Meeting the challenge

Meeting The Challenge

Surveillance technology evolves in today's expansive public transportation system

meeting the challengeToday’s society is dependent on transportation systems to keep every day running smoothly and efficiently. Public transportation systems like buses and trains impact millions of people and serve as a vital part of our economy, generating millions in tolls and fares. In large cities, public transportation is so widely used that any delays or inefficiencies have a tremendous impact on users’ day-to-day lives.

Ridership on U.S. public transportation is now growing faster than ever, according to the American Public Transportation Association. In 2012, 10.5 billion trips were taken on U.S. public transportation—154 million more than the previous year, a record growth. As the volume of passengers continues to grow, so does the reach of today’s general mass transportation.

The United States’ subway and rail systems are made up of more than 3,200 stations and 20,000 miles of track running nationwide. To provide safety for users and protect system assets, public transportation services are looking at costefficient security solutions that can meet their growing needs.

After 9/11 and the recent bombings in Boston, the issue of security has become an increasingly pressing matter across the country. Immediately after the Boston bombings, no suspect had been identified.

Fortunately, a surveillance camera at a nearby store captured footage that led to the identification of two suspects, which allowed police to release images of both men to the public within days of the incident. With no other evidence available at the time, video surveillance technology saved precious time and made identification possible. Without the aid of this surveillance tool, these critical images would not have been possible. It was an HD thermal-energy camera that helped law enforcement capture one of the suspects later in the week and bring him into custody. Without these advanced security technologies, the outcome may have been very different.

The events on 9/11 had an enormous impact on the level of security measures implemented in the United States. After this incident, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was formed, and the government began ramping up airline security with both budget and manpower. Screening measures now look at everything from bags and packages to liquids and even shoes. Sometimes passengers are randomly selected for additional screening procedures. With advanced imaging technology, authorities can screen contents of bags and use metal detectors to search for suspicious items.

Despite a growing and continued focus on air travel security measures, mass transit security funding has not kept up. While many have called for Washington to significantly increase funding for public transportation security, federal investment in this area actually decreased by 65 percent from 2010 to 2012, according to the transit association.

TSA has allotted almost four times the budget for aviation security than it has for surface transportation security. This year the TSA budget set aside $124.3 million for surface transportation security, down from $134.7 million in fiscal 2012.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Transit Security Grant Program, a major source of security funding for municipal transit systems, reduced its funding from $200 million in fiscal 2011 to $87.5 million in fiscal 2012. States and municipalities, hindered by years of economic recession, have been unable to fill the funding gap, leaving employees, passengers and transit infrastructure unprotected.

Recent events including the Boston Marathon bombing have brought renewed attention to security in public areas, including open public transit systems. Sadly, this is only one of several such terrorist attacks in recent years in which public gatherings and mass transit were targeted. Other examples of attacks on transit systems include the coordinated rush-hour attack in London subways and a double-decker bus, killing 37 people.

A year earlier, 10 bombs exploded on trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and wounding another 1,500. Earlier this year, Canadian officials foiled a terrorist plot to use a bomb to derail a passenger train in the greater Toronto area. But terrorist attacks are only one concern related to mass transit security. Every day, mass transit employees and riders face thefts, mugging, vandalism and other safety hazards. From capturing criminals to monitoring the safety of passengers who walk in dangerous areas, employing the proper security measures is increasingly important.

With tight budgets and fewer resources available to monitor and manage daily operations, there is a simple and cost-effective solution for companies providing mass general transit: video surveillance. Video surveillance has proven to be one of the most effective forms of security, and many transportation systems are now using cameras to record incidents that occur on buses and trains. Video surveillance has evolved drastically over the past decade and technology advancements are now accommodating the needs of general transit providers.

Surveillance Capabilities

Today’s surveillance cameras offer many benefits. Compact sizes offer a discreet way to effectively monitor what is happening on and around trains and buses. By making the cameras less obvious to the public, authorities are able to capture all incidents without alerting suspects that they are being filmed. These small cameras are controlled remotely, equipping them with highquality zoom capabilities.

Rather than looking at what used to be a small grainy image, today’s cameras can zoom to focus on tiny details that older versions may not have been able to detect. Critical evidence sometimes relies on the most minute details, which can now be clearly recorded thanks to today’s video surveillance technology. Additionally, cameras are now also equipped with wide viewing angles, providing a greater range of coverage that allows the cameras to capture more incidents while making it more difficult for people to step outside the frame of view. Since the camera can adjust and move if necessary, officials can obtain more accurate evidence.

Perhaps one of the biggest ways this type of technology has advanced is through its wireless capabilities. Before these newer solutions were available, bus drivers would return to the station or depot and physically remove the hard drive from the system and download the footage for viewing or save onto local servers. This was a time consuming and laborious process. Today’s technology is much more efficient. New local recording options can be utilized, or wireless capabilities can allow footage to automatically upload onto system servers as soon as the bus pulls into the station, saving time and improving the availability and access of reliable footage. As a result, video footage can be managed and reviewed much more efficiently than in the past.

The quality of video footage has also made significant leaps. In the past, security camera images were often grainy and distorted, making it difficult to distinguish people, let alone specific facial features. Higher quality footage shows greater detail like distinguishing marks and other identifiers. These clearer images capture features that were once unavailable and are now being leveraged as evidence and assisting law enforcement in making prosecution easier. Increasingly powerful, it is now a common camera feature capable of providing clean crisp images that leaves little to no room for doubt. Many of these same products also offer low light/nighttime viewing capabilities for better image quality in the dark and in poorly lighted areas.

High-quality surveillance footage, and the knowledge that security cameras are present, is also aiding companies when dealing with vandalism. Vandalism is a common and costly problem on buses and trains but has been difficult to prevent. However, the presence of video surveillance cameras reduces the number of incidents and can be used to deter vandals and reduce these costs or capture critical evidence to potentially aid in the prosecution of vandalism suspects.

Evolving Technology

As video analytics capabilities continue to advance, mass transit systems will be able to use them as critical tools in helping to keep public transportation systems safe. For example, developing facesearch technology would allow security personnel to conduct high-speed searches within surveillance footage to find a suspect’s face based on a single reference face. With this capability, transit authorities could quickly look through old footage to find all instances of a suspect appearing in that footage. At some point in the future, this technology would also be capable of recognizing when a reference picture of a suspect’s face passes a live camera, allowing authorities to be alerted when a known or dangerous suspect has entered a station, attempts to enter a subway car or bus, or is simply spotted in the crowd.

These evolving security capabilities are saving public transportation a great deal of money during a time when budget cuts and reductions in staff are quite common. Video surveillance technologies enable transit providers to have eyes on every bus or train, preventing theft and violence and providing critical evidence when needed. Most importantly, these surveillance cameras are providing a safer and more secure environment for passengers and employees.

With so many technologies available, security products are continuing to evolve to keep up with the safety needs of mass transit. Every day these systems are processing millions of hours of surveillance data that enables managers to make better decisions about passenger safety. As our technology capabilities become more sophisticated, authorities will continue to integrate state-of-the-art capabilities into transit systems to provide the most advanced security available.

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Security Today.

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