Security On The Move
Security On The Move

Jul 1, 2003 12:00 PM

Every weekday, more than 14 million Americans board public transportation vehicles. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), 9.5 billion trips were taken on public transportation in 2001 ! 16 times more trips than were flown on domestic airplanes that year. To keep these millions of passengers on board, the $32 billion public transportation industry must present an image of safety and efficiency.

Protecting the highly mobile and open environment of a transit system can require a different approach than the one taken to protect a corporate facility, or even an airport. Also unlike private corporations, transit agencies often depend on funding from federal or state governments.

As security precautions develop and adapt in the face of domestic terrorist attacks, transit authorities caution: The procedures that work for airports will not work for the busy terminals of bus or rail stations ! much less on the many traveling vehicles.

"Public transit, by design, is an open infrastructure," says Greg Hull, director of operations, safety and security programs for the APTA. "To apply the same processes and procedures as for the aviation industry would not work as well and could impede the movements required."

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, various legislation and initiatives have delivered grants and resources to transit agencies, but they have also dictated changes. In addition to suggesting security and emergency response procedures, the Transportation Research Board, Washington, has called for "layered security systems" woven through transportation operations. These security systems should have closely integrated features so that the breach of any one layer would not jeopardize the entire system.

The Board also suggests that security be built into all aspects of transit operations as they are developed, rather than being added as an afterthought. Federal experts realize, however, that due to the age of many transit systems, officials are often forced to play "catch up" with security technology.
Getting Up To Speed

Transit security measures must be unobtrusive enough to not restrict passenger traffic flow. While baggage and passenger screening has been deployed in airports and on some cruise ships, experts say the technology is not ready for bus and rail terminals.

"The problem is, there isn't available technology to accomplish screening without being invasive," says Faith Varwig, president of the technology services group for St. Louis-based Ross & Baruzzini Transportation Services. The company, which has worked in airport security since the mid-1980s, aids transit systems with infrastructure planning, development of their security requirements, and design of equipped command centers.

High-risk periods ! such as during an elevated national terror alert level ! prompt some agencies to randomly search patrons. The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), for example, warns its 225,000 daily passengers to expect possible searches during these periods. In more routine times, however, security must be balanced with convenience.

Nearly all transit systems have held drills and increased the visibility of transit police. Many systems have CCTV cameras on station platforms, and access control protection for secured areas, such as operation control centers and equipment rooms.

Protection of the stationary sites, such as terminals and maintenance facilities, is often similar to the security operation at a corporate facility. How the security systems interact and are administered on the mobile vehicles, however, often differs.
Integration Stations

Transit systems generally use two-way radios to communicate between vehicles and command centers. Many rail systems are also moving toward intrusion detection devices to detect trespassers in tunnels. Many bus and rail systems also have some form of tracking and location devices installed on vehicles, such as GPS or GIS.

With the help of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), two systems have introduced sensor devices to detect air-borne chemical agents in terminals ! the majority, however, are far from such advancements.
CCTV On Board

The Central New York Regional Transit Authority, which transports 41,000 passengers daily, recently initiated a 90-day test of six CCTV systems aboard city buses. The authority is awaiting federal funding. Paul Smith, manager of operations and support programs, hopes the number of monitored buses can expand to 50 by year's end.

"I believe the real value of these cameras is what they prevent," he says. "You want people to know it's there."

Fare evasion, vandalism, accidents, incident claims and complaints of bus overcrowding all could be investigated with the help of onboard CCTV.

The CCTV cameras are connected to a digital video recorder, which enables images to be downloaded to a laptop computer. Real-time information can also be transmitted to a central receiver with broadband technology.

In Smith's department, the director of transportation would review the recordings, which are encrypted for additional security. Having cameras onboard buses is expected to augment existing security precautions including road supervisors who conduct ride checks, cameras and security guards in terminals, and proximity identification badges for transit employees.

"At first, I worried about [bus] drivers thinking you're spying on them," Smith says. "But they suddenly wanted [the cameras] there ! especially on nights and weekends, because it made them feel a little more secure."
Recognizing Trends

Two years ago, MARTA Police began using a system called MARTA Police Proactively Attacking Crime Trends (MPACT), modeled after the COMPSTAT crime analysis and police management process developed by the New York City Police Department. The system maps crime precursors and trends geographically and then implements strategic responses.

