Security Surveillance Technology Takes on Big Data

Most of us can’t make it through a day without being barraged by a steady stream of text messages, e-mails, friend requests, Facebook posts, etc. We live in an ultra connected digital world with unprecedented access to information — anytime, anyplace. With this data onslaught, it’s easy to switch into “automatic mode” or just filter most of it out. After all, are those 34 spam e-mails really a life or death matter? And will the earth come to an end if we miss out on Aunt Sally’s Facebook post about what she ate for dinner last night?

While it’s acceptable to filter out such non-essential clatter in our personal lives, we certainly wouldn’t find it acceptable if the command center for the transit system we rode to work everyday missed information that could have otherwise prevented or resolved a crime, accident, emergency or terrorist threat. Such are the types of situations that transit command centers need to prepare for and deal with daily.

Ironically, the very security technologies that transit agencies invest in to improve security and safety — video surveillance, fire systems, access control, intrusion detection, communications systems, intercoms, GIS, CAD, LPR, video analytics, radiological and laser sensors — can create a flood of data that confounds their very ability to deal with situations effectively. For example, research shows that as the number of cameras increase, the operator’s ability to monitor them effectively diminishes; and here we’re not just talking video cameras, but potentially thousands or tens of thousands of sensors spread over hundreds of locations, all feeding into the command center.

With this much data, how can a security operator separate out what’s important from what’s not, and know how to respond? It takes more than experience and training; the right technology is essential.

This article explores some of the latest security surveillance technology advancements which can help cut through the clutter of big data and keep transit operations safe, secure and running smoothly.

Let’s Start with PSIM

PSIM stands for physical security information management. It is a catch-all term to describe an open architecture, interoperable software solution that integrates various security, communication, safety, alerting and sensing systems into one unified command and control desktop application. This means the operator sees “the big picture” on one screen, rather than having to navigate multiple systems.

There are different tiers of PSIM, ranging from the basic level (typically integrating just a few systems) to top level (Tier 1) solutions that not only offer unified integration of many diverse sensors and systems, but also empower organizations to address the “what to do next,” by incorporating automated, adaptive response plans.

Such high-level PSIM solutions guide operator responses to situations based on all of the different indicators of what’s happening and in accordance with the organization’s best practices. Adaptive, pre-defined response plans ensure that the organization’s standard operating procedures are consistently followed by operators, whether they’re seasoned employees or mere weeks on the job

PSIM analyzes and correlates information and alerts from the integrated subsystems in real time. It connects the dots between seemingly unrelated events, providing rich situational awareness. For example, a PSIM system could correlate alarms from different perimeter intrusion systems such as radar, microwave detection systems, fence shake detectors and video analytics running on cameras. Multiple simultaneous alerts could signify it’s less likely to be a false alarm and more likely to be a legitimate perimeter intrusion threat.

PSIM can also tie your transit command center in with other agencies (police, fire, EMS, a city surveillance center) as well as field personnel. If there’s a major incident or threat on the transit system, everyone involved shares the same common operating picture and works off the same response plan.

Finally, video analytics can be integrated into PSIM to alert operators to specific situations — such as overcrowding on a subway platform, a perimeter breach, a person on a track or in a tunnel — and guide operators through an appropriate response.

Consider this scenario.

At a command center far away from a train platform, a security operator receives an on-screen alert that something or someone has tripped a sensor in a subway tunnel. A map automatically pops up showing the exact location of the breech and triggering near-by PTZ cameras to zoom in. The operator is immediately able to make out a person on the tracks and confirm it’s not a false alarm.

This sets into motion a chain of procedures that pop up on the operator’s screen one by one. First, the operator’s prompted to click on a button that notifies transit police officers of the breach by sending a text message to their mobile devices. At the same time, the system automatically alerts the station manager and prompts the operator to call rail operations so trains can be safely diverted. As officers arrive on the scene to search for the trespasser, rail operations redirects trains to a different platform and broadcasts the track change. Service continues without interruption and moments later the intruder is apprehended.

PSIM at King’s Cross Station — The Real Magic

The latter example is hypothetical of course. But if this sounds like fiction, it’s far from it. PSIM is one of the advanced security technologies securing London’s King’s Cross Station. The historic station opened in 1852. Each year, 47 million pedestrians pass through the legendary interchange. Network Rail runs, owns and maintains King’s Cross station.

King’s Cross Station was made famous by the Harry Potter movies. It’s where the young wizard, Harry, began each new school year by catching Hogwarts Express, which departed from King’s Cross platform 9¾. Visit the station today and you’ll see signs for J. K. Rowling’s fictional platform; but it’s behind the scenes that the real magic is happening.

Following a major refurbishment, an iconic new concourse opened at King’s Cross last spring. At the time, the station already had a robust security infrastructure; but a major goal of the re-development project was to improve the quality and performance of these existing systems. They wanted to make the systems work in unison and they achieved this with PSIM.

King’s Cross control room operators are now able to monitor all of the sub systems through one interface. This includes CCTV, access control, fire, Help Points, customer information and public address systems. Security or safety alerts are automatically flagged on-screen so the operator can take appropriate actions based on predetermined response plans.

“As operators only need to use one interface, the initial training needed to get them accustomed to the new system was minimal, which means we can get new operators up to speed far more quickly,” said Network Rail Project Manager, Brendan O’Keeffe. “It also means that they can focus more on using their surveillance skills,” O’Keeffe added.

