Transportation Infrastructure: Overcoming the Obstacles to Convergence

As global passenger numbers continue to increase, those responsible for the management and protection of transportation infrastructure are under greater pressure and scrutiny than ever before – particularly in a ‘high alert’ global climate. Implementing and enforcing effective security measures while also facilitating efficient transit of people is a challenging balancing act. Passenger safety is the main priority but of equal importance is the customer experience of the passenger and for Operators - process and cost efficiencies.

Nowhere is that challenge felt more keenly than at transport convergence points – the intersections that define transitions between transportation modes, operators and authorities, while also enabling seamless ‘onward travel’ for passengers.

In this Interview Room, we talk to a few of Synectics’ key Transport & Infrastructure specialists about the role that surveillance can play in addressing these challenges through intelligent systems integration. Joining us are Jürgen Fuchs - Director, Strategic Projects; Chris Bishop - VP International Business Development; and Greg Alcorn - Divisional Director, Transport & Infrastructure.

What are the ‘surveillance essentials’ when it comes to the various modes of transport? Are there any commonalities or unique requirements?

CB: All transport hubs face two challenges: keeping people and property safe, and ensuring that both can pass from entrance to exit efficiently. This has important implications for surveillance.

It is very easy to get caught up in the details. Establishing virtual perimeters protecting aprons (where planes are parked and fuelled), facial scanning at passport control, secure data sharing to enable centralized verification of suspicious baggage x-ray images; these are all deployments specific to airports but in each case, the way surveillance is used is highly translatable to any other setting.

Each environment will always have a unique set of logistical requirements and third party systems to accommodate, but the overarching objective is always the same – achieving a level of situational awareness that enables threats to safety, efficiency and customer experience to be identified quickly and dealt with rapidly.

JF: And as global security is heightened, surveillance requirements for each transport setting are becoming even more closely aligned. With each additional protective measure introduced, there is a need for greater efficiency and that is best achieved through facilitating a truly 360-degree understanding of any given situation. You can only achieve this through systems integration – bringing security, safety, and operational data into one unified platform to enable data to be identified and understood in context.

What kinds of integrations are possible?

GA: Open protocol command and control surveillance software is database agnostic which means integration with virtually any third party system is possible. Access control, emergency systems such as fire or smoke detection, and surveillance cameras - both mobile, e.g. body worn, and static – are what you might call baseline integrations. Most mission-critical settings, regardless of sector, will be familiar with using a surveillance and security management platform to unify monitoring and management of this type of data.

Where things get really interesting is when you also start incorporating systems such as footfall analytics, ANPR systems, motion detection, facial recognition, body/baggage scanning, communication systems (telephony, visual and public address), check-in databases, RFID and any other site specific technology.

An intelligently integrated surveillance command and control platform is able to unify and interrogate this data, recognize threat scenarios, flag anomalies and guide operators through appropriate response protocols using dynamic workflows.

CB: Take, for example, an unattended bag in a terminal building. With the solution Greg has outlined, cameras integrated with movement analytics software would detect a static item not usually in frame which would trigger an alert in the surveillance control room. This would prioritize the relevant camera feed for visual verification and prompt an onscreen workflow reflecting the airport’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

The workflow asks the operators to confirm that the alert relates to an unaccompanied bag. The operator confirms ‘yes’ which automatically sends a message via SMS to the nearest security teams along with an image of the item and exact position via integrated GIS mapping. The operator is also prompted to issue an announcement via the integrated public address system requesting people to check they have their luggage. Identifying that the bag is not a danger, one of the security officers types a simple number code into his mobile which automatically sends a message to the surveillance team confirming that - as a security issue - the incident is closed.

It’s an efficient and consistent way to deal with potential threats while at the same time minimizing potential impact to passengers.

So how does this work in an interchange setting – for example where an underground rail line terminates at an airport? If they are operated by two different organizations, isn’t there a danger of threats ‘falling through the gap’?

