September 2010

Operational Efficiency through Security Technology

by Kara Cunningham

Surveillance technology is key to public safety, incident management and risk reduction. The benefits are well documented.

Public transportation provides a vital service that millions of passengers depend on every day. Statistics from the American Public Transportation Association indicate that as recently as 2008, passengers in the U.S. took as many as 10.5 billion trips, while public transportation spent more than $543 billion on services and infrastructure. The sheer scale of the people and property involved means that there is a lot at stake.

With so many routes and riders, the protection of passengers, employees and assets can be a daunting task, especially on a limited or fluctuating budget. Budget constraints make operational efficiency an imperative, with the goals of streamlining the management of security systems, controlling expenses and reducing administrative overhead.

Risk Management

The inherently open nature of public transportation makes it vulnerable to security threats, which is what makes security systems so important. In the case of public transit, security systems entail mobile surveillance equipment. "Once you have it, you don't know how you got along without it," says Glenn Boden, fleet manager of Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA). "It's just a great management tool."

Surveillance technology is key to public safety, incident management and risk reduction. The benefits are well documented. "If there are any onboard incidents, you can use recorded data to reconstruct events and investigate customer complaints, accidents, and criminal activity," Boden says. "It really helps with liability and insurance issues."

Quintus Douglas, supervisor of paratransit operations with Tallahassee, Fla.-based Starmetro, has also found mobile surveillance an invaluable risk management tool. "We can pinpoint the time and details of any incident. We know who was on the bus, who was off, even where people were sitting," he explains. "It prevents discrepancies when the police come, and it has a great impact on liability."

Onboard surveillance involves more than cameras. Video recording systems can combine with automatic vehicle location (AVL) technology and GPS data to precisely track the location and movement of a single bus (or an entire fleet) using mapping software. Through wireless technology, it is even possible to track vehicles live, allowing front-line personnel to receive video and audio information in real time, as an event unfolds, through a laptop.

"You can be blocks away," Douglas says, "and if there is an incident on a bus, or something has happened to the driver, you can actually look and know what is going on inside."

Integrated sensors can detect vehicle ignition status, route mileage, direction and aggressive driving, including speed, inertia, abrupt breaking and turning. Geo-fencing technology allows fleet managers to designate a geographic boundary for a vehicle and receive notification if the vehicle deviates. If a driver leaves his or her route (or in the event of a theft or hijacking), operations can know immediately. Surveillance systems can also detect a vehicle break-in while the vehicle ignition is off.

Mobile surveillance technology allows fleet managers to assess situations and respond quickly and effectively, mitigating risk to people and property. As Douglas says, "there are no disadvantages."

Aside from its essential function of providing safety and security, mobile surveillance technology can save transit agencies a great deal of money. The presence of cameras deters crime, such as vandalism and theft. Recorded data can assist with liability defense and reduce false injury claims, which can lower legal and insurance costs. It can also assist with preventive maintenance and reduce fuel expenses by ensuring drivers maintain good driving practices and stay on designated routes.

Boden says that drivers are often less than enthused when they learn that their transit agency is going to employ security technology; however, "nine out of 10 times it works to their benefit," he says. Boden describes one incident where a passing dump truck came over the center line and damaged an MVTA vehicle. "The camera information exonerated our driver," he says. "It showed that she didn't do anything wrong."

Boden also sees cameras as a great training tool. "Our contractor loves it," he says. "One person can review multiple drivers, and save all the time involved with ride-alongs. A manager can go and pull a random piece of footage to review a driver's performance, which is much more efficient. Since drivers never know when you are going to review footage, you get a more accurate sample of their habits and behavior."

Video surveillance footage can also be used to train drivers using various real-life scenarios, increasing safety even further. From customer service to accidents and other onboard incidents, the camera provides an unbiased witness from which drivers can learn from other drivers.


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