Surveillance for Security and Beyond
In 2015, there are more than 2 billion surveillance cameras worldwide, according to estimates from Seagate Technology. These cameras are watching over people and property in previously unimagined settings. The United Kingdom, an early adopter of public area surveillance, had nearly 6 million cameras in 2013, according to estimates by the British Security Industry Authority–one camera for every 11 citizens. Institutions like schools and hospitals have long relied on surveillance to protect those coming through their doors, and retailers and manufacturers are using traditional surveillance to not only improve security, but to enhance quality control and boost flaging marketing strategies.
Experts testify to the increasing affordability of cameras as a factor in the industry’s growth. They also point to the operational value surveillance systems provide, in addition to the traditional security applications. As an illustration of how surveillance is being used in unique ways, this article looks at how a major transportation authority is using cameras to provide operational benefits. Next is a look at how trends in surveillance in law enforcement, municipal, and education spaces are making surveillance technology indispensable.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is the fifth largest transit system in the United States, with an average daily ridership of nearly 1.4 million people. The agency’s transportation modes include bus, light rail, subway, ferry, and paratransit for riders with physical disabilities.
“The transit environment is one of the most complicated security environments you could have because of the unbelievably high volume of customers, the complexity of trains and track, and…hundreds of staircases and escalators and elevators,” says Randy Clarke, director of security and emergency management at MBTA. “All of these things could be places where a security issue could come up or an emergency response or fire emergency. Slip, trip, and fall–these things happen all day, every day.”
Clarke tells Security Management that the security arm of the MBTA takes an approach to the divisions it services much like a corporate security program would: “Our job is to support our internal clients, such as the operations control group, transit police, legal department, things of that nature.” Security staff also support the Registry of Motor Vehicles, as well as the state police and highway operations center.
In 2009 the agency began a capital security project to secure all of its facilities with a video surveillance system. The number of cameras MBTA has is in “the thousands,” says Clarke, and they are all embedded within the agency’s access control system that services its more than 10,000 employees.
To expand its video surveillance program, early last year MBTA began rolling out a project to equip its buses with an integrated video system that would provide real-time surveillance aboard 225 of its more than 1,100 buses. “If you walk into a store, you see a monitor and know you’re on TV; therefore, you know there’s security in this building,” Clarke says. “We wanted that approach for bus security.&rdquo
The previous solution was burdensome and took time out of daily transit operations because video could not be transferred over a network, notes Clarke. “You’d have to go get the bus, take the bus out of service, pull the hard drive, hope the hard drive actually works, put it in a hard-drive reader, replace it with another one, and there will be impacts to the bus operations because you either have to hold the bus and do this operation out in the street impacting customers, or take the bus out of service.”
MBTA turned to Canadian firm Genetec for its Omnicast video surveillance solution, which provides a number of features that enhance law enforcement and public safety while increasing operational benefits for the agency.
Each bus is equipped with two 360-degree cameras and four high-definition cameras, all manufactured by Panasonic. Additional equipment, such as an antivibration feature, is provided to meet the needs of a rugged transportation mode like a bus, which encounters obstacles such as potholes. A screen installed inside the bus shows all the camera views so passengers can see themselves and others on video, much like in a retail store environment. The video is recorded and stored locally on a network video recorder (NVR) inside each bus.
Whenever a bus pulls back into the depot, the video begins downloading automatically to the central server over Wi-Fi, and the footage is stored for about a month. However, if there is an incident that occurs while the bus is still moving, Clarke says they can immediately download the video over the Verizon LTE network to the central monitoring station. “We’re not going to do that for a 30-minute file or six different camera views, but we can do it for an immediate incident,” he explains.
The MBTA has a sworn police force of transit officers who specifically deal with incidents relating to the transportation system. Each squad car has a mobile data terminal that integrates with the bus video surveillance platform, allowing an officer to see in real time what’s occurring on a vehicle via a Wi-Fi connection. In addition to the transit police dispatch center, the MBTA has a separate dispatch for transit operators, and at least one police officer is on duty there at all times.
City and state law enforcement agencies also benefit from the video surveillance when it comes to tracking down criminal suspects. Clarke notes that immediately after committing a crime, thieves will often use public transportation to flee the scene. Recently, a bank robber jumped on a subway train to evade police. Operators at the central monitoring station were able to match the video surveillance to the suspect’s description, and they instructed the train operator to wait at the next station until law enforcement could arrive and make an arrest.
Operator assault is another major problem the video surveillance solution is helping to solve. In one case, a patron punched a driver in the face; the driver immediately radioed into transit dispatch. Within a minute the central monitoring station had pulled up video from the bus, Clarke says, and zoomed in on the offender’s face. When officers arrived at the scene, the suspect was walking down the street attempting to escape. He was immediately arrested.
