How to Get the Most Out of Your Video Surveillance Investment

Three agencies have cracked the code

Transit systems across the country strive to make the smartest investments to improve community safety and provide valuable resources for law enforcement. Mobile video surveillance technology is one investment that impacts each of these groups in different ways.

Standing as one of the most valuable security investments a system can make, advanced mobile video software solutions make it possible to lengthen the life of hardware, reduce training and maintenance costs, and share resources across agencies—all the while protecting valuable assets and increasing the safety of operators and riders.

Asheville, N.C. - Taking the Long Road

Asheville Redefines Transit (ART) is a primary link for public transportation in Asheville, N.C. and the surrounding area of Buncombe County, serving a population of 229,000. With more than 15 regular routes within the county and an annual ridership of 1.5 million passengers, in 2005, ART installed its first mobile video surveillance system to improve passenger safety and video management.

Since then, seamless backwards compatibility between video hardware and software has become the most important asset of ART’s video surveillance solution. While new technology continues to be implemented effortlessly, compatibility between prior versions of DVR equipment and a single video management software solution has eliminated the need for ART to replace fully functional hardware in order to maintain compatibility, purchase new software or re-train employees on a new software platform.

“A backward compatible system saves agency resources,” said Norman Schenck, general manager of ART. “Software and hardware upgrades will always be compatible with the original hardware the agency purchased, maximizing our initial investment and resources.”

The video surveillance solution has also become an unexpected asset to the agency in other ways. Used as a teaching tool for the ART administrative staff, Schenck said that managing all on-board video equipment and vehicle activity through one software solution has eased the training process for new bus operators and their supervisors, and acts as tool for quality assurance.

“We use video footage constantly in driver training,” Schenck said. “ART prides itself on the superior customer service its operators provide to Asheville citizens. Oftentimes, we can pull video of incidents on board a vehicle and use it as a teaching tool for other operators to introduce new procedures or reinforce incident protocol.”

In addition, ART provides video footage from on board its buses and the surrounding vicinity to law enforcement personnel to aid in incident response and investigations. ART buses are equipped with multiple cameras positioned to record video both inside and outside the vehicle: a forward-facing camera for viewing out the vehicle’s windshield, interior cameras located at the front to monitor the fare box area, additional interior cameras viewing the front and back doors of the vehicle, and exterior-mounted cameras for capturing video of activity occurring outside the vehicles at bus stops and on city streets. Police have used video evidence from ART cameras to solve crimes and provide answers to investigations that are unrelated to on-board transit activity.

“ART takes security very seriously,” Schenck said. “We have been able to provide valuable input for many police investigations, promoting justice for Asheville citizens and enhancing safety and security in our community.”

As ART considers future upgrades, including wireless capabilities for managing, viewing and sharing video, this additional functionality will allow law enforcement and agency supervisors to log in and request specific segments of video at even faster speeds. Through future upgrades, ART can be confident that its resources are used to their greatest value with a long-term solution that will evolve with the transit system as it grows.

Grand Rapids, Mich. - Training With Real Incidents

The Rapid, which serves the Grand Rapids, Mich. metro area, is an essential service to the community. Committed to providing safe and dependable transportation options to 10.8 million passengers a year, The Rapid chose a mobile video surveillance system in 2012 to meet its technical requirements as well as one that would mature with the agency over time.

With the deployment of a new system, The Rapid hoped to avoid the cost and inconvenience of continual upgrades when new technologies became available. Its previous solution required multiple software programs to view recorded video from various generations of hardware. They chose a new solution that was forward and backward compatible with multi-generational systems, saving the agency valuable resources—not only in hardware replacement costs, but personnel training and new software deployment expenses as well.

In addition to sophisticated mobile video surveillance technology, The Rapid invested significantly in developing a safe and secure environment for its employees and riders—deploying new vehicles, installing bus shelters and organizing a safety training program that instructs all vehicle operators and supervisors on how to manage incidents and use implemented technology more effectively. Brian Pouget, The Rapid’s chief operating officer, said that managing all equipment and vehicle activity through one software solution has eased the training process for new operators and supervisors.

“We think very highly of our training program,” Pouget said. “For the agency, it is as important to educate operators and managers about preventing adverse events on a bus as it is to educate them on how powerful and useful the video system is for reviewing incidents. The equipment’s capabilities even help us quickly deliver video clips as evidence for law enforcement.”

The Rapid uses Vehicle Information Management (ViM) Software, a fleet-wide management solution with capabilities such as an archive system with short-term and long-term storage options, event statistics and equipment health reporting features. The combination of this software and video surveillance hardware allows management staff to monitor bus activity, automatically download video clips and request specific portions of video for download on-demand.

The high-capacity hard drives for each DVR have allowed The Rapid to access footage and respond to customer service concerns up to one month after an event has occurred. This has allowed Pouget and his operations team ample time to investigate concerns, complaints and incidents as they have arisen, and eliminates the need to physically remove hard drives from the system.

One incident involving a suspicious package left on a bus required the local police department’s bomb squad to use mechanical robots to safely remove the unknown package. The box was determined to be safe and the video footage from the on-board cameras allowed the incident to serve as a valuable training tool for the police department’s approach for investigating similar situations.

