the camera all the way to the grounding base. But the problem is not every camera comes with a grounding point that you can attach it to the grounding system. In such cases, to lower the risk of a power surge reaching the NVR and PoE/network switch through the Ethernet cables, you have to ground every device connected on the same line separately.

Solution 2: Use Lightning-rated Units

Another solution to protect your cameras from lightning is to invest in a high-quality camera, a trusted brand. The cheaper cameras are often manufactured with low-quality materials and offer no protection against power surges. The lightning-rated ones will be more expensive, but they’re more resilient and robust. Choose an IP66-rated camera for the best since it can withstand most challenges in the outdoor environment. Moreover, you should use a PoE switch that supports carrier-grade surge protection (6kV) on each interface to mitigate the negative effects of abnormal voltage fluctuations to the full extent. But please note even though the device is lightning-rated, we still suggest installing lightning rods or arresters on the mounting point and ground the whole thing. And since the NVR is also vulnerable to heavy lightning, to avoid important data loss in the network crash and power failure, it’s highly recommended to employ an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) to ensure the ongoing operation of the video recorder.

Solution 3: Cabling Matters A Lot

When deploying network devices outdoors, shielded cables are used to protect power and data transmission from degradation caused by EMI when the lightning strikes. Compared with the unshielded ones which are designed for indoor use, the shielded cables can convey lightning energy to the ground with a minimal risk of side flashing along the path to protect both personnel and sensitive equipment from the devastating risks of a lightning strike. They will not easily deteriorate as their counterparts do. But when using the shielded cable, you have to ground the cable, or the current surges will not be discharged to the ground. And it’s highly recommended to use direct burial cables that can be buried under the ground with conduits to eliminate direct contacts with lightning. Another option is to deploy the fiber optic cables. Provided that the fiber cables are insulators and they don’t carry any electricity along the cable, which makes them immune to lightning and electromagnetic interference. They are designed for better-quality data transmission and they’re also resilient to other weather conditions, ideal for deployment in harsh environments.

Solution 4: Installing PoE Surge Protectors

The best way to protect your cameras from power surges is using a surge protector to regulate abnormal electrical currents and mitigate over-voltages. The surge protector can promptly recognize abnormal rises in surges and redirect the extra currents to the grounding wire to protect your security cameras and PoE switch from damages.

What is a Surge Protector?

A surge protector, also known as the surge suppressor, is an electrical device used to regulate abnormal electrical currents and mitigate over-voltages. It’s normally used to protect both the communication and power lines of the PoE device so as to guarantee a safe and reliable network connection in places where lightning is often present. By deploying a PoE surge protector, you can prevent damages to the insulation and dielectrics of PDs to the maximum. If the voltage happens to rise above the acceptable level or the safe threshold, it will redirect the extra electricity to the grounding wire and discharge the surges to the ground at a distance from the installation site. And in this way, uptime is preserved. For safe outdoor applications, a qualified surge protector not only needs to withstand potential electrical surges, but also holds up against the elements, including rain, dust, snow, ice, and humidity.

The Working Principle of Surge Protectors

A power surge is a sudden increase in voltage that is above the designated level in the flow of electricity. Since a majority of PoE and network devices operate within a certain current and voltage ratings, excess current or voltage can damage internal components. Installing surge protectors is an important preventive measure to protect your IP cameras from over-voltages. Physically, a surge protector mainly has two functions: one is to keep the surge voltage within a safe threshold so that the dielectric strength of the cameras will not be exceeded; another is to discharge the excessive currents and surges to the ground. And they’re often installed in parallel to the equipment. Lightning will travel in either direction to search for the quickest pathway for grounding. Therefore, in a complete Ethernet cable run, at least 2 surge protectors need to be installed to protect the key network devices like PoE switches, routers, etc. The first surge protector should be installed near the PoE switch, while the second protector should be set up near the outdoor PoE device.

Why is Surge Protector Necessary in Long-Range Deployments?

We’ve been in some situations where you have to install the IP cameras using long runs of underground network cable. Lighting can enter your network through power lines, coaxial cables and Ethernet cables. When a lighting strikes, the surges can enter the network cable at any point and travel in either direction to inflict some major damages on the PoE devices connected to the same Ethernet LAN. Long copper cable runs will increase the chances of lighting induction on the power lines since electricity will travel along a path that is least resistant to the ground, while the copper cable is exactly a nice candidate for lightning to use as a path for grounding. Furthermore, over the long cable runs, there’ll be more network devices connected on the same path, and the risks will increase accordingly. Moreover, maintenance will be extremely expensive, so it’s more cost-effective to invest in protection against power surges in advance. The best way to protect your IP cameras from lightning surges is to deploy a surge protector. An additional issue is also where an Ethernet system has been upgraded to be PoE-enabled by using a PoE injector or PoE splitter which may add vulnerability to surge damage to an existing network.