Having a central system has also improved the speed and efficiency with which the operators can share information with train operators, British Transport Police or emergency services. They’ve been able to coordinate more effective incident responses and improve overall service to the travelling public.

Security and Then Some

While PSIM has its roots in security, its uses expand into the operational realm as well.

Consider the example of Aeroexpress. Founded in 2005, Aeroexpress offers high-speed railway service within Moscow to the Capital’s three major airports — Vnukovo, Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo — and rail service to a few of Moscow’s satellite towns. Realizing that passengers have a variety of transportation options, Aeroexpress’s strategy is to deliver operational excellence in all areas — from safety and security to passenger service. Aeroexpress’s Tier 1 PSIM solution, Nice Situator, helps the rail service provider do exactly that.

Aeroexpress uses its PSIM solution to monitor all aspects of its operations in real-time, whether related to safety, security or passenger service. Through integration with crowd detection video analytics, the PSIM system lets operators know when there’s excessive congestion at exit turnstiles or ticket counters. Aeroexpress also uses PSIM’s integrated reporting capabilities to track and document maintenance issues, regulatory compliance violations, and incidents that require assistance from external agencies.

Another example comes from a driverless sky train operator in a large international airport that recently deployed PSIM to optimize operations for a closed loop, private system they built and manage. The operator is bound to a service level agreement requiring very high levels of availability. If the service levels aren’t met, substantial fines can be imposed. To minimize this financial exposure, the sky train operator implemented a PSIM solution that enables its personnel to respond faster to incidents, thereby minimizing downtime. For example, if a train car is stranded on the tracks, control room operators are immediately alerted through the PSIM system by information coming from the SCADA, as well by help buttons activated by passengers onboard the train. The operator is presented with the GIS location of the train, and live video feed from onboard the train as well as from the nearest tunnel camera. The operator’s response to the situation is guided by best practices that are aligned with airport emergency procedures (AEP).

The solution was put through its paces during the past Christmas holiday season when a packed train was stranded on the tracks. Thanks to the PSIM solution, the operator was able to quickly evacuate the passengers from the stranded train, send status updates to airport officials as required by airport regulations (every 5 minutes), and resume normal operations much faster. Through on time reporting the operator was able to avoid fines, and the quick return to normal operation satisfied the stringent SLA requirements.

Of course the PSIM system is also being used for security, but its main purpose is to ensure that any technical or operational incidents are identified and resolved in the shortest time possible, because every second counts — literally. Fines for not complying with the service level agreement are calculated by the second.

Video Analytics are Advancing Too

Thanks to the latest generation of Video Analytics (VA) applications, video surveillance solutions are more accurate, more intelligent, and able to serve more purposes in more places than ever before. Nowadays, VA applications are just as much about what they don’t alert you to as what they do alert you to. While the latest versions are based on the same concept of detecting and alerting, they generate significantly fewer false alarms and do so without compromising detection rates.

Object classification is also more sophisticated and accurate than ever before. Advanced object classification video analytics software is able to differentiate between different types of moving things, such as a human or a car. It can filter out irrelevant objects/elements, such as moving vegetation, a shaking fence, shadows, and car lights. With the ability to classify objects more precisely, video analytics are better able to distinguish true threats from false alarms.

India’s Bangalore Metro is in the process of implementing Video Analytics for automatic intrusion detection at select locations along its tracks and in restricted areas. The Metro is also in the process of deploying a VA application for crowd control that will monitor overcrowding and queue wait-time at stations. The different applications can run on the same camera.

From intrusion detection to crowd management, VA applications can be leveraged for a wide range of purposes beyond security. Video Analytics can also be layered into a larger PSIM solution, as one element of a complete situational awareness picture, along with other sensors and systems.

Closing the Loop — Leveraging Big Data for Investigations

PSIM integrates, analyzes and correlates the big data flowing into the control room for real-time situational awareness, but there’s still another question to consider — how can you effectively leverage all of this information for investigations later on?

Let’s say you need to investigate a slip and fall, escalator accident, robbery or assault, or you need to review how your operators or transit police handled a particular situation. Incident Information Management technology allows you to just that, by compiling all of the multimedia information related to an incident so it can be replayed in exact chronological sequence.

Incident Information Management technology is a software solution that straddles various multimedia capture platforms, synchronously assemble multimedia information from different sources and quickly connect the dots.

Audio recordings, surveillance video, screen recordings can all be assembled into a seamless incident timeline. Cell phone video taken by passengers or witnesses can also be added. The reproduction can be used for investigations, evaluations or training, or even turned over to external agencies for their own investigations or prosecutions.

Lima Metro, the mass transit system for Lima, Peru, invested in this technology about a year ago to synchronize video surveillance footage with audio communications (between the control center, train cars, and stations) to accurately reconstruct and investigate incidents.

Big Data — Challenge or Opportunity?

Transit agencies — like the ones profiled in this article — operate in a world of big data that’s growing more expansive every day. Without the right technology, it’s an enormous challenge. With the right technology, it’s an opportunity to improve operational efficiency, and create a safer, more secure and satisfying experience for transit passengers.

Udi Segall is a director of vertical markets for Nice Systems’ Surveillance Division. Udi can be reached at