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Ferrying the Masses

Getting off the island.

It seems like a simple task, but as we’ve seen in Lost, Cast Away, Gilligan’s Island, and countless other Hollywood depictions, it’s not always easily accomplished. Those living and working on the island of Manhattan when disaster strikes can find themselves in a similar situation when bridges, tunnels, and train services go down, leaving many stranded. That’s where the ferry system comes into play.

“Any major event that took place within New York City in the past 20 years, the ferry company has played a role,” says Jonathan Figueroa, director of facilities for Billybey Ferry Company. “During 9-11 when the World Trade Center went down, access to all the bridges and tunnels was completely shut down. The trains were shut down. No one in that lower Manhattan area had a way of going uptown, to New Jersey, or back home. The ferries played a critical role in transporting people from lower Manhattan to various parts of the island, Brooklyn, Midtown, [North and Central] New Jersey, and South Jersey.”

While 9-11 was an exceptional event, New York’s ferries have also played key roles in other crisis situations, such as during the 2003 blackout. The entire city went dark, but the ferries kept running because they didn’t rely on electricity. And when Flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson River in January 2009, the ferries were the first responders, helping transport passengers to shore. 

Most recently, the ferries played a major role in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when most transit systems in and out of the city were shut down for nearly a week due to flooding and power outages. While agencies worked to get the transit system back up and running, the ferries were operating 48 hours after the hurricane blew through, providing a critical service to those who were stranded.

As the population of the city relies less on cars and more on mass transit, the ferries continue to play a critical role in day-to-day life for commuters and in emergency situations when they affect the New York City area. “With all these other mass transportation hubs, where they lack is pretty much where we fill in,” Figueroa explains. 

One of the key players in the ferry system in New York City is NY Waterway, which was founded in 1986 by Arthur E. Imperatore and is run by parent companies Port Imperial Ferry Company and Billybey Ferry Company. Billybey owns most of the equipment and Port Imperial supplies the manpower for the 21 routes NY Waterway operates in a 100-mile parabola around New York City.

With 35 ferries, each capable of transporting the same load of passengers as eight commuter buses, NY Waterway is the largest privately-owned ferry operator in the United States and averages 35,000 daily riders who rely on the service to take them across the New York Harbor, the East River, and the Hudson River. The company also has 22 landings and terminals. Four of them are considered major hubs, and they have been equipped with security surveillance systems and high-speed Internet since their inception.

However, at the remaining 18 sites, there was no high-speed Internet because the service wasn’t available. “For some reason, service providers really don’t focus on the waterfront, which makes it very difficult for us to provide high-speed Internet” that could be used for communication and security purposes, Figueroa explains. Without the Internet connection, there was no way for NY Waterway to monitor what was going on at its terminals and ferries in real time.

This was problematic during day-to-day operations. For example, the lack of Internet connectivity made it difficult to communicate to crew members on the ferries, to passengers, and to those working at the terminals and landings. “To be frank, it was a matter of using analog radios and sending bodies to the specific location to see what was going on in real time,” Figueroa explains. “Because, at the time, we didn’t have the capabilities of seeing remotely what was going on at the facilities; we didn’t have the capability of pushing information out.”

While this presented challenges for day-to-day operations when the ferries were mainly moving commuters from one place to another, it was especially problematic during emergency situations. There was no way to push real-time information to ferry landings or to ferries, to alert them of a situation that might be ongoing. Radios might work or crew members might have to rely on contacting someone via cell phone, but there was no foolproof method for sending alerts out or for locating ferries at a moment’s notice.

Also, because there was no high-speed Internet connection or transmission system available, none of the ferries were equipped with surveillance cameras to record incidents—such as suspicions persons on board or slip-and-fall accidents. “Not having cameras on board made it a little more difficult for us to help our claims when we do receive them” on slip-and-falls, Figueroa explains.


To improve its ability to monitor the ferries and landings, in 2007 NY Waterway decided to take advantage of a port security grant program offered through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to build up its security infrastructure. It was able to secure a small grant to provide IP security cameras at three remote facilities and analog cameras on its ferries. 

“When we were installing and completing the project, we found that there was a major challenge for us because there were areas within those remote locations that we wanted to put cameras, but it would be difficult for us to get the feed from that camera back to where the office was located,” Figueroa explains. For example, NY Waterway wanted to set up a camera near a landing and then link it to the nearest ticket office, which was sometimes several hundred feet away. However, the lack of high-speed Internet prevented this approach.

To solve the problem, NY Waterway approached Fluidmesh Networks, which has a history of working with mass transit agencies to create networks that allow them to transmit data, video, and voice to remote locations and moving vehicles using a broadband Internet connection. Fluidmesh created a solution that solved the problem of connecting the cameras to their respective ticket offices.

This sparked the idea of using the technology in a broader capacity to link all of the ferry terminals together and connect them to the ferries as well so NY Waterway could share information in real time. 


Fluidmesh worked with NY Waterway to help establish the network backbone that would allow the company to improve its security features and day-to-day operations by using equipment connected to a broadband Internet connection. 

