By Lorie Woodward Cantu
In the 21st century, technology is at home on the range. Today, thanks to new cellular applications, ranch families can secure their property or remotely trap feral hogs or other animals as easily as making a cell phone call. This cutting-edge technology was developed by CelAccess, a Dallas-based company, and is sold under the brands of CellGate and Wireless Traps.
"Our initial goal was providing security in an insecure world," says Noel Gouldin, president of CellGate and Wireless Traps and co-founder of CelAccess. The company first developed a sophisticated, but easy-to-use, cellular technology that protects the Port of Houston, airports, manufacturing facilities, schools and other places where it is imperative to know who is coming and going. In 2010, a cellular camera was added to the suite, which allowed people to control access and see who was on their property.
"Once you create proprietary technology, the next step is figuring out how many ways it can be applied," Gouldin says. "We asked ourselves, ‘Who else could benefit from this solution?' One of the answers was ranchers." This identification was based, in part, on the knowledge that increased oil and gas play around the state meant that many ranch families were contending with oilfield traffic and that a traditional ring of padlocks was not an ideal solution, he says.
Then CellGate began adapting its technology to provide a superior alternative for rural residents. Because the system uses cellular technology, it can work virtually anywhere without the need for phone or data lines. The result is a 3-part system — a "smart" keypad that can be installed to almost any existing gate, a camera to capture pictures and a web-based application.
From a user's perspective, the process is easy. Either the ranch owners or CellGate personnel can install the equipment, which will vary depending on the ranch's needs. Components, in addition to the keypad, can include a motion detector, specialized cameras like those designed to read license plates at night, and directional antennas to maximize cell signals, allowing it to be used even where cell coverage is questionable. The system is either solar powered, or powered by batteries or AC.
Once the equipment is installed, ranch owners, using tools on the company's website, create personalized access codes for everyone who has permission to access the ranch.
"As the ranch owners create their lists, they are often surprised at the amount of traffic on the ranch," Gouldin says. The lists often include representatives of the electric and gas companies, the feed company, oilfield and pipeline companies, service providers such as plumbers, mechanics, exterminators, and welders, as well as family and friends. The access codes, which consist of at least 5-digits, can be limited for a certain number of uses, for a defined date and time range, for specific days of the week, or, they can be unlimited, remaining valid until they are cancelled. Codes can be cancelled or updated at any time by the ranch owner.
When visitors or workers arrive at the ranch gate, they can enter their access code directly into the keypad or enter it using their cell phones. Every time the keypad is accessed, the system notifies the ranch owner by email, text message or phone call. If unexpected guests arrive, the guests can call the ranch owner, who can open the gate remotely.
"To optimize security, we recommend that every person who comes on the ranch be given their own access code," Gouldin says. "The person will use that to both enter and leave the ranch, and the system automatically records each coming and going."
If a person who has been issued a time-limited access code attempts to use the code outside the limits or after it has expired, the system records those unsuccessful attempts as well, he says. The data can be downloaded into a spreadsheet and later manipulated to create reports of ranch activity.
If the gate is equipped with a camera, it takes a picture of the vehicle, which is sent to the company's server using cellular technology. If the ranch owners want immediate access, they can choose to have the photos delivered to their cell phones or computers.
The combination of immediate notification, digital and photographic records, offers ranch owners, particularly those who live off their properties, more direct control over access and the power of information.
256 miles, one way
J. David Anderson, who owns and operates Andon Specialties Inc. in Houston and ranches in Duval County, says, "Door-to-door it's 256 miles from our home in Houston to the ranch. When you have a valuable asset like the ranch and you're not able to be there every day, this system gives you the ability to keep up with what is going on and provides some peace of mind."
In recent years, his ranch has become site of increased oilfield activity, which prompted him to invest in the system.
"Before oilfield activity increased, we were managing okay," Anderson says. "But there is so much traffic now that I needed a tool that would give me some measure of control."
Anderson monitors the ranch traffic from Houston and calls his ranch foreman when there are issues that need to be resolved. For instance, if oilfield personnel make an unscheduled visit, Anderson contacts his ranch foreman and has him meet the workers at the gate before allowing them to enter the ranch.
"I can keep up with who is coming and going — and intercede if necessary," Anderson says.
Having records has been beneficial when questions of damages have arisen, he says. In one case, the gate was broken because of misuse by an oilfield truck operator. Because of the system, Anderson had the gate log with the driver's access code as well as photographic evidence, both of which include the time and date.
"When I went to the oilfield company, I had proof in hand that they couldn't dismiss, and I was able to hold them responsible for the damages," Anderson says. The system, in his opinion, also helps deter mischief because no one but the ranch owner knows exactly what information is being captured, he says.
"People don't know exactly what you're watching, but they know that you are watching and paying attention," Anderson says.
Tighten biosecurity, increase work efficiency
Tommy Gilmore, who raises purebred Herefords on the Gilmore Ranch near Floresville, also bought the system to help control oilfield traffic. A pipeline is being constructed across the ranch, which is 7 miles from his family's home. At the oil sites, the pipeline company has cut the fence to allow its employees unfettered access to the site. Initially, Gilmore was going to hire security guards to oversee the site and keep it secure, but then he heard about CellGate.
Working with CellGate, the Gilmores installed a combination of motion detectors and cameras in the gap to allow them to monitor the sites. When the motion sensor is triggered, Gilmore receives a text message and an email informing him that a breach has occurred. He accesses the photo, which shows him whether it is an animal, an oilfield employee or a trespasser, who has entered the site.
"If it's an unauthorized person, I can contact the appropriate authorities and allow them to deal with it," Gilmore says.
While this setup was created to meet his short-term needs, Gilmore eventually plans to move the technology to his front entrance and install the smart keypad to help provide additional security. As a retired Air Force Colonel who has served around the globe, he is acutely aware of agricultural biosecurity.
"My view of biosecurity is very closely aligned to that of Homeland Security," Gilmore says. "The first step is identifying your assets, which in our case is our cattle, and then you consider how to best protect those assets from a variety of threats."
When the system is installed at the ranch's main entrance, it will provide Gilmore with 2 benefits — a physical barrier that must be crossed to gain access and the ability to visually assess any incoming vehicles before allowing them to enter the ranch.
"A lot of noxious weeds and invasive plants are transferred on dirty vehicles," Gilmore says. "If someone shows up in a truck that is caked with mud, I can deny them access until they agree to go clean up their truck."
Kristie West and her husband, Gary, like other customers, integrated the computer system into their registered Charolais operation for security reasons, but after its installation she has come to appreciate the unanticipated benefits.
The couple runs West Charolais Ranch near Pleasanton, but their home is across the highway from the ranch headquarters. When Gary goes to town to buy feed or take care of other business, Kristie often returns to the house to tackle other jobs. Her cell phone rings when Gary punches in the access code, notifying her that he has returned to the ranch.
"Now, I know exactly when I need to head back to the barn and be there to help," she says. "It is an unexpected convenience that allows me to make the most of my time." The couple will soon open a bed-and-breakfast on their property and they are planning to install a CellGate system to allow them to manage access and keep track of their guests.
This technology has a tremendous range of uses in remote situations. Next month, look for part 2 of this article, featuring wireless traps for feral hogs.