Enhancing security at mass transit hubs with radio frequency technology

Nov. 29, 2022
Radio waves target objects rather than people and can alert the appropriate authorities to any potential threats, enhancing public safety without making passengers feel “watched.”

Millions of commuters pass through mass transit hubs every day. Unfortunately, those immense concentrated crowds make transport stations a primary target for violent attacks and mass shootings.

Consider the throngs of passengers passing through Penn Station in New York alone, with more than 500,000 people making their way through its halls daily. That’s a major security vulnerability. Yet JFK Airport, which welcomes approximately 130,000 passengers a day, has considerably more security measures in place. While airports have prioritized and invested heavily in security since 9/11, there has been relatively minimal progress in other forms of transit.

But nowadays, as the frequency of mass shootings continues to surge, security teams are looking for ways to enhance public safety at bustling train stations, bus depots and the like. This starts with developing new approaches to concealed weapons detection.

One viable approach is through the implementation of radio frequency technology. The tech is subtle and undetectable, so authorities won’t tip off potential attackers and send them sprinting in the other direction. But the radio waves will alert the appropriate authorities to any potential threats, enhancing public safety without making passengers feel like they’re “being watched.” A win-win.

Long-distance weapons detection

Radio frequency technology works through the connection between a transmitter and receiver. A device deploys low frequency radio waves and those waves travel across a space, rebounding off objects until reaching the receiver. The signal waves are transmitted around a selected area and bounce in all directions in search of potentially dangerous or hazardous objects.

Radio frequency technology can determine the size and shape of an object by analyzing how the waves bounce or reverberate off of it. So, if a radio wave reverberates off a firearm in a bag, the receiver will register that object. Low frequency radio waves are capable of penetrating clothing, walls, and various other barriers so attempts to conceal weapons would be largely futile.

While theoretically such detection could be performed manually through handheld transmitters, the real advantage of radiofrequency technology is the ability to establish an autonomous perimeter. This perimeter could look like poles or fence posts—completely ordinary objects or unassuming parts of infrastructure—that mark the perimeter of a station.

However, these objects could then deploy radiofrequency signals throughout a transit hub and alert authorities if necessary. But unlike with handheld devices, these radio frequency sentinels would be operating constantly without the need for deploying additional security forces to operate the tech. 

Think of the radio frequency perimeter as a new type of security scanner. Instead of having passengers walk through a single body scanner, or loading their bags onto a conveyor belt, the whole building is transformed into a security scanner, albeit an unobtrusive one. Undulating radio waves are constantly—but invisibly—searching through a selected area for weapons or other hazards. 

Such object recognition systems can be deployed without violating the privacy of innocent individuals, or even of non-innocent ones, who are still entitled to certain constitutional rights. 

Privacy-preserving security

There has been significant backlash against efforts to deploy more surveillance in transit hubs. The term “surveillance state” frequently gets thrown around. So, it’s especially important for authorities to preserve privacy during the weapons-detection process.

And there are myriad advantages to utilizing discreet surveillance in high-traffic areas. People don’t know they’re being surveilled, which makes it easier to catch potential attackers. Public safety is enhanced without compromising personal liberty. What’s more, this form of surveillance doesn’t require additional manpower.

These benefits come in contrast to traditional CCTV surveillance, with cameras monitoring people’s movements in real-time: this approach is both relatively ineffective and also operates under implicit bias, i.e. who an operator deems “suspicious looking.”

In contrast, the radio waves are deployed impartially, not targeting individuals, but rather objects. The technology can thereby detect hidden threats while overcoming traditional biases and personal violations in surveillance.

Safety doesn’t need to be about mitigating criminal activity on a grand scale, or preventing once-in-a-century attacks. Radio frequency can be used to curb even petty violent crime, making mass transit safer for us all. And lucky for everyone, these advantages come without compromise. 


Mansour Khatib is CEO of GBT Technologies.

About the Author

Mansour Khatib

Mansour Khatib is the CEO of GBT Technologies. He has developed and marketed numerous multi-million-dollar consumer websites including EagleRider and Leisurelink. Additionally, he built distribution and marketing systems for Expedia, Orbitz, Saber, Amadeus, Booking.com and hotels.com.