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Bridging the Gap

​THE SEAWAY INTERNATIONAL Bridge Corporation operates an international border crossing connecting the cities of Cornwall, Ontario, Canada, and Massena, New York. According to Wade Dorland, operations manager for Seaway, the company must play many roles. It must protect the bridges from terrorists and ensure that motorists drive safely, while still respecting the needs of the residents who populate the suburban areas around the crossing.

Dorland found technological solutions to help facilitate these duties—illuminators to get better CCTV images of the bridges; facial recognition cameras and license plate capture cameras to catch dangerous drivers; and software to identify and sort the license plate images.

The area protected by Seaway is named the Three Nations Crossing, referencing the U.S., Canada, and the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne, whose territory the bridge covers. Seaway is in charge of security for two toll bridges that make up the crossing—the South and North Channel Bridges. The South Channel Bridge was opened in 1958 and spans the St. Lawrence Seaway. The North Channel Bridge, opened in 1962, connects the City of Cornwall to Cornwall Island.

The North Channel Bridge is completely in Canada, and the South Channel Bridge, which is a suspension bridge, has one-third of its span in Canada and the rest in the United States. “The four points where the bridges touch land are key for security,” says Dorland. “This is especially true with the suspension bridge, since these points are where the suspension cables from the bridge tie to land.”

To protect these points, Dorland installed floodlights to illuminate the area at night and CCTV cameras. However, the floodlights caused a public-relations problem. “The bridges are located in a fairly residential area,” says Dorland. The light was considered a nuisance at night, and the cameras were seen as intrusive, so “People would damage the spotlights and the cameras.”

After years of replacing parts on the floodlights and cameras, Dorland says that he decided it was time to try to find a better solution. At the time, he was working on another project with Bosch Security Systems, Inc., of Fairport, New York, and he mentioned his problem with the bridges. The Bosch representative suggested that Dorland try the Aegis Super LED Illuminators with pan-tilt-zoom domes.

The illuminators are mounted 75 feet over the bridge anchor points, well out of reach of vandals. But the lights are also less intrusive, because the illuminators are trained straight down to focus the light. From the view of the infrared dome camera recording the scene, the area around the anchor points looks like midday. But people who live around the bridge can’t even tell that the lights are on.

Getting the settings just right took a little experimenting. “When we started using them, the illuminators were too bright, and the camera images were overexposed, but we repositioned the lights, and now they are perfect,” says Dorland. “The illuminators make it look like daylight in pitch-black night.”

The neighbors are happy, and the equipment is no longer attacked. Since the illuminators were installed, there have been no acts of vandalism against the lights or the cameras, Dorland says.

Another issue that he wanted to address was the problem of dangerous drivers. “Some drivers come through the toll plaza at 100 kilometers an hour,” says Dorland. “They drive fast enough to break the toll booth gates.”

Dorland started looking for a license-plate-capture system to help toll-booth operators identify dangerous drivers. However, he needed a facial-recognition system as well.

“In Canada, if you need to charge someone with dangerous driving or damage to property, identifying the car is not sufficient,” explains Dorland. “You must positively identify the driver. That is why facial recognition is so important. All accused violators have to say is ‘I wasn’t driving.’”

“Our main issue was with speed. We needed to capture plates at high and low speeds and in all sorts of weather,” says Dorland. He tested several systems, but “The Bosch system was the only one that worked at [high] speed and in foggy, nighttime conditions,” he says.

Dorland ended up with a system that included both license-plate and facial-recognition cameras and software. Bosch customized the product for Dorland and does not currently sell these items together.

The system has helped them obtain a number of convictions for dangerous driving, according to Dorland. And, just as important, he says, the system has performed well despite the poor weather conditions. “We have snow and wind and fog and sleet,” he says. “The cameras do very well in all those conditions.”

The cameras that record the area around the bridges’ anchor points, and those that capture images for facial recognition and license-plate identification are monitored around the clock. The cameras send the data into an operations center in the toll booth area. Two supervisors can access the feed via password-protected computer terminals. The information is recorded and kept for seven days for now, but Dorland says that the company has plans to increase storage capacity and lengthen the amount of time video is kept.

The images from the cameras with the license-plate-capture capability are fed into the Car Detector, an optical character recognition system produced by Vigilant Video of Livermore, California. The Vigilant system checks the images against a database of repeat offenders maintained by Seaway. These offenders could be prior speeders or people who have previously lied about the weight or classification of their vehicle in an attempt to pay less in tolls.

If the Car Detector recognizes a license plate that has previously been entered into the system, the unit triggers an audible alarm inside the toll booth to alert the attendant “that the next person in line is a potential violator,” says Dorland.

The license-plate-recognition system, which had been in use for six months when we spoke with Dorland, helps operators to identify repeat troublemakers. If the flagged driver misbehaves again, the operator writes up a report to give to management, which follows up with law enforcement. That, combined with the surveillance cameras and facial-recognition software, helps to keep the bridges safe and secure.