JF: Again, the workflow functionality has a particularly important role here. In the scenario Chris shared, the workflow prompted the control room to contact on-site security. But it could just as easily prompt communication with an external agency such as emergency services or, in relation to this specific question, the rail operator’s surveillance team.

Indeed, it is possible to securely integrate any external agency communications to facilitate remote viewing capabilities. For example, if the bag had been deemed suspicious and the person responsible could not be found, a workflow can direct the airport surveillance operator to review footage to capture an image of the individual who left the bag, which would then be automatically pushed out to tablets or mobile devices used by the rail operator’s platform and on-vehicle staff.

From a rail operator’s perspective - while still using the same technology - surveillance teams notified of a disturbance on board a train bound for the airport terminal, can stream footage to airport security personnel identifying persons of interest. Increasingly, improvements in connectivity will also allow for on-board vehicle surveillance and security data to be automatically uploaded and prioritized on arrival at transport hubs, removing any previous boundaries between mobile and static security.

Digitization drives the automation of key processes, which in turn supports the convergence of surveillance in transport settings.

You mention digitization and automation – isn’t this removing the human element of surveillance?

GA: Not at all. In fact the opposite is true – one of the biggest benefits of integrated surveillance and workflow functionality is that it empowers the human element. Decision making becomes more informed and, because the solution is programmed to initiate response protocols that reflect a site’s own SOPs, incident management becomes more consistent. As all actions are automatically logged on the system, surveillance teams can also be reassured that their responses and behavior are backed by a full, evidentiary level audit trail.

It also has significant implications of human resource management. Remember an integrated solution is able to detect any potential threat or incident – not just security ones. For instance, excessive queues or head-count analytics exceeding preset limits could be programmed to trigger a staff deployment workflow, perhaps to populate more ticket desks, whereas integrated operational systems detecting an equipment fault could be programmed to automatically alert maintenance crews. It’s an efficient and effective mechanism for ensuring that time-pressured personnel are deployed where they are most needed.

What are the barriers that might prevent more widespread adoption of converged surveillance, either at interchange points or in terms of on-vehicle-to-static security?

CB: From a technological point of view the surveillance innovation we’ve talked about currently exists. The main barrier to the deployment of converged solutions comes down to bandwidth. At the moment, real-time data transmission – particularly in terms of visual information – is a challenge, but this will improve as we move towards 5G which is anticipated to be deployed by 2020.

GA: The biggest barriers are actually more likely to be human. For example, in countries where the transport infrastructure is not state-owned, different providers may be unwilling to integrate for commercial reasons.

Political and regulatory drivers may have a large role to play in leading the potential that exists for converged surveillance. This has certainly been the case in Madrid, where there has been a shift towards collaborative working, spurred on by political necessity.

JF: Madrid is an impressive example. A large central control room receives and integrates data from 40 urban control rooms based throughout the metropolitan area, which collectively handle information from all the public and private transport operators encompassing over 100 bus routes, 300 lines and 200,000 cameras - including traffic intersection and on-vehicle cameras.

This system structure facilitates informed and aligned decision making while also ensuring there is no duplication of effort. All stakeholders, whether control based or not, can see the data at the same time therefore improving incident management. The use of ICT in a client orientated way optimizes the whole transport system and is an example of true collaborative working.

What future trends will we see in terms of converged surveillance in the transport sector?

JF: Beyond the integrations discussed here, I think one of the biggest trends we are likely to see in the future is passengers themselves becoming an information point.

In Germany, for example, where surveillance cameras are not run continuously (they typically start to record when an alert is triggered in their vicinity), operators are now looking towards smart phone app technology. The idea is that the app provides passengers with a ‘panic button’ they can press if something happens in their carriage which, though integration with the rail operator’s surveillance solution, ensures on-board cameras are recording – enabling security teams to monitor and respond in real time. It is an application with huge potential.

Until then, the goal is to raise awareness of the huge potential for integration - that exists in the here and now - for Transport Operators and the benefits it can deliver.