Transportation security update: technology rapidly changing the face of transportation

October 2006 Integrated Solutions

From biometrics to anti-terrorist vehicle barriers, on-board video systems to trace detection, wireless access control to tamper-proof ID cards, high security has arrived on the transportation scene.

In recent years, the entire world has experienced a dramatic demand for new technology development in the area of transportation in order to protect private and public assets. Recent events in Mumbai, London and elsewhere highlight the growing need for increasing security. Leading companies have rushed to fill the void with innovative and effective products that protect both people and property. Keeping pace with this new technology will ensure that organisations, their people and their assets are safe in today's world.

Pilot using biometrics at San Francisco International Airport
Pilot using biometrics at San Francisco International Airport

Many companies are collaborating with not only each other, but also with their federal government, to come up with solutions to some of the most difficult transportation security challenges facing all of us today. Other companies are simply finding creative new ways to apply recently developed technology. There is no doubt, however, that the race is on to create a secure environment via advanced technology in the transportation arena.

This article will explore some of the many new technologies that are changing the world of transportation as we know it.

Fingering bomb suspects - before they can strike

The world's first automatic public transit ticket vending machine with integrated early warning explosives detection capability was recently introduced by Cubic Corporation and GE Security. This new system represents the first component in a vision for integrating real world, technology-enabled security solutions into a wide range of automatic fare collection 'touch points'.

Baltimore EWEDS fare collection system
Baltimore EWEDS fare collection system

Shown publicly for the first time at the American Public Transit Association's annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., late last year, the ticketing machine incorporates an innovative fingertip trace detection analyser into an advanced automatic fare collection (AFC) system. The early warning explosives detection system (EWEDS) is designed to detect explosives residue on passengers as they select their ticket before boarding a train. If such residue is detected, the system activates further capabilities to alert security or law enforcement authorities of the potential threat and deny the passenger passage through the fare gates or turnstiles.

In June of this year, the system was deployed in a Baltimore Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) subway station.

"The pilot appears to have met expectations and we were able to collect all the data needed in a shorter than planned test period," says Earl Lewis, assistant secretary, Maryland Department of Transportation. "While the formal results are not in yet, the information gathered during this first-of-its-kind pilot appears to be good enough to take this potentially useful technology further along the commercialisation testing path."

The watchful eye of a camera on a bus

An innovative, on-board digital video technology that deters criminals and catches fraud perpetrators in the act is already providing significant savings for transit agencies, which often fall victim to vandalism and fraudulent lawsuits.

The concept is simple and very effective - an on-board, wireless, video surveillance system that enables a metro transit agency to further secure its buses and provide accurate and instant feedback if an incident should occur. For instance, today, the CityLink bus transportation system in Peoria City uses such a digital recording system to enhance safety and security for employees and passengers.

When a CityLink driver starts a vehicle equipped with a GE MobileView system, cameras begin recording events and documenting actions on board the vehicle automatically. The system not only acts as a crime deterrent, but also allows the transit agency to quickly resolve issues or identify culprits. The City of Peoria funded its on-bus surveillance system purchase via a Federal Transit Administration grant (80%) and matching local funds (20%).

In California, Long Beach Transit (LBT) has long enjoyed an excellent reputation for its on-time record, passenger and public safety, and the cleanliness and reliability of its fleet. It even claims popular bus operators among its successes.

In keeping with its safety goals, LBT recently implemented a similar digital recording system throughout its fleet. As in other locations - Buffalo, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix, Reno and other cities throughout the nation - the on-board system helps LBT save money by deterring crime and vandalism, as well as helping to rapidly resolve false and misleading claims. By showcasing a safer riding experience, this security system helps increase passenger volumes, which in turn increases transit agency revenues.

How the on-board system works

Such digital recording systems provide monochrome or colour recording from 1-30 pictures per second (pps), and a hard drive that will hold up to 10,9 weeks of colour and up to 19,8 weeks of monochrome images. The typical system consists of up to eight cameras on board a vehicle, digital video recorder (DVR), keypad, panic button/status lights, docking station and PC loaded with the relevant software.

Used in conjunction with a wireless transmission system, images can be captured, stored locally and then transmitted to a central monitoring station, which can directly access the bus system and request images at any time. The system can be configured so that the central station automatically begins receiving direct transmissions from the vehicle whenever an alarm or trigger is activated. Images triggered by impact sensors or by drivers hitting the panic button are saved in a special file format with a time and date stamp to simplify retrieval. In addition, these images are also protected from automatic overwriting.

Images generated by driver panic buttons or impact sensors are saved in a special file format with a time and date stamp to make finding and retrieving them easy and fast. Such images are also protected from automatic overwriting.

In Long Beach, an average of 25 incidents a day are recorded. Incidents range from drivers reporting the dangerous driving of other road users, to elderly passengers tripping and falling, to car crashes, and to warning lights coming on the bus.

From the moment the system is installed on the bus, it starts reducing false claims. After an incident, security personnel can access stored video footage from the bus and clarify who was at fault. According to Long Beach Transit officials, the system paid for itself in terms of claims that have been avoided in less than 12 months.

