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Bridging A Security Gap

The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) is an independent state agency that finances, owns, operates, and maintains the state’s eight toll facilities: four bridges, two tunnels, and two turnpikes. The Francis Scott Key Bridge, one of the two main bridges, provides an important passageway across the Baltimore Harbor, especially for trucks carrying hazardous material, which are prohibited from going through tunnels. The other primary bridge, the Bay Bridge, connects the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area with Maryland’s Eastern Shore, beaches, and other popular tourist spots. These two main bridges also span shipping channels that lead to the Port of Baltimore.

“Both bridges are crucial to the Port of Baltimore, and would have a serious effect on the economic standing of Maryland if one of these bridges were compromised and stopped cargo ships from entering the port,” explains Ricky Williams, director of security at the MDTA.

Securing a bridge requires a combination of technological solutions and human effort. Highway and toll booth traffic, animals, debris, and pedestrians are just a few of the elements that can interfere with the structure’s operation and maintenance. Severe weather can further impede an operator’s ability to maintain a safe environment. Boats, which are capable of transporting materials that could be used for harm, are also a constant security concern that must be monitored. These entities are difficult to predict and control, requiring a solution that will warn of an interference before it becomes an actual security issue.

Williams was hired about nine years ago to help improve security for the buildings and structures owned and operated by the authority, including the bridges. “What we wanted to do was create better situational awareness for our responders and also for our operators monitoring them,” he notes. Working with the IT division of the MDTA, he set out to award a large security contract that would ultimately enhance security at all the MDTA properties.

Williams didn’t want operators to have to monitor several disparate systems coming in, but rather envisioned using a PSIM (physical security information management) application, which is a central monitoring platform that pulls in feeds from surveillance cameras, maps, radar, and other monitoring tools to display security events. In terms of camera and radar solutions, he had worked with several vendors in the past, but a high rate of false alarms was a persistent problem. He also says that existing technology wasn’t being used to its full extent. “As I always say, if you’re going to put a camera up and not maintain it, don’t put it up to begin with,” Williams notes.

In early 2012, the MDTA awarded the contract to Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), now Leidos, to find an integrated solution to upgrade security at the four Maryland bridges as well as at the MDTA security operations center. Neil Chung, chief systems engineer at Leidos, tells Security Management that he chose SpotterRF’s compact surveillance radar (CSR) to install in and around the Francis Scott Key and Bay Bridges.

“Multiple radars that could be strategically placed around the critical infrastructure was the best application of the radar technology,” says Chung, “[rather than] having one maritime radar to sweep the entire area; then there would be lots of blind spots because of the bridge structure and the bridge piers.” 

SpotterRF’s radar technology can cover the same field of view as 20 infrared cameras. “To cover a 90-degree field of view, it takes 20 cameras. But the radar has a very wide field of view,” says Logan Harris, CEO of SpotterRF. “One C40 radar can cover 20 acres of space, so that’s a large volume, and then couple that with one infrared camera, you’re essentially doing the job of 20 infrared cameras.” 

Ground surveillance radars can be extremely expensive, making the cost-effective CSR a good choice for MDTA, Chung says. “By using multiple SpotterRF radars, we could put them in strategic locations and give pretty much 90 percent coverage of the entire bridge.” Eventually the radar will be installed at all four of MDTA’s signature bridges.

The radar integrates with PSIM software from VidSys, which is a subcontractor for the security project. The PSIM is managed at a central security monitoring station at MDTA’s operation center. In addition to upgrading the radar solution at the bridges, Williams has also played an integral role in upgrading the access control and CCTV systems at the 47 buildings in the state that are owned and operated by the MDTA.

Williams says his organization uses AMAG Technology, Inc., for its access control and video management system. “We have one of the largest AMAG access control systems on the east coast,” he says. “Operators can manage the access control system from VidSys. We also have 47 Pelco DVRs and approximately 600 facility cameras integrated into VidSys, as well as an intrusion detection system that takes into account panic buttons, window and door contacts, door-held-open alarms, and motion detection.”

Williams says having analytics coming in from several different sources into one platform makes for a more manageable security operation. “At our operations center, we have a video wall, and the tops of our screens are dedicated to security,” Williams explains. “So if an alarm comes in, it automatically populates the screen with that incident, and it automatically pulls in the three closest cameras onto that screen.” He says that reviewing incidents can be almost as simple as “the push of a button,” and adds that about eight systems currently integrate into the PSIM, including all of the Maryland State Highway Administration cameras.

Another system MDTA has integrated into the PSIM is CitiLog, which detects stopped vehicles. If a vehicle stops on one of the bridges or in a tunnel without moving for 30 seconds, it triggers an alarm at the central monitoring station. “Not only does it show the vehicle and a snapshot, but if the vehicle moves prior to the operator seeing the vehicle live, the operator automatically sees a 30-second video clip that comes up that they can view to see what caused the detection,” Williams says. “I recently got an e-mail that we had a car fire in the Ft. McHenry Tunnel, and I went on VidSys­—I have a workstation here in my office—and I pulled it up, and it sent off an alarm to the operations center that there was a stopped vehicle.” Seeing that the stopped vehicle was on fire, Williams was able to dispatch the appropriate response team. In the case of a traffic jam, the first car in the slow-down will trigger an alarm. The system is configured so that the subsequent cars in the back-up will not continue to activate the cameras.

Williams notes that the system is simple for operators to use. Everything is driven by analytics or by intrusion detection systems, and there are standard operating procedures and manuals readily available to users on the menu in case they are unsure of how to respond to the situation. The MDTA also made specifications in the contract for an electronic trouble ticket system, which is called Track-it. If the operators find that a camera, a radar unit, or other technology is not working, they can select the button labeled “Track-it” which will take them to an e-mail screen. The operator can then populate the screen with the appropriate information and it is forwarded to Leidos, Williams notes.

Williams says the various security applications installed across MDTA properties, including the SpotterRF radar system and the VidSys PSIM application, are functioning smoothly. “Right now, it’s working very well,” he says. “We’ve actually taken an apple and tried to turn it into an orange. It’s taken us a while to get to this point, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job.”