STE Security Innovation Awards Silver Medal: Technology Makeover

Dec. 10, 2012
Washington Metro Transit Authority’s security upgrade includes IP video, PSIM, video analytics and more to protect a huge transportation infrastructure in the nation’s capital

Creating a secure environment for any metropolitan transit agency is a daunting task — from the thousands of daily passengers, to hundreds of buses, to miles of railway, security planners must be cognizant of a slew of potential risks that can threaten such a sprawling, constantly moving operation. Put that operation in the Washington D.C. area, and the challenge becomes even more difficult — with your operations always a tempting target and security always under the microscope.

Connecting the District of Columbia, the state of Maryland and the commonwealth of Virginia, The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), has risen to this paramount challenge by implementing a robust security technology infrastructure to protect a riding population of 3.4 million that often includes key members of our government.

“This is one of the more challenging installations we have done,” says Tony DeStefano, National Director of Security Sales for Schneider Electric, the lead security integrator on the project.


Defining the Scope

WMATA operates transit service in the Washington Metropolitan Area. This tri-jurisdictional government agency includes rapid transit service under the Metrorail brand, fixed-route bus service under the Metrobus brand, and paratransit service under the MetroAccess brand. Created by an interstate compact in 1967 to develop a balanced regional transportation system in the national capital area, the authority began by building its rail system in 1969. It then acquired four regional bus systems in 1973, and started operating the first phase of Metrorail in 1976. Later, Metro began its paratransit service, MetroAccess, in 1994; which provides about 1.5 million trips per year.

Today, Metrorail serves 86 stations and has 106 miles of track. Metrobus serves the nation's capital 24 hours a day, seven days a week with 1,500 buses. Both the Metrorail and Metrobus serve a population of 3.4 million within a 1,500-square mile jurisdiction.

To monitor this expansive transportation infrastructure, the authority employs its own police force, the Metro Transit Police Department. As part of the police department’s commitment to serving the community and maintaining safe and reliable transportation options, it has implemented several anti-terror initiatives. To outline a few, the police department has a 20-member anti-terrorism unit devoted to deterring terrorist attacks in the Metro system; a robust chemical, biological, and radiological detection program that aims to mitigate the consequences of the release of a chemical, biological or radiological agent in the system; 438 portable radiological detectors from Smiths Detection; an Explosive Ordnance Detection team to respond to and resolve incidents involving suspicious packages and threats of explosives; and a canine program that teaches animals to detect a variety of odors associated with explosives. The Metro Transit Police Department also works closely with local and federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies to help join forces to combat crime and terrorism.


New Program Includes Massive Security Technology Upgrades
Aside from the comprehensive police department and anti-terrorism initiatives, WMATA also focuses on five strategic goals. One of those goals is to create a safer organization by improving customer and employee safety and security and strengthening the Metro’s safety and security response through prevention and reaction. As such, WMATA continues to invest in innovate security systems throughout the authority.

Recently, WMATA took part in a security upgrade process, dubbed the Electronic Safety and Security Program (ESSP), which directed the Authority to procure a new video management system (VMS), physical security information management software (PSIM), and video analytic software to monitor the various transportation modes within the authority. The overall goal of the ESSP is to establish a new platform that enhances situational awareness of emergency and operational personnel throughout the organization.

As one of our nation’s most critical infrastructure assets, WMATA has been identified as a major transit system in which any potential destruction would have a debilitating effect on national security. Due to its importance, the authority has received more than $100 million in Department of Homeland Security grants, including the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) and The Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP). The funds have been linked to the Metro’s goals to create an effective and innovative safety culture while using all resources wisely.

Leveraging DHS funding awarded in early 2012, the authority continues to take a proactive approach to enhancing security equipment located across its expansive transportation network. To address immediate challenges, the authority is working on a phased approach to upgrading its VMS, rolling out a new integrated PSIM solution as well as deploying video analytics and IP cameras at all transit locations. The overall security plan is slated to be finalized by July 2013.


A Phased Approach to Security Technology

To help rebuild the aging surveillance system throughout the Metro’s stations, rail, and bus routes, WMATA selected partner Schneider Electric to help review technology vendors that would address current and future security challenges. After reviewing 17 bids from manufacturers, WMATA chose the following technologies: Verint’s Nextiva Video Management Software; network video recorders (NVR) from Pivot3; CNL Software’s PSIM solution; video surveillance cameras from Axis, along with Mobotix’s 360-degree IP cameras; and video analytics software from BRS Labs. These solutions will be deployed with the most important facets being installed immediately and rolling out additional technologies to ensure the project is successfully completed meeting grant expiration dates.

As part of the initial plan, officials installed IP cameras throughout stations, bus garages and canopies. In addition, a video management system was deployed to monitor and record video as well as easily recall historic video. Finally, the authority plans to complete a new Security Operation Control Center in the Jackson Graham Building in Washington, D.C., that will be the main security hub for viewing all transportation networks in one centralized location.

