Debunking the biggest transport security myth

Last updated 22 Jan 16 @ 14:10 |
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Chris Bishop explains why safe travel doesn’t have to mean slow travel

All transport hubs, whether consumer or commercial, face two significant challenges: keeping people and property safe, and ensuring that both can pass from entrance to exit efficiently and economically. A commonly shared view is that tackling one inevitably has a negative impact on the other. For example, that increasing security measures in response to heightened threat levels will always lead to slower passenger or cargo processing. However, technical developments and changing approaches to surveillance allows this widely held belief to be dismissed.

Security and speed are no longer mutually exclusive concepts. By enhancing situational awareness with intelligently integrated surveillance, transport hub operators have the opportunity to make significant improvements in both these important areas. Let me explain further.

Whether discussing sea ports, railway stations, bus terminals or busy airports, identifying and responding to potential threats boils down to one thing – awareness. The more information that control teams have about the sites they manage and what is happening across and around them, the better equipped they are to identify potential issues and respond appropriately. It’s not a challenging concept in theory but in practice, without the right level of integration, there is a significant flaw. How do you identify and qualify crucial information from the vast amounts of data that exists?

Transport hubs operate a broad range of security, emergency and operational edge device sub-systems to protect staff, passengers, goods and infrastructure. These systems generate vast amounts of data. What most do not currently have, however, is a way to unify that data to enable ‘key incident cut through’ – identification of the information that matters. The reason for this is that in the vast majority of cases, these systems operate independently and are monitored by different personnel. It’s a scenario that is time consuming, can be a significant draw on resources, and one that doesn’t afford operators a holistic view of the site(s) in question. Data, though abundant, is not necessarily useful.

This is exactly the situation that perpetuates transport security misconceptions, as a disjointed approach can, and often does, mean that increased emphasis on safety and security impacts negatively on operational efficiency, and vice versa. However, adopting an open architecture, intelligently integrated surveillance command and control platform to collate that data dramatically improves situational awareness. The data is monitored, controlled and – with the use of intelligent video analytics – understood in a single unified environment. This in turn facilitates multiple benefits across entire sites, without forcing compromise in any one specific area of operation.

The best way to highlight this is a real-world scenario. Take, for example, a major railway station where protocols have been implemented to improve the identification of, and appropriate response to, unaccompanied luggage. Imagine that a bag has been left in the main car park, which sits beneath the central station area. With an intelligently integrated surveillance command and control platform unifying site systems and protocols, the following scenario is possible. Cameras at the station, integrated with analytics software, are able to detect when an item is static for a certain period and trigger an automatic alert in the central surveillance control room. The stationary and unaccompanied bag therefore prompts such an alert. The alert prioritises feed from cameras nearest the item in question on monitors in the control room and initiates a dynamic workflow – tailored to the stations’ Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), which asks the operators to confirm that the alert relates to an unaccompanied bag. The operator hits yes and, thanks to built-in GIS mapping, a message is automatically sent via SMS to the nearest security team along with an image of the item and exact position. The operator is also prompted to issue an announcement via the public address system requesting people check they have their luggage.

While the security team head to the suspect item, operators in the control room – again prompted by the automatic workflow – are able to quickly review footage to identify when the items were left and by whom. They identify an individual and, via the system, distribute the image out to the security teams and key concourse personnel. Based on the image, a security officer finds the individual who left the item in error, and escorts them to collect it. The officer pushes a simple number code into his mobile, which automatically sends a message to the surveillance team that the incident is closed.

All actions, messages and visual data from the event are logged automatically on the integrated database ensuring that it can be used for evidentiary purposes or, in this case, as a future training scenario.

Without an intelligently integrated surveillance platform unifying multiple systems from different areas of the station, this event could have taken significantly longer to investigate. Unnecessary and lengthy security cordons that delay passengers and services potentially could have been initiated in response to this security threat with the inevitable associated cost. Rapid communications in accordance with the tailored SOPs delivered a swift conclusion to the incident.

Now imagine a more serious version of the scenario. Again the camera detects a left item prompting a user-driven dynamic workflow. When the footage is tracked back and the individual is spotted, the workflow asks: “Does it appear the item was left intentionally?” In the previous case the answer was “no”, but in this scenario the person can be seen clearly setting down the item and moving immediately away therefore the answer is “yes”.

As before, an image of the individual is distributed but in this case an automatic alert to the police is issued and evacuation teams are contacted to be on standby. At this point the command and control platform, integrated with an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) sub-system, detects a stolen vehicle entering the pick-up point collecting a passenger and moving off. In line with station protocols, these two items happening together in such a close time frame signifies a specific threat level, prompting the implementation of immediate emergency procedures and protocols.

In both scenarios, the station is adhering to stringent security procedures without any impact on day-to-day operations. In fact, real-time threat detection and improved response times, paired with Person of Interest identification and tracking, ensures that operations are streamlined, yet still highly effective and accurate.

It’s a strategic approach, which means the right people see the right information at the right time to make the right decisions. In the event that delays to services and passengers are required, an intelligent approach to integration can also help manage passenger experience. In an airport, for example, a security incident taking place in a terminal departures area may determine that check-ins need to be delayed. In this case the system would ‘know’ to alert check-in desk teams already in place, and to notify management that additional personnel and desks are likely to be required to prevent excessive passenger bottlenecks once check-in reopens. It will also be possible to improve direct and secure interaction with passengers, for example utilising SMS to convey delays, alerts or requests – again triggered automatically by integrating site sub-systems.

The possibilities are endless. The nature of open protocol integration enables transport hubs to flex and grow their systems to accommodate site expansion, eg new terminals, new technology developments such as enhanced analytics software and changing needs based on changing threats.

For transport hubs that want to address risk mitigation and operational efficiency, while also ensuring that incident detection, response and reporting procedures comply with specific Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), intelligent integration with surveillance at its core is the way forward and within reach.

Chris Bishop – Synectics’ International Business Development Manager – has over 35 years’ experience in the surveillance industry, with specific areas of expertise extending to transportation, CNI, Safe City, healthcare and energy applications.