Collaboration Gets the MBTA into Security's Fast Lane

The history of mass transportation around the Boston and eastern Massachusetts area goes back more than four centuries. They lay claim to the first working subway system in the North America and one of the earliest motorized bus transit authorities in the...

“What makes this even more of a unique operation is that we not only have the 6,000 people employed at the T, our department actually is DOT-wide and responsible for another 4,000 employees, so there are personnel challenges,” says Clarke... “But when you consider that the T’s infrastructure dates back to 1898, it’s old. We sort of joke that nobody was thinking about installing fiber when they were digging those tunnels back then.”

Over the past four years plus, Clarke credits a vibrant spirit of team building among all the 25 different departments – including MBTA transit police, maintenance, operations, communications, engineering and the control center -- that interact with his security and emergency management group to create a cohesive organizational structure.

“It is all about collaboration and building a clear mission statement from the beginning,” adds Clarke, who has seen his department grow from two to 18 employees. “We had to earn trust from everyone we initially approached. But now we are a lot more independent since we have proved our value and all parties involved understand where we want and need to be in five to ten years.”

The MBTA had a lot of disparate projects being implemented by several groups within the organization. Clarke and Baker decided the best approach was to finish up a couple of key ongoing projects and halt all others so the team could reassess its priorities. The ultimate vision was to ensure that all designs that were in the pipeline reflected the long-term plan.

“Putting a five-year plan together was very important. We approached it like a risk mitigation session, assessing what we had based on the NIPP philosophy of detect, defend, deter and devalue. ,” Clarke stresses, referring to the important role the implementation of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Preparedness System (NPS) plays in supporting the building of a sustainable and core-competent plan.

When the roadmap was formalized, Clarke undertook the rigorous task of coordinating funding. He relied on the DHS’ Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP), which authorized Congress to divert more than $84 billion to strengthen the nation’s critical infrastructure and its transit systems against potential terrorist threats.

One of Clarke’s first steps was hiring a grants and budget analyst specifically dedicated to getting their security priorities in order. The MBTA has been awarded with more than $150 million since the TSGP started sometime in 2004.

“Dealing with the constant and changing landscape of funding issues is a major component of what we do. We have been very fortunate to get significant support from DHS and TSGP, and I can’t say enough about the positive collaboration and resource support that has been made available through both DHS and FEMA,” emphasizes Clarke. “There is a lot of paperwork involved in securing that $150 million. There are auditing aspects, accounting principles, grant writing and management, not to mention then having to manage all the budget implications of the various projects. It’s a lot of work managing the money and setting technology priorities that fit your vision.”

Because Clarke and Baker stepped into their respective security roles having a working history with the MBTA, they absolutely knew what they wanted – and what they didn’t. The most daunting problem they faced when it came time to initiate their video migration plan was more than 700 analog cameras populating the system and no IP technology devices or infrastructure.

The first call went out to an array of IP camera vendors who would need to match a very strict set of performance criteria as the migration to IP began. The second call addressed the void of a video management software solution. At the same time as the video hardware and software issues were being addressed, the team tackled what they called the linchpin to their entire migration process. The implementation of a scalable PSIM solution ranked as the team’s key technology mission which would allow them to tie the old to the new.

MBTA is currently transitioning from 700 analog cameras that were on a NICE Vision platform to 6,000-7,000 cameras using VidSys to control and manage the Geutebruck and Genetec VMS, Lenel’s access control and monitoring, along with Stentofon Communications’ emergency phone and intercom systems.