The system also cut down on vandalism, which can be a major expense for any transit agency. Experience has shown that once the graffiti artists are aware that they are under surveillance, they are less likely to perform acts of vandalism.

In another instance, the video system has already helped in apprehending a passenger that had assaulted another passenger, and LBT officials believe that bus operators are increasingly encouraging their drivers to follow city policies more closely. They also expect the system to reduce the number of disciplinary actions or traffic violations by drivers. And last, but not least, LBT officials plan to use some of the captured footage to assist in driver training.

The system in action

If the driver calls in an incident, the system automatically tags the video. It does this by placing a marker three minutes ahead of the call and then a second marker five minutes after the handset is replaced. When the bus returns to the depot, the video is transferred via the wireless network and stored onto the server area network (SAN) for employees to process. The wireless offloading starts automatically as the bus comes within range of the depot wireless network.

The wireless system to remotely retrieve maintenance information from the MobileView systems is also available. Using a feature called Clipfind, employees can request information on how the surveillance system is working for specific dates, times and buses. As these buses return to the depot, the information is retrieved automatically and stored onto the SAN.

A transit police vehicle can also be equipped so that it can be used to pursue a bus if problems develop onboard. The vehicle is fitted with a mobile access point that allows the pursuit vehicle to discreetly access the bus's MobileView system and monitor events in realtime from a safe distance.

Verifying employee identities via secure IDs

It is more important than ever for transportation agencies to ensure that employees are actually employees...and not impersonators planning to do harm. New security features made possible by advanced card printing technology can be incorporated into photo identification cards, rendering them practically tamper-proof.

For instance, Metrolink is a premier US regional rail system that includes commuter and other passenger services that is now in its ninth year of operation. Metrolink's Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA) currently serves more than 35 000 passengers in 50 cities.

"Before we began using an in-house card printer, we were using blank cards that just had a number for each employee. It was not very secure," explains Claudia Delgado, administrative services coordinator for Metrolink SCRRA. "Now our employee identification cards also double as access control proximity cards and they are integrated into our security system."

All employees and contractors are now issued colour identification cards that correspond to the security system database. The cards, which are printed on back and front by a Zebra P520i card printer, are numbered. Administrators can search for employees in the security database by their card number, or their first or last names.

The proximity cards are used to access Metrolink's offices. The upgraded security system now restricts access to certain locations and also monitors where employees have been via their identification cards.

"The card printer has definitely helped improve our operations," Delgado reports. "We can run reports and create groups now. The whole system is easier."

Delgado, who works out of the downtown Los Angeles headquarters, prints cards on-site for most of the approximately 400 employees and contractors who work in Metrolink SCRRA's five offices. A second printer was eventually purchased for the Pomona office, which is the second largest Metrolink office in Southern California.

In-house card printers can be used for multiple applications. The Chicago Transit Authority uses its printers to create transit discount passes to encourage Chicago college students to ride the bus and rail system.

Photos are placed on the cards to prevent unauthorised people from using the cards. The students like it because they get a discount. The transit authority likes the cards because they can identify the pass holder, assuring only those paying for the pass use it. In addition, they receive detailed information about ridership from the information encoded on the card's magnetic stripe.

The Chicago Transit Authority can use information on student ridership to target its marketing programmes to individual schools, or to gauge the success of its programmes.

Wireless solutions add visible security

Wireless access control is another increasingly viable option for controlling traffic into a high security area. Wireless access control solutions are ideal for outdoor applications. Unlike indoor applications which are rated at 60 metres, outdoor applications can run up to 305 metres with their internal antennae. For longer spans, optional gain antennae may be used to bridge distances up to 1200 metres!

Radio frequency transmissions from wireless systems do not require line of sight for effective communications. By operating at 900 MHz, signals are able to transmit through common building materials such as cinder block, plaster board, wood and concrete. This enables tremendous flexibility with product placement.

Panel interface modules (PIMs) are at the centre of wireless solutions, which are the bridge between wired systems and wireless locksets or access points. PIMs are available in two versions. The most common type supports up to two wireless access devices and connects to most access control panels or reader interface modules via standard Wiegand or mag stripe protocols. Another type supports up to 16 wireless access points and connects directly to select access control panels via an RS485 interface without reader interface modules.

Adding card access to gates and controlling them from a main building is easy with a wireless solution. The wireless solution is pretty straightforward when there are no obstructions between the PIM and the gate - simply install a PIM near the edge of the main building and install a wireless reader interface at the gate. If there is an obstruction to the line of sight, such as a large tree, between the main building and the gate, a repeater is required. The repeater retransmits signals between the PIM and the wireless reader interface at the gate.

Getting there...safely

If the goal is to protect both personnel and physical assets, then staying abreast of the latest trends in transportation security is essential for forward-thinking executives. The money spent on an advanced security solution today could make the difference between a company that prospers and grows, and a company that literally gets left in the dust. With all the efforts undertaken by government at all levels to provide better security for both people and property, it still falls on individuals - and individual companies - to ensure their own long-term survival and success.

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