“The seamless software and hardware compatibility are exactly what we asked for,” Pouget said. “Together, the tools have become a crucial component for executing the organization’s operation and safety initiative. We are able to save valuable time and money across the agency.”

The Rapid has enhanced and added to its video surveillance system since the initial installation, and the recent addition of wireless connectivity now allows Pouget, transit supervisors, law enforcement personnel and other first responders to have access to real-time video footage out in the field. “The wireless connectivity on The Rapid vehicles greatly improved our accessibility to video,” Pouget said. “The entire agency and our partners throughout the municipality enjoy this streamlined approach and more convenient access to wirelessly downloaded video.”

Activity on and around The Rapid vehicles is captured through six interior- and two exterior-mounted cameras. If a vehicle is involved in any abnormal event, such as a collision that triggers an on-board accelerometer, and if a transit supervisor or police vehicle is in range, the wireless technology allows first responders to monitor and download video remotely.

This case demonstrates the way many transit agencies are procuring state-ofthe- art technology. By extending the technical capabilities on board The Rapid vehicles, the agency is increasing safety, improving efficiency and saving money. As this agency’s fleet continues to mature, the system will continue to provide seamless, on-board video surveillance and new fleet management tools as technology advances and new features become available.

Springfield, Mo. - Maintaining an Always-On Approach

City Utilities Transit Services (CU Transit) has operated the public transit system for the city of Springfield since 1945 and provides approximately 1.5 million rides per year. The transit system consists of 14 fixed day routes and four evening routes, covering more than 170 miles. In addition, City Utilities offers a paratransit service that provides rides to passengers who require additional resources to facilitate their bus travel.

CU Transit is setting expectations and paving the way for technology adoption among transit agencies within the state of Missouri, across the country and worldwide. It follows a policy for ensuring the technology on board any vehicle within its fleet functions properly before it takes to the roads of Springfield.

In 2010, CU Transit deployed their state-of-the-art video surveillance system with back-end solutions on board its public transportation fleet. Adhering to their policy, CU Transit uses a direct communication link between its staff, DVRs, cameras and hard drives on board each bus. The wireless information confirms to the agency that the equipment is working at an optimum level and notifies operators of any system errors.

Furthermore, CU’s fixed-route and paratransit buses are equipped with seven to eight interior and exterior cameras along with wireless networking equipment. The agency, desiring additional data and reports from each bus, added the ViM Software as part of a later installation phase, leveraging the existing wireless LAN networking equipment.

“The ability to communicate to the technology on board each vehicle through the ViM Software has provided a great time-saving benefit to our operations,” said Carol Cruise, director-transit of City Utilities Transit Services. “Our goal is to protect employees and riders, and the software provides us with accurate information which allows us to resolve any conflict and return the vehicle to its route.”

For example, through a vehicle health report, transit supervisors can monitor if an on-board camera has been vandalized or if its view has been obstructed. The maintenance department is notified of any issues and crews are dispatched to the vehicle with the appropriate repair or replacement equipment, quickly resolving any issues. The use of wireless fleet management software solutions reduces exploratory and maintenance costs, minimizes video failure, provides automatic fleet reports and, most importantly, protects both riders and transit employees.

“We continue to enhance our system because this solution gives City Utilities the intelligence every day to understand how the equipment is operating,” said Cruise. “Safely getting our passengers from point A to point B is our drivers’ main focus.”

A dependable surveillance solution is critical for CU Transit. After an incident, video evidence can be the determining factor for uncovering who or what may be at fault—a bus, driver, passenger or even another vehicle. Stability and reliability in mobile video equipment significantly decreases City Utilities’ liability. In addition, CU Transit’s use of the ViM Software mitigates the risk of video loss and increases accessibility to video surveillance data.

With City Utilities’ investment in the solution, the local police department and first responders benefit from improved access to critical information during traffic accidents and criminal investigations as well. City Utilities may choose to upgrade the system at any time to feature capabilities such as 4G wireless connectivity with live video streaming, an archive system with short-term and long-term storage options and event statistics (route, bus, driver and GPS information).

Soon, no bus will enter the roadway with so much as a dirty lens or a camera view out of alignment. Proactive health checks will become routine for any transit agency dedicated to increasing safety, improving efficiency, reducing liability and saving money. City Utilities is setting the industry standard and creating a benchmark for other transit agencies to ensure safety, security and optimal technology performance through strategic investments such as video management software.

Getting Maximum Value Out of Your Investment

The increasing need for the safety of operators and passengers is a primary concern for transit agencies. However, instead of asking, “How important is video surveillance on board our busses?” agencies are now asking, “How do we maintain a proactive, real-time and flexible solution for ensuring the value of our video surveillance system?”

With a longer, flexible lifespan of hardware, advancements and scalability with software, transit agencies can realize a reduction in resources and expenses for training and maintenance, allowing continued enhancement in ridership safety and greater protection of valuable assets. It is no secret that software is transforming the way transit agencies think about fleet management, public safety, maintenance and overall operational efficiencies. A robust software component is the crux of any high-quality, mobile, video surveillance system and the deciding factor for agencies looking to get the most return on their investment.

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Security Today.

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