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Photo courtesy of Calgary Transit

How Calgary Upgraded Transit Surveillance

With a light rail transit (LRT) system that hosts roughly 105.3 million trips per year, the City of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, has been continually improving its video surveillance capabilities since 2010. The city’s 1.3 million residents have access to the light rail system, one of the first in North America, which includes 45 stations and 160 train and bus routes.

Prior to these improvements, transit system surveillance operators were trying to keep tabs on potential incidents using analog cameras that fed into a clustered video matrix at a central location. “It was quite archaic,” says James Gosteli, city transit security advisor.

The outdated system made investigating health and safety issues or criminal activities a challenge. The pixelated feed was useless if operators needed to zoom in to try to determine any identifying features, Gosteli says. “It was difficult to identify anybody from the footage, so it was in dire need of replacing,” he adds.

These factors swayed the transit team to forgo a marginal improvement; instead, the team searched for options that could offer a vast improvement in the surveillance system. There had been sufficient advancements in video technology to provide a significant level of improvement, so the timing was right for a major upgrade.

Genetec Security Center is a unified security platform that merges IP security systems into one interface. Security Center offers the user a customizable range of security powers, including access control, video surveillance, communications, intrusion detection, and connectivity to cloud storage. The main attraction for Calgary Transit, however, was the system’s high-definition abilities and easier camera manageability.

Given the need to continually monitor the transit environment, installation would prove to be a sensitive and gradual procedure. In fact, replacing every camera in the stations and other immobile facilities took approximately 15 months.

At the time, Gosteli was working with one of the vendors involved in supplying the security solution, watching it come online in stages.

“The replacement itself kind of came in a few stages, which was a very big challenge,” Gosteli says. “You’re taking a live 24/7 environment, which can’t really take any forms of interruption in the interest of public safety, and you have to cut it over to a new high-definition IP camera system.”

The first step was to remove the old head-end, or video matrix, dependency, replacing the old system with a new Genetec directory server that could still manage the existing analog cameras while Calgary Transit kept the old system up and running until the migration was complete. Additional screens were brought into the control center as cameras were migrated to the Security Center platform, ensuring that operators would not lose sight of any site along the transit system, even if that meant running both the old and new systems at the same time.

Once the new central system was in place, the older cameras were gradually swapped out, station by station, replaced by new cable infrastructure, fiber, and the IP cameras. “It was a bit of a phased approach at each station just to minimize the interruption to the operations staff,” Gosteli says. The locations of several legacy analog cameras were maintained throughout the process, aiding the installation because operators already knew they provided a critical view and could continue to be useful.

The most recent installation was completed at the end of 2019, when 170 cameras were added along two separate bus lines.

While most installation activities occurred during the day, some critical changes, such as software revisions or other alterations that would demand a reboot, had to wait until after-hours when there was far less activity than at peak or rush hours. But even during those low-activity times, the installers maintained constant communication with the operations control center to ensure there were no active incidents that required monitoring.

The operations staff noticed a drop in crime at stations and along the transit route. Theft, vandalism, and loitering are “no longer viable because now there’s clear camera footage of all these LRT locations, so it’s probably less desirable,” Gosteli says.

“Working with it on a daily basis and being able to clearly identify the clothing that somebody was wearing and identifying marks on clothing and just really having a lot more video evidence to work with—it was just something that was not available in the past,” Gosteli notes. “With the older cameras, you can’t really zoom in on pixelated footage very well.”

Further enhancing operators’ ability to monitor for identifying details in safety incidents, the system’s Plan Manager allows the surveillance team to track fast-moving incidents. Like a virtual blueprint available to operators wanting to visualize the security plan, Plan Manager can manage video feeds depending on what location the user wants to observe, as well as other security elements.

“It has had some benefit in providing a visual overview of where the cameras are located in respect to each other,” Gosteli says. Operators can quickly jump between cameras, able to see on the map view of where camera views are located along a track or in a station. “It really expedites the process of bringing up the footage you need in a hurry,” Gosteli adds. “If somebody was running or if they hopped onto a specific train for instance, you can quickly follow them to where they’re going on the map.”

One alteration to the system post-installation was an integration with Calgary Transit’s Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), a remote industrial controller that can start or stop escalators and elevators. When a rider uses an emergency phone to contact the central operations hub, a nearby camera allows an operator to view the caller and assess the situation for a more informed response. The same process occurs when an elevator or escalator alarm goes off, giving an operator a visual confirmation and intelligence to help manage a developing situation and by remotely turning the escalator or elevator on or off.

While no official plans have been formed to widen the system’s use in the city, Gosteli notes that the system itself is constantly being expanded upon and adjusted to better suit transit operations and support. “Just as both systems migrated and technology changes, obviously you have to keep changing with it,” Gosteli says. “So, it’s constantly evolving.”

For more information: Beverly Wilks, [email protected] 

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