Deer detecting units installed on LaCloche

by Michael Erskine

LACLOCHE—Rare is the Manitoulin resident who has not experienced a sudden apparition in the headlights followed by a loud and expensive bang, as even the most cautious of drivers catch deer in their headlights and all too often, on their bumpers. But help is on the way as a new animal detection system is being put in place to aid in the war against animal/vehicle collisions.

Travellers heading on and off the Island may have recently noticed a series of strange sci-fi looking pillars being erected along both sides of Highway 6 on LaCloche, just past the Little Current swing bridge. These 38 pillars stretch for three kilometres and are part of a Safeguards Technology infra-red animal detection system.

“Using infra-red beams, each (pillar) can detect movement of 200 metres,” said Senior Project Manager Danial Clearly, the Safeguards Technology LLC representative overseeing the installation. “The systems are solar powered, providing a green and safe method to warn drivers of the danger with the least amount of disturbance to the animals and the environment.”

The signs are linked to a central control pillar, which collects data from each of the solar powered units then communicates to the control office, providing data on the number and size of animals or vehicles traversing between the posts.

In addition, the posts are connected to 14 warning signs that will alert drivers to the fact that animals are on the road and to slow down and increase caution.

This technology is a rapid deploy system that was originally designed to provide military and federal security, said Mr. Cleary. The detection system has found an ideal civilian application in the role of animal detection.

“Eventually we hope to add infra-red cameras to these like the ones we installed near North Bay,” he added. “That will allow the ministry (Ministry of Transportation) to determine the nature and type of animals that are crossing.”

The units are very easy to install, having been designed as a rapid deployment system, but the work has been ongoing for a number of weeks as roadside installation requires some brushing between each unit to provide a clear line of sight between sensors. “It is actually not all that expensive a system,” said Mr. Cleary. “And it is a very flexible application.”

When you get right down to it, the increase in safety for both drivers and animals makes the cost well worth the bargain, noted Mr. Cleary.

“We think it is a very ideal solution to give a little comfort to people on the road at night, particularly the elderly and students.”

Safeguards Technology has also installed units in Newfoundland and is currently working on projects in New England and eastern Ontario.

The decision on where to install the units was made by the Ministry of Transportation, based on its own criteria. “We are installing them to their specifications,” noted Mr. Cleary.

The OPP are a little nonplussed by the location chosen. “That stretch of road is not really where we see a lot of animal-vehicle interaction,” said OPP Community Services Officer Al Boyd.

Neither the MTO nor Belanger Construction were able to respond before press time as to the rationale for the location of the sensors. But if the systems prove to be effective in reducing collisions, they may become more ubiquitous along high-risk stretches of both Northern and southern highways.

“There are increasing instances of sightings of moose in eastern Ontario,” noted Mr. Cleary.

Certainly travellers along Northern highways are very cognizant of the danger represented by moose, particularly at night when the large black and dark brown-coated animals are very difficult to spot on the side of the road.

The company hopes to have the system up and operational within the next couple of weeks. “We have just received approval for the signs,” said Mr. Cleary. He noted that work remains to be done on one post base that needed some adjustment, but that by and large, the project was progressing smoothly.