What's Around The Bend
Dealing with transit security issues in real time
- By Anthony Incorvati
- Jul 01, 2012
Transit authorities face security problems on an ongoing basis—everything
from graffiti artists and pickpockets to precious metal theft and
fuel siphoning. For years now, security experts have relied on camera
installations for incident control, but too often surveillance video has
been used more as a forensic tool to investigate the aftermath rather
than as a practical tool to detect and possibly prevent incidents from happening.
The drawback is pretty obvious. By the time the relevant video is located and
handed to authorities, the suspects are gone. And oftentimes, because of poor
lighting conditions and outdated technologies, the video is too grainy to provide
any usable details such as facial features and clothing color to assist in pursuit and
apprehension. However, recent innovations in network video are reversing the tide
by giving transit authorities real-time access to high-image-quality video streams.
From Forensic to Real-time
Moving from forensic to real-time security benefits transit systems, airports and
even seaports on a number of levels. Handling incidents quickly is an effective way
to boost passenger and staff confidence in transit safety. By being preemptive,
transit property owners avoid the costly repercussions of vandalism, graffiti, metal
theft and other nefarious acts—a savings that goes directly to the bottom line.
Maybe more importantly, using the cameras to proactively monitor transit operations
minimizes revenue losses due to disruption of service.
Some of the new network camera technologies on the market are bridging the
noticeable gaps in coverage that previously frustrated transit authorities.
Of course, HDTV-quality network cameras continue to be an extremely popular
purchase for all surveillance users, including those in the transportation market.
High-resolution, true-color-fidelity video is replacing grainy analog images,
resulting in a far greater percentage of positive identifications of people and objects.
However, that image quality comes at a cost: higher pixel counts traditionally
meant lower quality in poor and difficult lighting. But that’s where today’s IP
imaging innovation shines.
Surveillance When Conditions are Less than Optimal
Transit system environments on the whole present a major challenge for video
surveillance cameras—mainly because they’re plagued with poor or widely fluctuating
lighting conditions that change in an instant. Historically, transit authorities
accepted the fact that, without a massive artificial lighting investment, certain
areas—yards and depots, tunnels, guideways, tracks and sometimes platforms and
stations—simply couldn’t be monitored by video cameras.
With the introduction of three innovative network camera technologies, that’s
no longer the case.
Low light. Lightfinder technology represents the latest advancement in extremely
low-light surveillance. It works in concert with a network camera’s sensor
and lens to find light in a scene that it can use to stream color video even at night.
Sophisticated image processing software sets the degree of filtering and sharpening
to capture the best image possible.
Highly sensitive to low light, a network camera enhanced with Lightfinder
can maintain tight focus, with minimal noise, from dusk to dawn as well as in
But the crowning achievement is that unlike typical day/night cameras that
switch to black-and-white mode in low light, Lightfinder cameras record in true,
lifelike color fidelity across the illumination spectrum.
Widely fluctuating light. Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) technology incorporates
techniques for handling a wide range of lighting conditions within a single
scene, such as extremely bright and darkly shadowed corners or backlit situations
where a person is standing between the sun and the camera. In those scenes, a
standard surveillance camera would inevitably produce an image of a sun-washed
person or objects in the dark areas barely visible. A network camera equipped with
WDR, on the other hand, combines different exposures to different objects within
a scene, depending on the prevailing light to ensure nearly uniform visibility across
the field of view.
Total darkness or haze. Unlike day/night cameras that focus on recognizing images
in the visible light spectrum, advanced thermal imaging cameras detect wavelengths
far into the infrared spectrum. Analog thermal cameras have been around
for years to detect the heat signatures emitted by all people and objects. These
military-grade cameras once cost tens of thousands of dollars. Today, true thermal
network cameras are an affordable option that can be easily integrated into
a transit surveillance network to detect trespassers walking alongside the track at
night or inside a dark tunnel.
Revealing Previously Hidden Activity
If used on their own or in conjunction
with each other, these three technologies
open up a whole new realm of surveillance
coverage that wasn’t possible
with older camera systems:
On the platforms and in the stations.
While transit authorities made a
concerted effort to blanket platforms
and stations with video surveillance
coverage, camera technology fell short
when it came to piercing shadowy corners
and alcoves. Sunlight glaring off
the glass on outdoor platforms and
headlights of oncoming trains taxed
the abilities of the cameras to deliver
quality video. But with Lightfinder,
WDR and thermal imaging cameras
augmenting their camera deployment,
transit security can capture clear, useable
images across the visual spectrum.