"We map out patterns or trends of problems and officers can move quickly," says Sgt. Robert Connolly, MARTA police's crime analyst. "You have to be more flexible here in patrol techniques. Problems don't stay in the same spot." An 800-MHz communication system installation will include an Automatic Vehicle Location System for all MARTA vehicles, helping officers to more easily map complaints.
MARTA Upgrades

A new fare collection system should soon be installed to help MARTA with access control at the terminals. "It will make the system much harder to get into," Connolly says. "Right now it's very open, almost the honor system, and we get a lot of vagrants in the system. And that's nothing terrorism-related, it's more of a quality of life issue."

With the emphasis on terrorism following Sept. 11, MARTA focused on improving physical security elements ! installing bollards around its central station, and upgrading lighting and fencing ! after consultations with the FTA. As part of a five-point initiative, FTA conducted threat and vulnerability assessments for the largest and highest-risk transit agencies, and deployed emergency response planning and technical assistance teams to the top 50 transit agencies to help implement emergency response plans.

Connolly says new funding will enable MARTA to upgrade a 468-camera analog system in terminals and stations that feed recordings to analog multiplexers.
The Eyes and Ears of Transit

As with any industry, technology is only effective when monitored and organized by proactive employees. Transit employees and passengers are expected by the FTA to be a nationwide "transit watch," on the lookout for and reporting suspicious activities.

"Our greatest form of security protection is our employees. Having them be our eyes and ears brings us back to the importance of training for front line employees," says APTA's Hull.

In Houston, Harris County Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO), which operates 1,500 buses with 400,000 passengers each weekday and a 7-mile rail system slated to open in January, has a community policing approach. "Our officers, operators, ridership, maintenance staff and the general public all play a role in how safety and security are provided," says METRO Police Chief Tom Lambert.

Cutting Down On Network Traffic Jams

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) on transit vehicles provide a staggering amount of information. Transit authorities can locate a vehicle and assess its mechanical health; they can count passengers and track fare evasion. They can time traffic signals to bring wayward buses back on schedule, and communicate with vehicle operators.

Location information from a GPS system is often the source for status information delivered to real-time arrival and departure trackers for passengers. In some systems, this information is transmitted not only to terminals, but also to shelters, and is communicated to passengers by flashing beacons, automated maps and charts, and automated voice recordings.

To ensure these systems operate successfully, some transit agencies have installed advanced network performance tools.

Portland, Ore.'s Tri-County Metropolitan Transit Agency (TriMet) recently began using a performance management system from Westford, Mass.-based NetScout to proactively manage network traffic. TriMet communicates information from its GPS System and real-time Transit Tracker applications via its internal network to remote shelters and stations. TriMet recently introduced access control sensors in its three-mile rail tunnel.

NetScout's application-aware hardware probes monitor the status of all network traffic and display it for IT managers through the nGenius Performance Manager. "It lets them discover and resolve traffic anomalies before network degradations affect the quality of the GPS or other information," says Eileen Haggerty, NetScout's senior product marketing manager.

The software also warns when the network is approaching maximum capacity and risks information degradation. For systems that add digital video, staying below bandwidth capacity can become a challenge. TriMet currently uses stand-alone recorders in terminals and on vehicles; the recorded information is downloaded to a rewritable media such as Zip disks.

Several years ago, TriMet began cataloguing accident and incident reports in a sortable database. "Now it gives us a lot of really powerful information and really helps our efficiency," says Tim Garling, TriMet's manager of field operations. "Every transit system has limited resources, and it's very important for us to be able to address those limited resources in the correct areas."
Corrina Stellitano
The Role Of Smart Cards In Transit Security

Here's another innovative technology that helps transit authorities to consolidate limited resources. Transit systems, including those in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., have begun to use smart card-enabled fare and ticketing systems. The smart cards use radio frequency waves instead of magnetic strips to communicate fare and passenger information to card readers.

One technology provider, San Diego-based Cubic, says the cards have a higher storage capacity than the magnetic systems and can keep information more secure with encryption. Some transit systems have begun issuing the smart cards as access control badges to employees. The card serves as their ticket when traveling the system, and allows entry into secured areas.

"You have a proximity badge with a higher level of security, and it allows them to travel the system, as well," says David deKozan, vice president of strategic planning for Cubic Transportation Systems, a Cubic subsidiary. Corporations with large transit user populations may incorporate the smart fare cards with their internal access control and ID badges, deKozan says.

The smart card technology can also be paired with real-time communication capabilities to aid in crisis response on buses. Passengers enticed by features such as lost card insurance can register their identity on their smart card. Then, in the case of an incident, bus operators can communicate with the command center and request transaction records, thus immediately identifying their passengers.
Corrina Stellitano

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