Leveraging Technology

March 18, 2014

This October, the U.S. State Department issued a terror alert, encouraging citizens traveling in Europe to be aware of potential danger and to take more precautions about personal security, noting the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems, along with other highly trafficked tourist areas. The warnings included a reference to the Mumbai attacks in 2008, where gunmen opened fire at a crowded train station, as well as multiple luxury hotels. For security teams tasked with protecting buses, subways, railways, airplanes and ferries, as well as the road, water and airways that are used to transport these passengers, this warning exacerbates their daily responsibilities to protect the public.

In response to the increase in security threats since 9/11, mass transit systems are focused on leveraging technology to manage daily transportation incidents and reduce congestion in commuter stations in the world. Additionally, they are focused on safely and efficiently moving people, goods, services and information vital to the economy through the respective areas.

 From dispatching responders and communicating with field personnel, to streaming real-time information and video-to-mobile devices, command centers are tasked with analyzing the plethora of physical security information streaming in from disparate security devices and informa­tion systems, including video, access control, sensors, analytics, networks and building systems, and determining the right course of action in mere seconds. While this can be overwhelming, mistakes are costly and dangerous.

To make sure that your command center is ready to face any situation that may unfold, follow these tips for effectively running your transportation command center and managing situations:

 1. Establish and maintain standard operating procedures for situation resolution

In emergencies, time is critical and the effectiveness of the response can be the difference between safety and disaster, life or death. Develop a comprehensive risk management strategy and action plan before an emergency situation arises, not on the fly as the situation unfolds. Establish standard operating procedures that clearly outline how various types of situations should be resolved. This should include a corresponding action list with a set of automated and manual steps for an operator to follow as situations unfold. By setting up standard operating procedures, step-by-step instructions based on best practices and organizational policies and tools to resolve situations, you eliminate guesswork, enabling operators to quickly — and appropriately — identify potential threatening situations and respond to ensure safe, effective responses, reducing costly errors. Be sure to also put policies in place that enforce adherence to these standard operating procedures to ensure consistency of response and regularly ensure that every operator is familiar with them. Implementing standard reports that monitor and check for compliance on a regular basis help ensure efficient and safe operations. By automating the process of enforcing security and safety policies, you can avoid exacerbating the problem and responders will be able to respond calmly and efficiently in the heat of the moment, rather than letting the stress of an emergency situation dictate their response.

2. Be smart – let technology do the heavy lifting

Within an operations center, there are numerous physical security devices and systems, including cameras, DVRs, NVRs, sensors and access control devices. These technologies generate a lot of disconnected data that frequently exceeds an operator’s capacity to effectively find and process the important, relevant information in real time. As a result, it limits the ability to quickly identify situations and get the right information to the right people at the right time to rapidly resolve situations.

To speed up response time and keep responses consistent, select a system that puts intelligence into your hands, rather than requiring you to spend time sifting through all the data streaming into your command center. The system must analyze and correlate data, events and alarms to identify the real situations and their priority, and provide steps for resolution based on the standard operating procedures. This will allow you to respond quickly and accurately to complex, evolving situations that represent business and security risks both inside and outside the organization.

3. Don’t rely on forensic analysis

Your command center has real-time data streaming in constantly, but operators can be easily overwhelmed and forced to do forensic analysis on situations in order to get a clear picture of what is going on. For instance, when a man walked through an exit door in Newark Airport and caused the TSA to shut down the entire terminal in January 2010, it took TSA officials 80 minutes to scour through videotapes in order to confirm that security was indeed breached before calling the Port Authority to evacuate the terminal. For each minute a terminal is shut down, the cost to each airline within the terminal is approximately $25,000 or $1.5 million per hour. In the case of Newark, with a six-hour closure the resulting cost is upwards of $9M. That’s a steep cost for relying on forensic analysis of a situation.

Now, imagine a situation like the Mumbai attacks on the crowded train station. Identifying the situation in real time enables command center operators to promptly dispatch first responders, arming them with accurate data, such as accurate descriptions of the terrorists as well as their locations, and enabling them to appropriately respond.

Technology that can help an operator quickly verify a situation by presenting the information about it in a quick and easily digestible form as it’s unfolding can slash response times.

4. Don’t allow false positives to compromise your operations center

False positives or false alarms are an unfortunate reality. The ability to differentiate between false positives and real threats is crucial. One way to avoid letting false positives interfere is by enforcing the consistent application of business rules and corporate security policies. These policies enable operators to quickly assess the situation to determine whether or not it needs a response.

5. Do share technologies

When responding to events, organizations do not act alone. There are numerous agencies and sometimes enterprises that play a role. Rather than responding in silos, which can complicate and jeopardize the response, enabling the collaboration and sharing of physical security assets and data across agencies and/or teams can make an enormous difference in the effectiveness of the response. By sharing technologies (including analog and digital video cameras, CCTV, access control, sensors, traffic management systems, analytics, NVRs, DVRs, etc.), it is easy to identify, visually verify and obtain details of a situation to protect citizens and assets. With new technology, command centers can integrate any number and variety of disparate physical security devices as well as IT systems into one intelligent security system that leverages one common operating picture which enables real-time, end-to-end situation management and resolution. Emergency response efforts should integrate both systems for optimal efficiency since resolving security breaches encompasses both physical and IT data.

During the Newark Airport security breach, the security cameras were owned, operated and monitored by the airlines, not by the TSA or the Port Authority. When this event took place, the TSA did not have access to the cameras that would have shown the security breach. As a result, the terminal was cleared and searched and additional time and money were lost resolving the situation and identifying the suspect. With shared technologies across agencies, time and money would have been saved — a valuable lesson for all mass transit organizations.

6. Analyze to improve

It is important to regularly analyze how situations have been handled to identify areas of improvement. Have responses been inconsistent? Is a particular standard operating procedure out of date or ineffective? What could have been done better? This is not a finger-pointing session, but rather a frank analysis of how the command center can continue to advance. Tracking all of the information, including steps taken and resulting activities, helps improve responses and training. This tracking also helps to ensure compliance.

7. Achieve anywhere, anytime visibility.

Implement anytime, anywhere access via a true Web-based architecture. This allows easy distributed remote or mobile access via a Web browser and provides easier integration and greater scalability for operations. It reduces upgrade and deployment times and provides broader support for mobile users. Web-based solutions empower command centers to reliably achieve their security and safety objectives without having to worry about any interruptions or timely installations. Plus, they facilitate easy access to information for field responders and remote operators.

8. Be flexible

Every second counts in an emergency. Organizations are faced with constant pressure to address the dynamic nature of the safety and security situations they face on highways, public transit systems and transportation areas. The policies established for situation response and the technologies that they add to their security ecosystem must adapt with these ongoing changes without any downtime or administrative effort to put software on desktops.

By keeping these tips top of mind, you can effectively run your organization’s command center and feel confident that you and your operators are ready for any situation.

David Fowler is the senior vice president marketing and product development for VidSys.