For instance, when used at night, Lightfinder
can distinguish between a red or
black hooded sweatshirt and a blue
or green backpack worn by someone
standing on the platform. Grayscale
guesses of old analog, black-and-white
CCTV systems will become a thing of
By the tunnels, guideways and tracks.
Tunnel and track security has been especially
problematic, given the widely
exposed and open spaces that are unprotected
from the elements with little
or no illumination. Installing light
poles and fixtures over miles of track is
often too costly. Even guards patrolling
the area can’t be everywhere at once,
so vulnerable tunnels and sections of
track are left unobserved for extended
periods of time. Thermal imaging cameras
can play a major role in securing
these areas because they rely on heat
detection rather than visible light to
“see” what’s going on.
They can detect what conventional
cameras miss and alert security to the
presence of objects left on or near the
tracks or trespassers on grade crossings.
In daylight hours, WDR cameras
can reveal what’s happening both inside
the tunnel and at the entrance.
Inside the rail yards and depots.
While personal assaults and theft rank
high on the list of transit security
threats, protection of corporate assets
is another major area of concern.
Railcars, subway coaches and busses
parked in poorly lit yards and depots
are especially vulnerable to vandalism
and other acts of mischief. Fuel farms
and supply depots offer their own allure
to pilferers, coordinated gangs of
criminals or even dishonest employees
seeking to siphon gas or steal precious
metals like copper. While perimeter
fences and guards patrolling the area
provide deterrence, Lightfinder and
thermal imaging cameras give security
the critical night vision to “see” into
the shadows, eliminating the cover-ofdarkness
advantage that offenders use
to mask their activities.
Using Video for Operational
Another trend gaining momentum in
the transit arena is to expand the use
of surveillance video to improve operations.
Applying analytic technology
such as automatic people counting
(APC) helps transportation managers track traffic patterns both inside and
outside a station to improve transit
schedules and minimize passenger
commute time. Monitoring the flow
of people through entrances, exits and
typically congested areas such as hallways,
parking lots and walkways gives
security personnel insight into pedestrian
traffic and the ability to anticipate
and react quickly to any incident or
slowdown in service
This video analysis also helps station
managers optimize security-staffing
levels to handle crowds at peak
Integrating Multiple Systems
Under One Umbrella
While new camera technologies like
Lightfinder, WDR and thermal imaging
certainly improve surveillance coverage,
real success is often achieved
when network video is part of an entire
portfolio of physical security tools—
from intrusion detection to access control
to motion/audio sensors.
To avoid the chaos of trying to filter
massive amounts of time-sensitive
information from all these separate
subsystems simultaneously, application
developers are introducing new Physical
Security Information Management
(PSIM) systems to provide transit authorities
a way to intelligently integrate
data from disparate sources in real time
within a single command center. Designed
to provide an easy-to-read dashboard
that prioritizes data according to
pre-established criteria, PSIM systems
bring the most important incidents to
the foreground—like a trip-wire alert
linked to video of an intruder trying to
scale a fence after hours or a door-ajar
alert tied to video of a vagrant trying
to jimmy open a locked accessway near
a station platform. This enables transit
security to quickly address and resolve
a problem before it escalates.
What’s Around the Bend?
Based on the continued R&D investment
in the technology, IP innovation
will continue on a sharp trajectory.
Light sensitivity continues to become
even more acute while HDTV-quality
resolution and usage improves across
an ever-wider dynamic range. We’re
even seeing network cameras with
the versatility to stream in 9:16 corridor
format (“portrait” as opposed to
“landscape”), a feature that’s ideal for
covering long concourse areas, people
movers, tunnels and station platforms
without wasting pixels.
With the enormous advances manufacturers
are achieving in chip technology
and processing power, the potential
for third-party development of video
analytic applications specifically geared
to the needs of the transportation industry
is likely the next phase of innovation.
With transit authorities adopting
network video for more of their
installations, it’s exciting to think of all
the intriguing possibilities that are just
around the bend.
This article originally appeared in the Security Products Magazine - July 2012 issue of Security Today.
Anthony Incorvati is the manager of business development, transportation, at Axis Communications.