Jan. 16, 2012

Providing End-To-End Security on Public Transportation Systems

  • Foto: gemenacom / Fotolia.comFoto: gemenacom / Fotolia.com

One of the most well-known public announcements worldwide urges passengers on the London Underground to watch out for the gap between the rail car and the platform. The same warning though must be heeded by security chiefs responsible for the various types of public transport. With 10 % of the inland traveling public in Europe ­using buses and coaches and another 7.5 % using railways, trams and metro systems - the others go by car - the transport authority has an obvious duty to ensure their security end-to-end, with no gaps. We take a look here at some of the methods available.

No matter on or through which medium people travel - be it air, sea or land - there are some common factors in the structure of their journey. Firstly, they always come together at a boarding point. Secondly, most if not all of them are sitting down in a vehicle during the trip. Finally, they embark together at a terminal of some sort. During this time, concentrated together, it is not uncommon for disputes to break out with more or less severe consequences. Add some premeditated petty crime, violence, vandalism or, in the worst case, terrorism into the mix and it becomes essential for a transport authority to be able to spot trouble quickly and to intervene with suitable resources.

There is no simple patent solution to passenger security; as with any static security system, it is the sum of the individual elements that provide the total security level and, as a whole, reduce the opportunities for misdemeanor to a minimum. The time spent on transport authority property can be broken down into three phases; the arrival and boarding, the journey itself and the disembarkation. The first and third phases take place in terminals or at stops along the way and are similar, as would be a change of transport medium or connection in a two or three-leg journey. So really there are only two scenarios to consider when providing security throughout the whole trip.

Terminal Education
A mixture of both passive decorative and active technological security aspects will complement each other in preventing trouble. Many years of working on mass transit systems has shown L.A.-based urban planner and local transit advocate Christopher MacKechnie that lighting must come high on the list of passive measures and says "While most new rail stations have excellent lighting, older stations and especially bus stops are often dimly lit, uninviting places at night.

If connecting to the electrical grid is not possible, then transit agencies can utilize many varieties of solar power lighting to light both transit shelters or just the area around the bus stop itself".

Dark, murky corners are an ideal place to wait for an opportunity or to disappear after committing a crime. Brightly lit concourses or bus stops in contrast not only provide no place to hide but they also have the beneficial side-effect of improving the general public opinion of a transit system. Open spaces that are visible from all directions deter attackers, so removing unnecessary hoarding along the access routes will passively increase the feeling of well-being amongst travelers, particularly for women traveling late at night.

Unfortunately, some people behave in a way that invites crime and education programs can help to minimize the number of such ‘accidents waiting to happen‘. For example, posters in vehicles can recommend simple measures to improve personal safety, such as
using safe and well-frequented routes to get to boarding points if necessary, walking a bit further on lit streets rather than taking a dark short-cut
traveling together with others, not isolated not using personal electronics while traveling - these items are especially attractive for thieves.

Uniform Appearance
Regular reviews of security measures together with the local Police should already be in the calendar. Whether the police themselves implement patrols or if these are provided by a private security company is a local decision supported by levels of budget and resource availability. Whichever force is chosen, their visibility on patrol gives a positive reassuring effect to almost all travelers, as long as they‘re not kitted out like commandos. The small number of others may consider their human rights infringed by a police presence and this highlights the important aspect of the perceived purpose of security forces.

As Rachel Worsley found out while compiling her "Rail Passenger Security Screening" report for the British Department of Transport, despite the attacks of recent years, most travelers still consider the prime purpose of body searches to be for the general removal of individual weapons from circulation and not as counter-terrorist measures. Thankfully, our four-legged friends can help us to reduce any negative emotions of being frisked. They are generally very well accepted and, as we know, highly efficient at sniffing out narcotics and explosives. Dog patrols are not a complete solution in themselves but provide a visible deterrent factor, ably complement other technological measures and provide some unique capabilities in the total security mix.

Background Checks
The subject of scanning passengers and their luggage for contraband and dangerous substances was presented in a two-part article in issues 1 and 2 of GIT SECURITY in 2011. While used to some extent with cruise ships and indeed being mandatory for air passengers, it is rarely used for other terrestrial travelers. The decision to introduce such procedures on a mass transit system would meet with howls of protest both from operators and passengers unless, as suggested by a passenger recently interviewed at a busy railway station, the equipment could be built into platform entrances or directly in rail car doorways. Here is perhaps some motivation for manufacturers to miniaturize the next generation of their equipment.

The question then arises of exactly who should be scanned; everyone, random travelers or just those identified as a potential risk. Ferry companies operating internationally, especially those carrying cars, as well as national railway systems often sell their tickets in advance of the travel date. Where legally permitted, this gives a window of opportunity to carry out some passenger manifest and passenger name record (PNR) screening against established databases such as the US APIS and to take a significant step in targeted crime prevention.

Voice Comms
Radio and data communications and video surveillance provide the active security elements once passengers are on the move. Private radio networks are already in widespread use throughout transit systems. These have been developed to comply with the local licensing and performance requirements as well as the topology and traffic expectations. Legacy analog systems, while robust, have largely been replaced with more capable digital trunked communications systems that incorporate advanced signaling and data transfer features. TETRA (TErrestrial Trunked RAdio) coverage is extending rapidly in networks in over 120 countries around the world and has the significant advantage of being fully compatible and interoperable with the same radio system standard used by the emergency services in many countries. This ensures a uniform knowledge level during emergency situations and disasters and the rapid flow of information to the right people.

