By Land or by Sea

Floating ideas about surveillance cameras on boats, trains and trucks

Transportation security is a loaded term. There are so many different facets and subsets to transportation security -- such as mass transit, Department of Transportation surveillance and airport security -- and they all present their own challenges.

Port terminals in particular represent an interesting cross-section of environments, from waterfront activity to railway and trucking transport. A recent conversation with David Lindquist of Port Solution Integrators in North Carolina centered on some of the security and safety issues integrators typically face when deploying surveillance cameras in this setting.

From Lindquist’s viewpoint, port security encompasses three main areas: waterfront and shoreline surveillance, internal access and yard operations. With advancements in video analytics and infrared technology, and the recent introduction of thermal network cameras, more port operators are using video to secure perimeters, control access to property and equipment, and remotely monitor container movement to keep workers out of harm’s way.

Guarding Against Perimeter Breaches
The sheer vastness of ports makes them particularly challenging to protect. Integrators must build systems that guard against attempts to penetrate all areas along miles of perimeter fencing. End users also need to remain alert against trespassers in small watercraft using the cover of darkness to invade from the ocean side.

Though barbed and razor wire tend to discourage intruders, Lindquist often recommends that his clients link video cameras to smart fencing technology to improve detection and apprehension capabilities. If a person or object touches the fence, the system directs the cameras to pan and zoom to the location of the breach. At the same time, the system alerts officers to the situation so they can direct their attention to video streaming from those cameras and dispatch officers to investigate the event.

On the shoreline in particular, thermal network cameras with embedded analytics can separate the heat signature of water from other objects in the frame and trigger an alert if an anomalous heat signature is detected. As Lindquist points out, since lighting up the ocean is not an option, thermal cameras can serve as the front line guards to detect suspicious behavior. The superior detection capabilities of thermal technology greatly reduce false alarms when working with motion analytics.

Once motion is identified, infrared cameras can be directed to the location to provide greater image detail.

“In a typical port, one or two police officers are watching more than 200 cameras at any given time,” Lindquist said. “A person simply can’t process that many images simultaneously. So you need video intelligence to alert them as to where they need to focus their attention at any particular moment and provide valid data to help officers quickly formulate a reasonable response.”

Screening ID Badges
Since ports fall under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security, every person entering the premises must either possess a federally issued TWIC access card or be escorted by someone who does. When this government photo ID is swiped at the entrance to the port, it triggers a database search to verify that the person is authorized to be on site.

Lindquist explained that it is important for ports to deploy video cameras at entrances to visually verify that the person who owns the TWIC card is actually the person swiping it through the card reader. Video analytics compare the camera image with the database image to ensure there is a match. If there is a discrepancy, the system sends an alert to officers to detain the individual in question.

“You want to avoid someone using another person’s TWIC card to get on site,” Lindquist said. “It might be something innocent, like asking someone to drop off building supplies at the port in their stead. But then again, it could be something more sinister like stealing an ID so you can smuggle in contraband or dangerous materials.”

While high-resolution cameras are particularly useful in verifying identities, instant notification is another valuable feature for internal security, especially since operators are monitoring cameras 24/7. Alarms draw their immediate attention to an incident in real time. Being able to quickly roll back the video to several minutes prior to an alarm also is critical, Lindquist said, since the incident might have been used merely as a diversion to pull attention away from the primary event or actual penetration point.

Protecting Workers from Hazards
Ports are bustling operations where huge containers are constantly being hoisted from one mode of transportation to another, on and off cargo ships, rail cars and commercial tractor trailers.

Because much of the operation is not automated, workers still dodge their way through lumbering yard equipment to manually capture container identification numbers, cargo bay location numbers and other information used to track shipments through the port. With the marriage of optical character recognition and high-resolution PTZ video cameras, however, port operators can remotely capture that information without leaving the operations center, thus minimizing their exposure to dangerous areas of the yard.

In Lindquist’s experience, ports are now looking into or starting to upgrade their infrastructure to extend throughout the yard, so the backbone is already in place to support network camera technology. Cameras can piggyback on the network, saving the port the cost and interruption of service required to string separate cable for video surveillance.

“This creates a whole new market space for integrators,” Lindquist said. “Worker safety is a big issue. If a camera gets crushed by a large vehicle, the dollar loss is small. If something should happen to a person instead, no amount of money could compensate for that.”

Making Port Security a Priority
The very nature of the environment makes protecting U.S. ports a technological challenge. Yet by intelligently marrying network video surveillance with other security systems, integrators can provide port authorities with effective ways to deter, detect and apprehend perpetrators before they can damage people and property or threaten our national security.

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