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Video Surveillance Improves Security on Mass Transit, Subways

New features solve tricky problems

This still image was taken from a Sentry 360 camera feed used by the Chicago Transit Authority.

When the Denver Regional Transportation District wanted to upgrade its aging analog-based video surveillance system, transit police used Panasonic i-Pro network cameras as the foundation.

Public transportation is the Rodney Dangerfield of transit operations, vastly underappreciated for what it delivers: efficiently moving vast numbers of people at low cost.

Transit systems have been a target for terrorists and are besieged by constant vandalism, lurid graffiti and gang activity. Subways and bus stations in larger cities also have reputations for housing criminal activity, including both assaults and theft. However, transit operators have been pushing back with comprehensive video surveillance systems to deter crime or theft, as well as track down the wrongdoers.

“[Denver’s] RTD faced a significant challenge as its ridership base is rapidly growing, but its aging mobile surveillance system could not keep up,” said Greg Peratt, senior director for Panasonic Video Solutions Integration Team at Panasonic System Communications.

Panasonic i-Pro WV-SW155 dome camera

Installed both inside and outside of each bus, Panasonic’s i-Pro SmartHD WV-SW155 compact dome cameras contain a 1.3-megapixel high-sensitivity MOS sensor to deliver 720p HD video quality at up to 30 fps. Panasonic’s i-Pro WV-SW158 compact dome cameras with built-in microphone capabilities are installed near the driver’s booth within each bus, making it possible for RTD administrators to respond more effectively when drivers report an emergency.

Featuring Panasonic’s UniPhier processors, the camera system delivers image quality that’s much improved over the old analog gear. The company’s MEGA Super Dynamic feature further ensures good reproduction of faces, while the IP66-rated design protects the cameras from physical abuse.

With the system, RTD staff can wirelessly off-load video automatically and flag video files associated with specific incidents from buses’ in-vehicle recorders. This saves considerable time previously spent manually off-loading data and searching with the old system.

“RTD security [previously] had to physically retrieve hard drives from buses to investigate incidents an average of 25-30 times per day―a significant waste of time and resources,” said Bob Grado, RTD Transit Police commander and manager of Integrated Security Operations. He also noted that the old system’s video quality was poor and sometimes unusable.


Toshiba Surveillance and IP Video Products just released a new wide-angle camera that promises to be a boon to transit security efforts. The new full HDTV mini-dome IP cameras, featuring 110-degree horizontal viewing angles, can capture up to 20 percent more area than cameras equipped with standard 93-degree angle lenses, which means fewer IP cameras to purchase, install and maintain.

Toshiba WR05A dome camera

The outdoor-ready Toshiba IK-WR05A and indoor IK-WD05A are pre-focused, making them far easier for customers to mount and configure. In addition, both models are ONVIF Profile-S compliant and have 802.3af Power over Ethernet technology to eliminate the need to run separate power cables.

Along with a suite of intelligent features, such as motion detection and alarm recording, both cameras stream live video at 30 frames-per-second at full frame rate, two-megapixel (1,920 x 1,080) resolution. Because the cameras integrate wide dynamic range, day/night imaging and IR lighting technologies, they will work with highly contrasted backlighting or in total darkness, a Toshiba official said.


Even in complete darkness, high-definition thermal cameras can still generate an image by using the heat energy around an object. Such cameras work great in the black of a subway station and can help find victims in the aftermath of an underground train accident, said Joe Strahan of Infrared Cameras Inc., in Beaumont, Texas.

“In a search and rescue, by using the cameras, you can count people even in absolute darkness,” Strahan said.

Better yet, if there is an incident at a subway station involving a gunshot, police can use infrared cameras to find a ditched weapon by its heat signature, he said.

But the cameras are not for just seeing in darkness. The company’s cameras can be used in airports as screening devices. The cameras can read the body temperature of those boarding a plane, screening out those who are sick or running a fever, he said. Officials then can pull those passengers aside and check to see if they are infectious, particularly during deadly flu or virus outbreaks, Strahan said.

