Alabama Power partners to provide all-seeing radar to Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

Alabama Power partners to provide all-seeing radar to Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts
The new John and Joyce Caddell Sculpture Garden at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts is protected by a sophisticated radar system. (Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Like an all-seeing eye, OWL (Observation Without Limits) radar can see just about anything that moves. That’s why it’s ideal protection for the one-of-a-kind works of art that make up the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts’ new outdoor sculpture garden.

The museum installed the OWL system to provide added protection and security for the 3-acre John and Joyce Caddell Sculpture Garden, which opened last fall. OWL’s advanced GroundAware radar technology monitors and detects potential security threats in real time. This automated system operates around the clock and “sees through” all weather conditions, including snow, sleet, torrential rain, strong winds and darkness.

“Leslie Sanders (Alabama Power Southern Division vice president and a member of the museum’s board) was very instrumental in introducing us to the OWL system,” said Ken Nielsen, chief of security at the museum. “She pulled me aside at our informal opening of the sculpture garden and said, ‘We are using some technology at Alabama Power that I think would really benefit the museum.’”

Nielsen learned that Alabama Power has been successfully using this radar technology to provide enhanced security at its transmission substations and generation sites for the past four years.

As an outside venue, the garden, which has been designed to accommodate changing art and sculpture exhibits, is a prime target for intruders and vandals. Thus, added security is doubly important, Nielsen said.

“After I saw a demonstration of the OWL system, I was really impressed,” Nielsen said. “Our goal is to safeguard the art, as well as our staff and visitors, and I think this system will help us better achieve that goal.”

OWL radar system keeps an electronic eye wide open on new Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts sculpture garden from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The radar technology works in conjunction with the museum’s existing cameras. Perched on the roof of the building, the 25-pound OWL unit has a line-of-sight view of every corner of the sculpture garden, as well as the parking lots.

Nielsen said the new radar technology has already proven its worth. The OWL system reaches as far as the adjacent neighborhood and has twice alerted security staff to suspicious nighttime activity.

“Even on the road, the radar can detect if a vehicle is in motion,” Nielsen said. “Once the perimeter has been breached, the OWL system sounds an alarm in the museum’s control room, and one of our security officers will call law enforcement to investigate. On two separate occasions, law enforcement was called – one of which resulted in a person being taken into custody for suspected burglary.”

OWL knows what the cameras don’t

OWL is a joint venture of Alabama Power and Dynetics, a Huntsville-based technology company that has been tackling security issues for its customers since 1974. Dynetics designed and manufactured the GroundAware radar that is the basis for the OWL system, while Alabama Power markets the product to customers.

Kenny Keenan said Alabama Power began investigating additional security options several years ago because people were breaching company substations with wrong intentions. The solution: Dynetics’ OWL radar technology. The OWL system has been installed at 18 substations companywide since that time.

“GroundAware radar allows us to identify, classify and capture breaches at our sites,” said Keenan, Alabama Power market specialist and account manager for OWL. “It’s highly dangerous around substations. We use the radar not only for security purposes, but it’s also an added safety feature.”

OWL is a web-based security system that allows radar to work hand in hand with a facility’s video-management system and cameras to provide added protection, Keenan said. Using radio waves, it can detect whether animals, people, vehicles and even aircraft have invaded a particular area. The radar sees what the cameras miss.

“OWL adds ‘smarts’ to your cameras,” Keenan said. “Now you don’t have to watch the video screen all the time because you can receive audible alerts on your phone or computer when there is a security breach.”

With the success of the OWL system at Alabama Power, the company formed a partnership in July 2017 with Dynetics, which had primarily developed products for the military before that time. Together, their mission is to promote the technology to the world.

“When we began working with Alabama Power as a customer, we quickly came to realize that we both share the same values and want to do right by our customers,” said Tom Gates, director of Sales and Marketing at Dynetics. “With Dynetics’ experience in R&D and manufacturing, and Alabama Power’s exposure to a lot of different customers, we saw opportunities to work together. As a power company that serves many residential and commercial customers, we knew Alabama Power would have insight into what customers’ needs are.”

Alabama Power has worked with the museum at every step to ensure the radar technology is running and integrated with the video-management system, Keenan said.

The sculpture garden was unveiled on Sept. 25 as part of the Montgomery Museum’s fine arts collection in the Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park. Ever-changing depending on the season, time of day and weather, it boasts an amphitheater, secret garden and edgeless reflecting pool with a cascading waterfall. The current exhibits feature dozens of huge sculptures, including works by eight Alabama artists.

Museum Director Angie Dodson said she is grateful to Alabama Power for putting the OWL technology on the museum’s “radar screen.”

“We have Alabama Power and Leslie Sanders to thank for connecting us with the service provider for OWL,” said Dodson. “It’s because of our relationship with Alabama Power that we’ve been able to add this tool to our security toolbox at an affordable price. It not only provides security for our sculpture garden, but it protects our entire outermost perimeter, which can be very challenging for a museum. Our job is to be good stewards of the wonderful collections we have, and having this tool at our disposal makes that possible. It’s irreplaceable.”

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