DVRs on the Run

Software, wireless technology make all the difference in lowering cost of mobile mass transit systems

ADVANCED software solutions and wireless technology are dramatically lowering the cost of operating mobile DVRs in the mass transit market.

Until now, public transit authorities responsible for the management and maintenance of video surveillance systems on hundreds or thousands of buses, light rail and subway cars have had to incur the expense of dispatching employees to pull removable hard drives and check on the performance of system components.

However, with wireless communications and advanced software solutions, transit authorities can schedule video downloads, execute programming and software updates, check camera positioning and confirm the health status of system components using wireless hot spots installed at fueling depots and service facilities.

Some large transit systems employ as many as 15 to 20 field staff to perform these functions.

However, with wireless communications and advanced software solutions, transit authorities can schedule video downloads, execute programming and software updates, check camera positioning and confirm the health status of system components using wireless hot spots installed at fueling depots and service facilities.

How It Works
To investigate an incident, security staff at transit headquarters schedule a download by selecting a vehicle and identifying a period of time for which video is required. The next time the bus or rail car pulls into a hot spot, the system automatically executes the download and sends the administrator an e-mail with a link to the video. Drivers also can tag video for downloading in the event of an incident on a transit vehicle.

To ensure the proper functioning of their systems, administrators are able to review health status reports transmitted when vehicles return to the depot for service. Instead of dispatching personnel to physically inspect hundreds of vehicles, transit staff are alerted to the handful of systems with problems, resulting in huge savings.

Diagnostic capability available with increasingly sophisticated software offerings also automates the monitoring of hard-drive performance. Systems are designed to proactively look for defects and attempt to repair them. If they can't be fixed, the system will alert transit staff to schedule maintenance.

To confirm proper camera positioning, some systems can be programmed to take a 10-second clip off each camera and stuff it in a smaller file, so instead of inspecting cameras on every vehicle, transit staff are able to come to work in the morning and flip through the clips at their desks.

One large transit system in California estimates it can save approximately $500,000 per year by using wireless technology to manage and maintain its video surveillance systems.

Downloading video wirelessly isn't always a slam dunk. Using the most efficient compression technology, a scheduled video download can be performed while the fare box is emptied and the vehicle is cleaned and refueled. If it takes too long to download video, there's a risk that the vehicle will have to be withdrawn from service.

Using H.263 or MPEG-4 compression, an hour's worth of video can be downloaded in less than 10 minutes.

New developments in hardware design also are being introduced to meet the needs of transit authorities for more cameras and storage.

Making Improvements
Some mobile DVRs can now support 12 conventional cameras and offer up to 1.5 TB of storage -- enough to accommodate 90 days of archived video. Support for high-resolution IP cameras, which can be used to capture high-quality images at strategic locations, also is available.

Wireless connectivity via cellular networks provides transit authorities with the capability to view live video from a vehicle when an incident is reported.

It's a lower bandwidth connection, but it offers sufficient video quality to provide security staff at transit headquarters with live video and GPS information to assess a situation and identify the location of a vehicle.

Wireless technology also enables transit authorities to leverage the expertise of a third party to monitor and manage their video surveillance systems.

Outsourcing the monitoring and management of fleet-wide systems allows transit authorities to focus on their core business and not have to worry about maintenance and performance issues.

With wireless technology, it doesn't matter where the managed services function is carried out. A large bus fleet in California can be monitored locally or from an operations center across the continent.

Equipping buses, subways and rail cars with sophisticated electronic equipment that is going to have to function in harsh, mobile operating conditions and temperature extremes requires special attention to design and engineering.

Video surveillance systems in these environments must meet industry-leading design standards (IP65, J1455) for protection against vibration, shock, dust, water and electro-magnetic interference.

Hard drives, in particular, are very vulnerable to vibration, temperature extremes and unreliable power, so all of that has to be accounted for in the system design.

To ensure proper operation of an MDVR on vehicles that are stored outdoors in temperatures of -30 degrees Celsius or subject to extreme heat, a climate control system is highly recommended.

Backup power is something else transit authorities should be thinking about when evaluating video surveillance systems.

Increasing Power
Vehicle power can be transient, so a built-in battery backup serves two purposes. It provides for fault tolerance in the event of an electrical disturbance, and if there's a catastrophic event, the unit remains powered for a period of time and continues recording before gracefully shutting down.

Many transit authorities also want mobile DVR systems to support audio recording in order to capture both audio and video evidence of confrontations with transit staff.

If a customer complains to the transit authority about a driver's behavior, an audio record of the encounter adds crucial information for investigators.

GPS and speed tracking integration, another popular option, provides transit authorities with vital information for investigating accidents and other occurrences.

GPS integration places the vehicle in the exact location where an incident occurred, so investigators not only know what happened and when it happened, but also where it happened and how fast the vehicle was going at the time.

There's no question that transit authorities recognize the value of video surveillance systems as a means of promoting employee and passenger safety, deterring vandalism and investigating liability claims, but they have been equally aware of the costs and complexities of operating and maintaining them.

With wireless technology and increasingly sophisticated software solutions, more and more transit authorities will be able to take advantage of the benefits offered by video surveillance without having to worry about cost of ownership.

This article originally appeared in the September 2006 issue of Security Products, pg. 50.


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