On the operations side, NY Waterway wanted to monitor its passengers, ferries, and personnel. It was also looking to improve its operations by using digital signage, installing a public address system, and installing a VoIP phone inside every pilot house in each of the ferries so personnel could talk directly to the pilot without having to use a cell phone or radio.  

From a safety standpoint, NY Waterway also wanted to install cameras and be able to give access to video streams on its ferries to some of the area authorities, like the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the respective port authorities, as that capability was the key to securing DHS grant funding. 

All of these features that NY Waterway was interested in using required a high-speed Internet connection that did not exist at the time. To create this connection, Fluidmesh designed a broadband network that is the largest vehicle-to-ground communication system currently deployed in the United States using its FLUIDITY technology. The technology allows connectivity to every boat in the area without the signal dropping.

Fluidmesh was chosen for the project because it was the only company capable of offering this form of seamless roaming at the time of the installation, which began in 2012. Other similar types of projects have used more traditional methods, such as cellular connections, but those methods don’t offer seamless roaming. “Meaning, once the boat moves from one base station to the next, you’re going to lose connectivity for a certain amount of time, which could be anywhere from a few seconds to a few tenths of seconds,” explains Cosimo Malesci, vice president of sales and marketing for Fluidmesh.

“If you’re in an emergency situation, you’re doing a phone call, you’re trying to offload video, whatever you’re trying to do, that disruption in connectivity clearly causes a massive problem.”

To create the system, Fluidmesh initially installed approximately 40 stations on shore to provide coverage. NY Waterway worked with local authorities and even private business owners to get permission to place the stations, called shoreside radios, almost every mile along the shoreline to create a web of coverage. 

The stations were installed in phases, beginning before Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012, taking a break after the hurricane hit the city, and finishing up a year later. However, Fluidmesh has continued to install additional stations as the network continues to grow.

“We have used all the NY Waterway docking sites to do this,” Malesci tells Security Management. “The radios have a fairly wide sector antenna that provides a good amount of coverage over water, and we have them along the Hudson River, all along the East River, and all across the upper New York Bay.” 

Once the onshore stations were established, two radios were installed on each ferry to connect the ferry itself to the network. The first radio operates as the primary radio and the second as a back-up, ensuring that the ferry remains connected to the network at all times. This creates a system where, when a boat is moving around on the river, it’s handing off information from one base station to another without dropping the network connection and losing information. 

The radios operate on a license-free bandwidth, so the system is a fast-roaming, vehicle-to-vehicle, and vehicle-to-ground communication solution that operates on a 5 gigahertz range, providing roughly 30 megabits per second per boat. 


While Fluidmesh was working on creating the network for the ferries and terminals, it knew it needed a partner that could use that network to create a reliable security surveillance system. Interlogix stepped in to upgrade the now outdated cameras installed on the ferries in 2007. 
Interlogix worked to create a surveillance system using a variety of its cameras that were then plugged into the Fluidmesh network through DVRs and NVRs with the goal of allowing NY Waterway to monitor daily operations and have footage on file should an incident, such as a slip-and-fall, occur on a ferry.

NY Waterway was also attracted to Interlogix’s technology because it was extremely user friendly, Figueroa says. Often, major police departments and other agencies have technology that is complicated and can be difficult to use. “And unless you are really familiar with how to use this type of technology, it’s very difficult to try to roll it out to a company of people so you can have multiple users,” he explains. “We found that with Interlogix, a basic product that was very simple to use was able to integrate with other technologies.”

Interlogix set to work addressing the ferries’ needs, ultimately creating a system where each ferry contains a DVR, has at least four analog cameras, and is connected to the network created by Fluidmesh. In January 2013, NY Waterway started installing analog cameras as opposed to IP, because of the positive experiences the company had with its original analog cameras during Hurricane Sandy. 

“After Hurricane Sandy, a lot of the cameras in a couple of the boats and a smaller part of the terminal were completely under water,” explains Kostas Mellos, product marketing manager for Interlogix. “The cameras that they used were some analog waterproof cameras and they just took them out and they worked.”

Another reason to go the analog route was that NY Waterway wanted the ferries to operate as standalone vessels because the system on the ferry itself is small. “The ferries themselves, they’re not hundreds of feet. They’re just commuter ferries,” Mellos says. “So there wasn’t really a need for something bigger, and when the system was deployed, that type of solution fit perfectly within their environment.”

Using the analog platform, NY Waterway installed Interlogix’s TruVision Rugged Dome cameras and TruVision 6100 Series IR cameras on the ferries. Both models are high-resolution analog cameras that are also vandal proof to prevent tampering. These cameras are connected to a TruVision DVR on each ferry, which uses H.264 video compression technology to allow livestream camera feeds from the ferries. The cameras on the ferries also have infrared capabilities so they can produce high-quality images in low-light situations, such as evenings and overcast days.

While analog cameras were installed on the ferries, NY Waterway chose to install approximately 200 IP cameras at its terminal locations along with NVRs to tie them into the Fluidmesh network. IP cameras were chosen because they would cover a larger area—such as lobbies and gangways—where higher resolution was the overriding objective. It installed TruVision IP Open Standards dome and bullet IR cameras at almost 90 percent of its terminal locations. The cameras also allow live streaming of their feeds. 