MBTA has a high level of engagement with the public, Clarke notes, and it uses tools such as social media to communicate with riders. With video surveillance, any tweets sent to MBTA over Twitter are easily corroborated, allowing situations to be resolved more quickly. For example, a patron may send a message that she suspects the bus driver is intoxicated. “We’ll look at the video, see if that video validates what the person is saying; if so, they can send a road supervisor, intercept that bus, and do a fitness for duty check on that employee to make sure that they’re not intoxicated,” he explains.
He adds that the MBTA has an exhaustive list of policies and procedures when it comes to filming and retaining the video. “We have a really detailed chain of custody for why we do video, how it’s archived, how it’s maintained, how it’s digitally stamped, how it would go to court, how it wouldn’t go to court—all those kinds of things.”
The agency has added 60 more buses to the Genetec platform since the initial deployment in 2014, and it plans to migrate more of its fleet in the future. Clarke says any company looking to implement a similar video application should be prepared for customer feedback. “You just have to know with eyes wide open going into what you’re doing. When you’re going to open up video on anything like a bus, you need to know that people are going to see it—the expectation level is high.”
“Especially in the municipalities, preventing crime is still the primary use for the video surveillance solution,” says Dave Sweeney, COO of Advantech, a company that provides system integration. His organization has completed a number of video surveillance projects for law enforcement, allowing them to take advantage of low-cost cameras to replace the need for human force. “We have a local police leader who says ‘I can’t afford to put an officer on every corner, but I can afford to put a camera on every corner,’” Sweeney notes.
Other municipalities have established partnerships with local businesses and law enforcement, providing a central monitoring station for camera feeds. While they may not have a dedicated
officer watching the monitors 24/7, if anything should occur throughout the city, “they have learned to use the tool to help them solve the crime, to dispatch their resources, and to try to find witnesses who may have left the scene to figure out what occurred,” he notes. For example, one such municipality teams up with government agencies. While the city owns about 75 percent of the cameras feeding into its central monitoring station, the other 25 percent come from the local housing authority’s cameras.
Sweeney says public perception can be a major challenge faced by municipalities when deploying video surveillance. “You always have the skeptical crowd who is leery of ‘Big Brother’ watching them,” he notes. “But if you put the solution in and publicize the benefits of it, ultimately the community will gain trust in it.”
Scalability is also crucial for municipalities and law enforcement, but budget constraints may only allow them to expand their video surveillance infrastructure a handful of cameras at a time. Often, Sweeney notes, money can get pulled away from video surveillance within a municipality’s budget if there’s an emergency such as a snowstorm that takes precedence.
He says whatever size deployment a city or law enforcement agency begins with, keeping its ultimate goal in mind is key to successful expansion. “The challenge for all parties involved in the beginning phase is making sure they understand the ultimate goal of the system in the future so that they can sign accordingly, and so that everything they put in will allow that growth.”
Experts say schools are increasingly turning to video and audio surveillance to deter threats and also increase the amount of time being spent on education. One use of video surveillance technology in the education environment, for example, is corroborating incidents such as a child being bullied. Louroe Electronics provides an audio component to video cameras that adds an extra layer of monitoring.
“If a teacher tells the child’s parents, ‘your kid is acting up in class,’ the first thing they’re going to say is ‘not my little angel, she would never do that,’” says Cameron Javdani, director of sales and marketing at the audio company. “But if you can send it home with an audio clip of her picking on another student or some kind of incident that happened, it’s a lot more powerful and you can address the specifics of the situation, rather than this nebulous term of ‘bullying.’”
A combination of audio and video surveillance within schools can also allow students who are sick and have to miss class the opportunity to catch up on the day’s lessons. “There’s a huge secondary benefit to security equipment being used but serving a use that’s not security,” notes Javdani.
Education administrators see video as a way to not only enhance security, but also improve the educational experience, which Sweeney says should be their primary focus. For example, a school being evacuated due to a bomb threat may lose eight hours of classroom time because authorities can’t clear the area where the device is supposedly located. But if video surveillance can help give an all-clear sooner, schools may get hours back in the teaching day.
The placement of surveillance cameras can also vary depending on the education environment, adds Sweeney, who says that a primary school may want more cameras pointed at doors and playgrounds, while high schools tend to want more cameras overall. “Once you migrate into the middle school and secondary education, that’s where you see the cameras really grow full scale into the facility,” he says. “Hallways, stairwells, cafeterias–all the areas where the students are for the most part, [whenever] there’s a very high student-to-adult ratio.”
Another notable trend in the education space for video surveillance is shared infrastructure, says Sweeney, who explains he’s seen several schools using the same IT backbone for their video networks. “We’ve seen customers who are okay with sharing infrastructure that have a very well-thought-out, very clear IT policy….to allow the systems to use the same network hardware, but still remain completely isolated from traffic and all the other networking standpoints,” he says.