Topological hindrances no longer prevent the construction of a totally reliable radio communications network. The dynamic frequency assignment and repeater architecture utilized in well-planned TETRA systems assures interference-free channels that work equally well in built-up areas, wide open spaces and, if necessary, also tunnels. Since its inception in the early 90s, both small and large suppliers of hardware and software have established themselves, as well a number of application developers that provide tailored solutions to meet special needs. Sepura from the UK as well as other suppliers listed at the end of this article manufacture fixed and mobile transceivers that come in all shapes and sizes, ruggedized, waterproofed and otherwise adapted to the environment in which they will be expected to perform.

Seeing Is Believing
Discreet but pro-active video surveillance can be applied not only to deal with trouble but also to anticipate it. Mobile technology has become both compact and affordable enough nowadays to be installed right along the passenger‘s route. Axis, for example, provides the M3113-R and 3114-R cameras that blend neatly into the vehicle‘s interior. Out on the platform, cameras are exposed to all the extremes that Mother Nature can throw at them as well as stones thrown by vandals. Weatherproof and vandal-resistant housings and day/night operation are therefore essential, for example using the high-end DDF-4010HDV-WM from Dallmeier. This IP network camera provides full HD as well as a raft of other useful features including bidirectional audio.

While getting the images to the driver of a vehicle or train, the captain of a ship or an aircraft pilot on board is easily achieved, relaying these back to a central security center - backhauling - has not been, depending entirely upon the type of transport and the distances involved. Technology comes to the rescue nowadays in the form of mobile broadband communication links meshed with a new or existing private network infrastructure.
Terrestrial frequencies in the 2.4Ghz and 5GHz bands are available to transmit real-time video directly over ‚short‘ distances up to 1/4 mile or so. This is useful for transport systems (buses, trams, underground trains etc.) in terminals or at certain hotspots within a city, and dedicated receivers that feed the acquired signal into a network installed right along a vehicle‘s route are now affordable. Another commonly used solution is to use either private or public cellular networks to return the images to a central operations center, using the same technology that TV news-gathering crews employ. Concentrators on board a vehicle take the video feeds from multiple IP cameras and compress these into one data stream that is transmitted over one or more cellular networks. More advanced models also add GPS and vehicle operational and/or diagnostics data, and provide an emergency alert function.

Video On Demand
As Michael Fickes, an American journalist, rightly points out after researching mass transit video solutions, taking this amount of data continually from all the vehicles or trains on a typical transit system would quickly swamp both the network and central storage capacity. Therefore a mixture of both optional driver-initiated action and automatic algorithms such as facial recognition or boundary detection software can deliver a high level of crime prevention while sifting out the otherwise ‘useless‘ video sequences that only need to be archived and not viewed in real time. Where only near real-time coverage is necessary or where network coverage is not reliable, an on-board concentrator usually buffers accumulated images and/or data in a store-and-forward mode, waiting until a strong radio link is established before downloading. This data is commonly stored on a device with a conventional but fragile hard disk. High-capacity solid state memory is starting to be used now in mobile devices and provides robust archiving of important video material. Philip McDouall, director of transportation product marketing with March Networks in Ottawa, Quebec is keeping a close eye on the price of this and concludes "Like all technology, prices are falling for solid state memory, and we believe it will be affordable within a few years."

Innovative solutions have already been developed that can transfer live video images from within transport system vehicles directly to nearby police cars. As Michael Dillon, vice president of business development with California-based Firetide explains, "When the police car comes within range, wireless technology on the bus forms a network with wireless technology in the police car. The officers in the car can access cameras inside the bus and see what is happening." Police working together with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority then have a much better idea of any potentially dangerous situation that they are facing. Of course, marine security is a lot easier because a ship has 24/7 unimpeded access to satellites. Many service providers now offer low-bandwidth security solutions based on satellite technology, and the same operating principle can be applied equally well to both land-based and marine transport systems.

On The Quiet
Silent alarms and panic buttons are often implemented in household or commercial burglar alarms, and these have the wonderful advantage of helping to catch thieves in the act, ultimately removing them from circulation. Likewise with transport systems; it can be advantageous not to alert the troublemaker to their impending arrest, enabling security staff to get closer to the incident before the troublemaker becomes aware of them.
The frightening rise of piracy, kidnap for ransom and extortion off the coast of east Africa has given rise to a number of high-tech solutions that, while not necessarily cheap in themselves, save the owners of vessels significant costs in compensation, insurance premiums and - in the worst possible scenario - possibly having to order a new ship. For example, the equivalent of the old train driver‘s ‘dead-man‘s handle‘ will ensure that all is shipshape and in good order. Failure to report on time, combined with unscheduled or out-of-bounds GPS tracking, can rapidly provide good reason to assume that one of the over 800 large ferry vessels operating in and around Europe has been taken over by unauthorized persons, and appropriate action can be initiated well before the hijackers expect it.

System Security
Finally a word about the security of the system itself. As soon as two or more devices are connected, the ports used become vulnerable for misuse. We must not make the mistake of concentrating so hard on providing the ultimate security for our passengers and forgetting our own. In these days of IP transmission, unused ports on every device must be disabled; firewalls must protect core equipment; passwords must be eight alphanumeric characters long or more, and not be the default one that can be looked up in the manufacturer‘s handbook on the Internet; encryption should be applied to all radio links and possibly also to wired links. It‘s not just the schoolboy hackers that must be prevented from gaining access to surveillance systems; terrorist groups will have no qualms about taking full advantage of any weak points in the system‘s security and being able to disable it at will. One end of the security system is, after all, in the security chief‘s own office.

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