The remaining phases of the security upgrade will include enhancements to perimeter security at rail yards, intrusion detection applications and integration with business systems. To connect all the disparate security and business systems, the authority needed a PSIM-based solution as part of the plan.


IP Video Provides the Backbone

The WMATA has more than 7,000 cameras monitoring the rail system alone — with most being analog-based. With the new DHS funding, officials are able to purchase and install new IP cameras, which are being placed primarily at the entrances to each of the Metro stations to replace the current Pelco analog cameras and encoders. “It was an outdated video platform, and they were looking to take it to the next level,” DeStafano says.    

With the new cameras — supplied by vendors Axis Communications and Mobotix — the authority can use 360-degree views to enable greater coverage with fewer cameras. “We are using four times fewer cameras to monitor our locations,” says Marshall Epler, WMATA’s Deputy Chief Engineer of Communications and Network Systems. “With the combination of our new video management software and powerful IP cameras, we can capture and record everything happening throughout the Metro.”

The new IP cameras are designed to integrate with Verint’s Nextiva Video Management Software (VMS), helping streamline installation and administration for the authority as well as lowering cost of ownership. Connecting with the Axis and Motobix cameras, Nextiva video management software provides automatic camera detection and configuration, centralized administration and management, and automated, system-wide camera health monitoring, diagnostics, and alerts.

The VMS provides manageable and effective video operations with automated system health monitoring and diagnostics, live and recorded video viewing, policy-based video distribution, efficient virtual matrix switching, versatile investigation management capabilities, enterprise DVR management, and enterprise DVR viewing. The system enables security functionalities to be integrated into a single, configurable user interface for optimal ease-of-use and operator efficiency. Its policy-based video distribution, networked video viewing, and investigation management helps WMATA rapidly detect, act, and investigate security breaches and other threats.

The VMS gives the authority greater situational awareness. With its multi-site feature, the system provides geographically-distributed locations to be monitored autonomously. WMATA can view live or recorded video and alarms across sites as well as investigate events from any one of those sites. If an incident occurs, the investigation management tool allows the authority to quickly analyze what happened. Users can then export any and all case-related audio, video and other data into case binders and share with local and national law enforcement agencies.

 “We are very pleased with the functionality of the video management software,” Epler says. “The features and the overall reliability of the system allow us to easily monitor our facilities and rapidly detect, act on and investigate any security breaches.”

The authority is also leveraging Pivot3 NVRs, which include flexible storage options as well as failover reassurance that the solutions will not go down. Connected via a VMWare integration with the VMS, the authority can rely on both the hardware and software to efficiently detect security threats and operational inefficiencies, improve emergency event response, and build evidence.


Eliminating Human Error

With so many threats to be concerned about from a security standpoint, it only made sense for the transit authority to deploy video analytics. After all, being able to monitor all facets of WMATA is too labor-intensive for human eyes alone.

As part of the upgrade, the authority chose BRS Labs’ behavioral recognition software to quickly analyze video and provide rule-based alerts. Combining computer vision with machine learning, the software connects with cameras to detect any movement that violates pre-programmed conditions. The solution is able to recognize structures, sizes, shapes, locations, velocities, accelerations, paths of objects and other characteristics of all objects within the scene and form memories about them. Integrated with the VMS, security personnel can use this application to proactively address security threats and ignore normal activity.


PSIM Ties it Together

 “We have a lot of disparate systems that need to be interconnected,” Epler says. “With the introduction of PSIM technology, we can now view all security and business systems on one integrated platform.”

CNL Software’s IPSecurityCenter platform gives the authority real-time situational awareness at the Security Operations Control Center. Some of the older systems as well as the newly deployed systems are combined onto one platform giving the authority total control of all operations.

“It is truly command-and-control,” DeStefano says. “The PSIM came in because it’s more than just video and CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosives) detection — there’s also access control, a fire detection system, and there’s some integration with their train control system, for example.”

“Here’s a scenario,” DeStefano continues. “Let’s say a chemical or biological weapon is released, and the agent is detected thru the CBRNE system. That alert is immediately picked up by the PSIM system, which pulls up the video, and a task force or other response is dispatched (from the command center). At the same time, the PSIM system communicates with the train control system and stops any train from pulling into that station. That’s how the system was envisioned to work.”


Future Expansion

As one of the major transportation hubs in the U.S., the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority strives to provide the community with safe and reliable options. The Electronic Safety and Security Program will provide the authority with a highly reliable video recording and viewing application, improved situational awareness, expedited response times, reduced maintenance rates, and increased efficiency around incident management.

The security applications being deployed now will also be leveraged at any new construction sites, including a planned extension of Metrorail to Dulles Airport; street car lines in the District and northern Virginia; and a light rail in suburban Maryland planned for the future. “The system is constantly being expanded,” DeStafano says. “The number of cameras are definitely going to increase.”

WMATA is also looking at expanding the PSIM to accept data from a variety of new sources in the national capital region. “It will encompass cameras on bridges and all sorts of technology integrated together,” DeStafano continues. “In the event of a major catastrophe sharing of video and information is going to be a lot easier in the future.”