Camera Turret Technologies, of Halifax, Mass., is set to release a new eight-camera wireless command station that will allow transit operators to control pan/tilt and LanC operations on the cameras from up to one-mile away, said Camera Turret President Lou Chighisola.

“We expect this to be a game changer,” he said. “Imagine setting up from one to eight cameras with no cables.”

Sentry 360, of Plainfield, Ill., recently launched the installation of its 360-degree surveillance cameras inside 800 train cars in the Chicago Transit Authority system. The 360-degree fisheye ultra HD cameras can cover the entire rail car without the blind spots of traditional cameras. Because the cars use fewer cameras, the Sentry 360 system substantially reduces the number of cameras, and thus the necessary bandwidth for recording and streaming.

BitFlow, of Woburn, Mass, recently introduced a new single-camera high-speed frame grabber, the Karbon CL4-SP, that can work within the mass transit video security environment.

On the horizon, transit systems may soon employ cameras mounted on Unmanned Vehicle Systems (commonly known as drones) to check on traffic or investigate accidents. There are about a dozen police agencies with operational Certificates Of Authorization from the FAA as many as 20 more with training or in-process COAs, said Mike Fergus, program manager of the International Association of Chiefs of Police Technology Center.


All those images generated by the video cameras are useless unless transit operators have a content management system that can help them understand and control what they are seeing. Genetec, based in Montreal, provides video security systems and was just awarded a contract to install its Genetec Security Center at the 82,500-seat MetLife Stadium—home of the New York Giants and New York Jets football teams.

Screenshot of Genetec Security Center control software

The security system is also a good fit for mass transit and is being used by about 40 transit operators around the globe, said Danny Peleg, transport director for Genetec Security.

“There are two main drivers why cameras are installed on public transit,” Peleg said. “There are liability issues and an increase of events of drivers being abused and attacked.”

And, the devices act as a deterrent to vandals who are less inclined to commit crimes in front of a video camera.

“It provides the authorities with evidence of what happened and to be able to better catch the bad guys,” Peleg said.”

The Genetec system has some useful features to track down the criminals. The Federation feature in Security Center allows security teams to immediately route live surveillance feeds to local and federal authorities for instant viewing and access in case of emergency. Additionally, the Video Archive feature captures and stores video feeds for multiple years. Archived video can be accessed and retrieved down to the precise time code and date within minutes in the event of an investigation, Peleg said.

Industrial Video & Control, Newton, Mass., also produces management software and rugged IP cameras for mass transit security and transportation applications. IVC was selected by Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation to provide the video component of its next generation Freeway Traffic Management System.

SYSTEM INTEGRATORS, a video security integrator in Portland, Ore., operates its own component warehouse where prospective customers can “test drive” a video system before they purchase it, said Josh Daniels, company president. The company then uses its expertise to work with clients to solve complicated security problems.

MORE INFO BitFlow, Inc.:

Camera Turret:


Industrial Video & Control Co.:




“We are not the classic integrator,” Daniels said. “We have invested dramatically in product development. Our customers can come to our facility in Portland to see what they are getting. We don’t ever put anything out that hasn’t been market tested.”

The company has provided solutions for a number of mass transit systems, but the biggest challenge is usually helping replace equipment that has failed to live up to what was promised.

“We essentially rescue new clients from systems that have gone bad,” Daniels said. “They may have a system that was designed a long time ago and it is not providing the functionality they want.”

The company works with a range of IP video manufacturers including Axis, Milestone and Optica. Optica cameras, like the Optica P218Z, are rugged and well-fitted for the mass transit environment. The P218Z is a weather-proof 18X zoom PTZ network speed dome camera and is useful for real-time surveillance, Daniels said.

Daniels anticipates that mass transit video systems will continue to multiply.

“It has grown quite a bit and it follows population centers,” Daniels said. “We see it used in highly urban centers and in transit centers where a lot of people are moving in and out.”