Video analytics: the new frontier in transport security

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Vandalism detection capabilities are transforming transit and transport security, writes Joe Harvey, Intelligent Transportation System Market Leader, ISS.

Transport security

It’s safe to say that travel in the US has rebounded significantly since the pandemic, with the US Travel Association reporting a 10% increase in air travel demand in September 2023 compared to the same month in 2022.

The numbers for public transportation are just as astounding: 34 million people use public transportation each weekday, according to the American Public Transportation Association. 

However, there’s still a crisis brewing related to keeping transportation hubs safe from crime – particularly vandalism – that costs public transportation agencies millions of dollars a year in lost revenue and severely limits the kinds of goods and services that can be offered to customers.

Security teams are in a unique position to provide additional oversight through technology innovation that can help drive more value to the organization while also keeping people and assets safe.

The challenge of securing the transportation sector

Plagued since 2020 when the COVID pandemic reduced the use of public transportation, the sector has seen a rise in crime rates.

In New York City alone, transit crime increased 41% year-over-year in June 2022, 57% in July 2022 and 19.5% in August 2022, according to New York Police Department monthly crime statistics.

In the same year, Chicago reported a seven-year high and Philadelphia has seen an 80% increase since 2019 of violent attacks and robberies.

While some agencies are opting to hire transport oversight in the form of “transit ambassadors” dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of various rail stations and bus depots by dealing with problematic individuals, there’s still a broad gap where oversight is lacking.

Police presence is another way that these entities are dealing with the rise in crime rates and enhancing transport security, but recent reports from the US Justice Department highlighted a steady decline of 4.8% in force numbers compared to three years ago.

This means that transport security leaders and operations managers are looking to innovative technology as a force multiplier to combat crime, including vandalism, that plagues 24/7/365 transit operations.

In the broader sense, video surveillance remains one of the best ways to secure these locations, but incoming video data must be analyzed for organizations to fully realize the challenges that their specific locations face and spur ways to address them.

The implementation of video analytics solutions, such as facial recognition, object tracking, intelligent monitoring, behavior analytics for things like vandalism and graffiti, as well as occupancy analytics, enable end users to be proactive in meeting emerging threats in this critical sector.

A use case for analytics-driven oversight

In 2022, one of the largest transit authorities in the US, which serves approximately two million commuters daily, began to deploy analytics in its rail stations to identify potentially problematic behaviors and subsequently create proactive policies for combating fare evasion, vandalism and other crimes within the city transit authority and adjacent agencies.

Using existing video surveillance infrastructure, including legacy cameras and video management software (VMS), the transit authority combined specific analytics modules to detect behaviors, such as fare evasion, vandalism detection, graffiti, object left behind, loitering and occupancy rates to improve transport security.

In vandalism, for example, analytics can be used to detect certain motions that an individual is making that will alert operators within a security operations center so they can respond accordingly.

Behaviors like kicking with a foot, hitting with a knuckle or fist overhead, hitting with an object like a bat or baton, repeatedly striking an object at least three times and those activities listed performed quickly/with sufficient force.

Taken together, this powerful analytic was able to detect acts of vandalism at rates more than 85%.

While analytics can play a major role in detecting nefarious behavior, transport security leaders must be able to convey the value of technology innovation at the highest level to help drive decision-makers toward investing in these tools and resources.

How analytics drives business value

It’s important to note that there are additional outcomes from enabling transport security teams to apply technology-driven innovation to solve important issues facing public transportation entities.

Security leaders must be able to have conversations with the C-suite and decision-makers on how security technology meets business goals and delivers more value.

They should be able to address things like: 

Addressing revenue loss acts of vandalism, such as the destruction of an LCD display or vending machine, may not be a direct security threat to people, but the loss of revenue to the organization can be significant if not addressed properly.

Tying oversight of property to thwart would-be vandals is a case that transport security leadership can make that directly impacts revenue to the organization.

Shifting to a proactive mindset – usually by the time a security operator is being alerted to an act of vandalism, some of the damage might be done.

However, identifying problematic areas where there might be blind spots for guarding resources or low-traffic/low-light areas, might highlight the need for additional physical presence and oversight.

This can lead to more proactive coverage of physical areas and have a direct impact on the number of criminal complaints in a specific area.

Increasing intelligence – analytics modules are continually learning the environment for which they’re programmed, continually adding movements to be cognizant of and how attacks are changing across the landscape.

The kind of intelligence that an organization gathers about recurring incidents brings higher levels of awareness to transport security leadership so that additional investments can potentially be made.

Is there an area where cameras don’t reach, but incidents keep occurring?

That is one way that gathering intelligence can impact the organization’s bottom line and allow for greater coverage of a location to keep assets safe and improve transport security.

As the needs of the transportation sector change, video data will become the crown jewel for security leaders to provide continued oversight, proactive strategies for addressing problematic behavior and crimes and a way to enhance the organization’s goal of keeping people and assets safe.

Layering analytics, such as vandalism detection, alongside incoming video data not only becomes a force multiplier for transport security teams, but also provides intelligence, addresses revenue loss for the business and allows more proactive oversight for a critical sector of the marketplace.

This article on executive protection was originally published in the January edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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