Despite some differences between the analog and IP models, all of the cameras that were installed are outdoor cameras, so they are designed to handle direct spray and water contact. However, water isn’t always the main concern.

“In these types of conditions, water is not the bigger issue; there’s a significant amount of salt that gets into the cameras themselves through the seals, and if the cameras are nonmetal, the salt will eat through them,” Mellos explains. “So what you do is you use metal cameras…and you use high-quality gaskets that do not allow salt, or salt water, or salt moisture to penetrate the cameras whatsoever.”

The cameras NY Waterway is using all have aluminum bodies, and installers take care to make sure that the camera itself is sealed properly to prevent salt from eating through camera components.

Along with the cameras and recorders from Interlogix, NY Waterway also invested in technology to improve its operational management of the ferries and to help it communicate during emergency situations.

For example, NY Waterway installed a public address system from Valcom. This allows operators to make announcements to ferries about any delays, reroutes, or emergencies. The system is connected to the Fluidmesh network, allowing announcements to be made in real time—something that wasn’t possible before.

Along with the public address system, NY Waterway also worked to install monitors in its ferries and at its terminals to display announcements to passengers. The monitors are similar to those seen in airports, like small television screens, and will allow operators to inform passengers of changes. 
The system also replaces NY Waterway’s outdated paper system, which had crew members printing service change announcements and posting them in designated areas. Once the service change was complete, another crew member would be dispatched to collect the papers, creating an excess of man-hours devoted to printing, posting, and removing notices that can now be made electronically.

The company is also installing an IP phone system in the pilot houses of all the ferries, which will allow crews to communicate with personnel onshore, or on another ferry, without relying on a cellular phone connection or analog radio. And NY Waterway is using an AIS system, which allows it to track the ferries’ movements using GPS to easily locate them at any time of the day—as opposed to relying on radio communication to find out a ferry’s location.


Once the network and technology were in place, NY Waterway needed a user interface that would allow it to manage and effectively use the system. Through some research, it discovered Pantascene, which ties different technology interfaces into a single dashboard system and is under the same corporate umbrella (Carrick Bend) as Fluidmesh. NY Waterway decided to install the product, which took three months to customize, and began using the dashboard product in August of 2013.

One of the features that attracted NY Waterway to Pantascene was that it’s a cloud-based system. “It’s all Internet-based Web browser software; I have a username and login, I go to the website, log in, and I have access to my entire network of technology—everything,” Figueroa says. “So from the user interface, I can see the boats moving throughout the harbor, I can view the cameras on the vessels in the terminals, I can initiate a phone call to a boat from that user interface,” and more.

This is beneficial for NY Waterway as its operation is always moving. “We have a lot of moving parts—literally—and we have a lot of facilities, so operation managers are always on the move, and having this type of tool allowed us to stay on top of everything,” Figueroa explains.
Additionally, having all of the user interfaces together in one platform makes handling an emergency situation much easier as all of the technology is accessible via a single login, instead of having separate login procedures for each platform. 

The Pantascene system also allows users to share assets with others, which was a huge selling point for NY Waterway; that means it can share its camera feeds, sensors, and ferry locations with others. It can share its video feed by adding another organization as a user, assigning a login to it, and then deciding what assets it will have access to.

This capability helped secure DHS funding for the project, since NY Waterway could link its camera feeds to Pantascene and then give access to the U.S. Coast Guard, NYPD, New Jersey State Police, the Port Authority Police Department of New York and New Jersey, and other agencies and departments that NY Waterway works with on a daily basis.

“If the Port Authority Police Department is involved at the World Trade Center Ferry Terminal, I can give them a username and password, and just limit them to the cameras that are in that facility,” Figueroa explains. “If there’s an emergency…they can just pull up a Web browser from their central station, pull up the cameras, and they can see what’s going on in real time before they even respond to the situation.”

This ability hasn’t been fully implemented yet but is in the final testing stages, and Figueroa says that all of the agencies NY Waterway is planning to give access to have been supportive of the initiative. “We’ve gotten great support from them, which really allowed us to get the funding necessary to do this project,” he adds. “Without them, it would have never happened.” 

Looking to the future, NY Waterway hopes to further use Pantascene to track passenger counts in real time. “One of our challenges at the moment is everything’s manual,” Figueroa says. Currently, NY Waterway takes passenger counts by having a crew member record them on a piece of paper, and then sends the information to operations. Operations then plugs that information into an Excel spreadsheet.

To make it more efficient, NY Waterway is looking into automating this process by using existing technology that’s already plugged into the dashboard. “One of the things we’re looking to do with Pantascene is have the crew members enter this directly, thus eliminating the number of man-hours that are required to enter this information so we can know how many people are on a boat in real time,” he explains. “Right now that’s something that we don’t have the capability of doing, and that’s one of the last pieces that we’re looking to explore.” 

With the system completed at the beginning of September, the operation is helping NY Waterway continue to play an integral role in the daily transport of commuters—getting them off and on the island—and being prepared should disaster strike. The ferries are “critical at this point and are only becoming more of a critical operation to New York City and New Jersey in transporting people,” Figueroa says.