Enhanced safety and security solutions central to modern convenience stores and gas stations

Louise Hobroh

In the near future, the evidence is clear that the number of electric vehicles (EV) will exceed conventionally fuelled cars. For gas stations, an implication of EV growth is increased visit duration. Even with the progression in rapid charging technology, the process takes longer than filling with fuel, enhancing the opportunity for the gas station to extend their services to waiting customers.

At the same time, the convenience store model that gas stations have combined for many years faces increased competition from alternative retailers, including those adding EV charging stations to their parking lots. Gas stations will be forced to compete by providing additional and improved services. Dining and refreshment options, alongside convenience store facilities and entertainment, are not only set to increase in scale, but also quality.

Increased automation presents new security challenges

A key requirement will be increased speed and ease for the customer. Consulting firm BCG in its report Is there a future for service stations?, says that automation, already taken on by wider retailers to make the in-store experience more convenient, will also be adopted by gas stations. Contactless payments and drive-through collection will be joined by technology such as automated checkouts, walk-in vending machines, and even unstaffed stores.

Gas stations
A lot can happen at a gas station during 24 hours. Click to enlarge.

Automated services can improve the customer experience and make the process more efficient for gas stations, as well as improving security at the pump itself. In many European countries, unmanned gas stations have been securely used for many years, with pre-payment required before access to fuel is given. In store, however, increased automation with reduced staff levels – through to completely unmanned internal facilities – poses a new security risk. This issue is compounded with the longer visit duration required to charge an EV, alongside the 24/7, nighttime opening potential that automation enables.

Already, it’s not uncommon for gas stations to be manned by just a single member of staff, facing a range of incidents including fuel theft drive-offs, payment fraud and convenience store theft, through to robbery. In the UK, reports suggest that thieves have stolen nearly £2m worth of fuel per year, meanwhile in the US, the FBI statistics show that violent crime at a gas station is more likely than a bar or nightclub.

Moving to an increased automation model will require evolved security solutions ensuring consumers that they are safe environments. The perception of risk, especially for more vulnerable customers in an isolated situation in hours of darkness, means that improving existing security and safety systems will be an imperative requirement for the customer experience.

Camera systems already play a vital role in maintaining security and safety at stores and stations, and as these locations transition with increased automation, existing systems will be the basis for further development adding audio, access control and analytics, to meet the new challenges.

Enhancing existing camera systems

Ensuring complete camera coverage will be fundamental, and a thorough security analysis ensures that necessary angles of view can be monitored. In an unmanned environment, technology has to enable a real time reaction to any developing serious situation, as opposed to using it purely for forensic analysis. To achieve this, existing camera systems should be enhanced with audio capabilities and video analytics.

  • Panoramic technology enables broader angle coverage over reliance on pan, tilt, zoom (PTZ) cameras alone.
  • High quality resolution will be necessary to identify situations with sufficient clarity, as well as the people and objects involved. While the shift to Full HD or 4K becomes the standard, this should be combined with a sufficient frame per second (fps) rate. Detailed accuracy required for functions such as vehicle license plate recognition, required to prevent drive-offs, means that a minimum frequency of 25 fps is needed.
  • Low light sensitivity. Outside of day light hours increases vulnerability, so camera monitoring ability in low and variable light conditions will become even more important. In addition to low light sensitivity, extremes of light contrast, such as a car’s headlight against a nighttime setting, can also call for Wide Dynamic Range technology. This ensures optimum exposure, reducing visible noise and artefacts for detailed identification of people and objects.
  • Remote monitoring of multiple gas stations will improve security with live viewing while increasing staff efficiency. Control can be enhanced with intelligent monitoring driven by video analytics that can be deployed to identify non-scans at self-checkouts and cash withdraws with no customer present. Monitored remotely, verified access can also be controlled with the customer presenting a QR code, credit card or ID to enter the store at night.
  • Network audio systems to deter security incidents can also be managed from the remote monitoring center to announce warnings. Sound/aggression detections in automated stores can also be remotely monitored, alongside slip and fall detection to enhance customer safety.
  • Speakers can provide assistance to customers, and intercoms, positioned at locations such as gas pumps and car washes, will enable them to request assistance. Even for manned gas stations, two-way communication with remote assistance can enhance security, including panic buttons at the checkout counter to alert when support might be required.
  • Body worn cameras. Isolated gas station attendants can also be supported with body worn cameras, increasing their perception of safety with an effective means of collecting audio visual evidence, as well as a deterrent to potential criminals.

Optimizing the customer experience – convenience is key

Technology to improve safety and security can also be used to increase the speed and ease of a customer’s visit. Audio announcements including greetings on entry and departure will be additions to completely autonomous retail solutions, where customers will be able to simply walk in, take what they like, and walk out, without having to scan anything or wait in line to pay. Meanwhile, ceiling-mounted cameras as well as proprietary AI and machine vision software will accurately associate each shopper with the items they pick up – without using biometric data.

The gas station model is changing as a result of the rise in EVs and hydrogen fuelled vehicles (LPG, CNG), alongside competition with alternative convenience retail options. Increased automation will help gas stations keep pace, but this technology must be joined by reinforced security and safety systems. Camera and network audio solutions will be central to this outcome to achieve an improved customer experience at the gas stations of the future.

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