Surveillance remains a critical aspect of retail security for deterring and solving thefts, but experts say that stores are turning to surveillance to enhance marketing techniques, such as product placement, says Andrew Elvish, vice president of marketing at Genetec. Elvish notes that a company can use video and heat mapping to show which display cases in a store get the most traffic and visibility. That way, they can justify charging vendors more for shelving their products in those locations.
Retailers are also monitoring product sales with video management systems (VMS) that are connected to point-of-sale (POS) terminals. If they’re trying to find the video of a certain item being sold, they can click on the line item within their sales report and the VMS will jump to the video at the time and date it was vended. “You can click and go directly to the view of that product being scanned through the POS system,” he notes. “It’s not a super fancy Star Trek analytic, it’s just finding two pieces of data that are very meaningful and more powerful when you put them together.”
The surveillance industry is on track to grow to nearly $49 billion by 2020, according to a January 2015 report from Grand View Research. Research by ASIS International indicates that 62 percent of organizations are increasing their video surveillance budgets in 2015 and 2016, while only 3 percent are decreasing budgets. “It’s getting ubiquitous, almost like a utility, and I think the cost is no longer going to be prohibitive,” says Robert Fuchs, marketing manager of surveillance technology at Plustek USA. In fact, many experts say that so many new manufacturers have entered the market, especially from Asia, and have reduced costs so much, that cameras have been “commoditized.”
Sweeney notes that the K-12 space will continue to expand on its use of surveillance. “I think the growth of video as a tool in that space is going to be something to keep an eye on,” he says. “You’re going to see a big push for visitor management, some form of a real-time check of visitors, not only of identification but also a formal log electronically of who came in.”
In the municipal market, Sweeney says having surveillance feeds at all times in law enforcement vehicles is a real possibility. Portability for police is something Plustek USA sees as a growth area. For example, during special events or in high-risk areas, law enforcement can mount a temporary camera. “They can just put a small camera on a pole and have it pointed in a direction. It doesn’t pull very much energy and they can have a couple of pairs of eyes looking at the events, not drawing attention, and take it back down,” Fuchs notes.
Surveillance technology vendors and integrators point to a number of existing or emerging trends in the industry that are shaping the way solutions are designed and installed. One such trend is unification of systems. “People don’t really want to focus on managing a whole bunch of different software applications when something bad is happening or they’re in a sense of panic,” says Elvish. “We see that in large-scale corporations; we see it in city, municipal, and state; we see it across the board in our end users–the idea of bringing together the core systems is really going to define where we’re going in this industry.”
VMS devices traditionally link with an organization’s cameras and can provide analytics so end users can easily search for needed footage. But Elvish says that uniting even more systems into the VMS platform is a growing trend. The system may also be tied to things like access control, license plate recognition, and intercoms, as well as sensors such as smoke alarms throughout an organization. With these unified systems, whenever an incident occurs, information is quickly available, and cameras can be pointed at the area of interest so operators can respond appropriately.
Elvish recalls an incident that occurred at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Europe’s fifth-busiest airport in terms of passengers. Schiphol deals with a range of security issues every day. After a customer had a heart attack in a terminal, security was able to bring together a number of different tools to improve its response. A unified system “brings together the camera, it brings together the notification over the communication system–even two-way radio for mobile security officers and pushing SMS text messages to those mobile officers–and then to start that process of, okay, did you notify the local police force? Did you notify the ambulance? Did you get this form signed by the ambulance when they left? It seems like such a natural thing but it’s extraordinarily complex,” Elvish explains.
One popular new technology is the 4K camera, which provides ultra-high definition for video recording, about 4 times more than normal HD. “The trend toward these high megapixel cameras, like 4K cameras, that’s going to put a massive amount of stress on customers’ IP networks, in a good way,” adds Elvish, who says the quality of the cameras will be a major benefit for companies. He notes that marketplace solutions that accelerate GPU (graphic processing unit) transmission will help end users meet the challenge of higher load on their existing storage capacity. For example, with a GPU, an organization can increase the number of streams it can show on a single monitor with the same graphics capabilities it had before.
In the municipal space, Sweeney says there will be a push for more mobile video surveillance access for police. “In the municipal piece you’re going to see the growth of video surveillance continue, probably with the objective of trying to get that video out to the edge…
I think you’re going to see some push and some ability to get video out to those responders in their vehicles,” he says.
Elvish adds that in terms of storage, companies will be turning more to the cloud than to local devices. “We’re going to see the movement from edge to cloud architecture, and if we thought encryption and security were important from edge to core within your own security network, once you start moving edge to cloud then you really need to lock down that data,” he notes.
Javdani of Louroe adds that surveillance should be viewed as a preventive tool, not merely a retroactive one. “A lot of people in the industry, and I don’t know why, have this mentality of ‘we want to catch someone in the act,’” he notes. “You don’t want to catch them, you want to deter or prevent the criminal because it’s operationally better, and it saves a lot of headaches.”