How to Choose a Surge Protector?

Always choose one with the appropriate surge protection rating. The protection rating of the surge protector is foremost and most important thing you should consider. The higher the rating, the more protection you’ll get.

Indoor vs Outdoor Surge Protector

The indoor PoE surge protector is designed for use in a climate-controlled environment like an office or control center to protect the sensitive security equipment like network switch, DVR, NVR, etc. However, the outdoor surge protector shows superb resistance to extreme temperatures (-40℃~85℃), vibrations, electrical noises, chemicals and combustible environments, etc., ideal for use in outdoor surveillance systems, factory automation, oil and mining and public transportation. The outdoor surge protector is specially designed for harsh environments with weatherproofing and corrosion protection. Normally, it is covered in a rugged protective casing (IP68 waterproof) to withstand the severe weather conditions in outdoor settings and prolong the life of the device. Though the surge protector is designed to minimize power surges, there is always a chance of danger of electrocution if the device is exposed to lightning directly or submerged in water. So you should choose the location carefully.

Standalone vs Chassis-based

The stand-alone surge protector provides a space-saving solution to protect the security cameras from surges and electrostatic discharge. It gives you more flexibility and freedom in actual deployments. The PoE surge protector is also a plug-and-play device that can be easily disconnect and relocate when needed. The stand-alone surge protector is often deployed outdoors since the security cameras are normally installed in different locations at ease. It’s often deployed in situations where only a few devices needs to be protected, but every unit has to be grounded separately. On the other hand, the chassis-based surge protectors is designed for high-density networks in enterprises, data centers and campuses to manage multiple devices at a time. It provides a centralized management to ground several protectors once and for all.

How to install a surge protector?

The devastating effects of lightning surges impose a negative impact on mission-critical applications in the factories, SMBs and households, and therefor to safeguard your PoE system, you should install the surge protectors correctly. There are generally two steps: 1) install the surge protectors and 2) set up the grounding.

1. Installing the surge protectors

To set up a hazard-free communication and power line, you’re supposed to install the surge protectors on both ends. You’ll need a pair of indoor and outdoor surge protectors to protect the outdoor PoE devices from malfunction and breakdown caused by lightning strikes. Protected in an IP68-rated rugged metal housing, Fastcabling’s Waterproof Outdoor PoE Surge Protector is direct-burial, featuring 16kV high surge protection and a wide working temperature of -40℃to 85℃. Compliant with IEEE 802.3af/at standard, this surge protector can work collaboratively with standard PoE devices. It supports both wall and pole-mounting options, which offers greater flexibility for outdoor applications.

Install the indoor surge protector near a point where the cable from the outside PoE device (a PoE injector, PoE splitter or IP camera) connects to the PoE switch but away from any combustible elements to guard the indoor equipment and personnel against dangers. Simply run an Ethernet cable from the PoE switch to the ‘Data In’ of the indoor surge protector. Then a longer Ethernet cable will be needed to connect the two surge protectors (‘Data Out’ of the indoor surge protector to ‘Data In’ of the outdoor surge protector). Lastly, use another Ethernet cable to connect the outdoor device to ‘Data Out’ of the outdoor surge protector.

2. Setting up the grounding

Grounding the surge protector is extremely important, otherwise, the surge protector will not work. The grounding system aims to distribute and discharge the captured currents and surges to the ground. To ground your surge protector, a grounding wire is needed. Normally, the thick the wire, the better the performance will be (a 10 or 12-gauge copper wire will be enough). Attach the grounding wire to the ground connector of the surge protectors, use a set of pliers to crimp the wire on the connector firmly, and attach the other end of the wire to a grounding point. When installing the grounding wire, avoid creating any sharp bends.

If you wanna install multiple surge protectors, it’s recommended to use a rack-mounting shelf for better arrangement and management. It can accommodate up to 10*Din-Rail PoE surge protectors or indoor surge protectors in only 1U of rack space, and can also be used with any standard Din-rail mounted devices such as media converters and power strips. It can easily fit into any standard 19″ rack.

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