According to the American Public Transportation Association, using public transit is 10 times safer than traveling by automobile. Safety and security are the two most important priorities among transportation professionals, yet they are faced with specific challenges to ensure travelers stay safe.
An approach to help enhance transportation security and alert passengers to safety information in a faster, more streamlined way is through the use of digital signage, which serves as a more dynamic and valuable resource than static signage. One of the most important features of digital signage is how easily it can be updated with critical information. Messages on digital signage can be changed instantaneously, adjusted from a centralized location via a server, whereas a static sign can only be updated if an employee physically swaps out the sign. Digital signage can also integrate with real-time data, such as news, weather, emergency alerts and delays, directions, and instructions.
These real-time capabilities are especially useful during emergencies. In the current times, this is even more important as we all do our best to stay safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Having the ability to digitally remind passengers of social distancing and PPE requirements in an active and engaging way proves to be more efficient than standard, passive signage. Officials can take control of displays instantly and update the content to provide information on where passengers should go (or, sometimes just as importantly, where not to go) and how to contact transit police/security. Agencies can even use them to provide live commands to assist travelers — improving the speed of communications as well as providing a safer environment for passengers.
Even in non-emergency situations, digital signage can help protect passenger safety with reminders such as, “if you see something, say something” or public service announcements on harassment, keeping bags off seats, or how and when to contact transit police/security. Content delivered through this medium is much more likely to draw the eye than static signage. According to a Rich Media Technologies study, digital signage is 63% more attention-grabbing than static signs.
LCD or LED?
There are two main options for transit agencies looking to invest in digital signage to boost public safety and security: liquid crystal displays (LCD) and light-emitting diode (LED) displays. Both LCD and LED displays can be used effectively for public safety and security messaging, but location and budget will dictate which type of display is best for a specific installation.
LCD is a more traditional technology that utilizes a transmissive LCD panel and LED backlights, and has all video processing and power within a self-contained system. It allows for a lower pixel pitch than its LED counterpart and therefore higher-resolution capabilities for closer viewing distances. While LCD displays come in all different forms and levels, it is important to choose a robust display with capabilities beyond that of a traditional television. Integrated active cooling for thermal dissipation, full external control, a full metal chassis and a matte finish in the panel (or high-haze panel) to make screens readable in bright or direct sunlight, are all qualities associated with commercial- grade displays.
LCD displays can be used for outdoor digital signage applications, including outside train and bus stations. However, it is important that the display is specifically designed to handle extreme weather, direct sunlight, and solar load; not having the right solution for the application can lead to equipment failure. If a display is desired in a location where conditions are not ideal, separate enclosures with shatter-proof protective glass as well as additional heating and cooling can be necessary to house the displays and protect them from the environment.
LEDs are light-emitting diodes, meaning they directly emit colors and light and are not reflective the way an LCD is. LED displays work well for any kind of distance viewing, including advertising, or if content warrants a large, seamless display (such as with a video wall). LED displays can be produced with fine pixel pitches to give the displays high clarity and picture quality up close. They can also be produced with a wider pixel pitch and very bright intensity, allowing viewing at great distances, even in outdoor spaces. This provides transit agencies with greater flexibility regarding the type of content they choose to display (including font type and size), as well as where the displays are placed — travelers will be able to read them whether they are up close or far away.
If users are looking for the same quality and resolution as LCD, the LED display needs to be bigger and placed farther away from viewers; however, costs per inch and cost per pixel are generally higher with LED. Integrators can help ensure the best display is used. LEDs should be installed locations where they cannot be touched or harmed; this will help reduce the chance of damage or vandalism to the displays.
Best Practices for Digital Signage in Public Safety
When seeking to implement and deploy digital displays for public safety applications, transit professionals should keep the following best practices in mind:
Planning where to install displays directly impact their effectiveness. Agencies should conduct traffic-pattern studies with a qualified public safety organization to ensure desired locations are actually the best places for them. Even if a display fits a certain location, it doesn’t mean people will see it or pay attention to it.
Location also affects the type of structure required to mount the display, as well as whether the location is indoor or outdoor. In turn, these both impact cost.
In terms of cost, it is important to have a clear vision of the goals and needs of the public safety messaging programs to ensure the budget fits the vision. Budget should be determined early in the project so an integrator can help choose the best possible solution for the messages and appropriately balance the budget with the vision and plan.
- Control & Content
Optimizing communication is critical in an emergency. Investing in software, such as a content management service, provides centralized control from a single network or point allows one person or team to monitor displays and control content.
Having a proper content management service in place is essential during times when a transit agency needs to immediately push alerts to every screen in an affected area. This can be done in real time from anywhere an authorized admin has access to the network. An agency can even set up pre-written messages for certain situations, such as a fire or collision, and simply hit a button to push them to displays.
The effectiveness of a public safety messaging program greatly depends on the content. It is important to work with a content provider and a public safety organization that knows best practices for messaging campaigns and emergency alerts and is able to design and create the most effective content such as a combination of images and text to ensure children and foreign-language speakers can understand and follow instructions.
It may be useful to work alongside or at least obtain feedback on content from local public safety entities, transit police or a federal agency, such as Homeland Security to ensure that the messaging and design works well and is user friendly.
Furthermore, some higher-quality displays can send email alerts to an admin if there are any issues with the sign or with the way the content is displaying. All displays can be networked, so if a screen goes down, the admin is alerted immediately. But not every display offers this option, so having a point person to monitor displays is important.
Think about the passengers and travelers utilizing the transit — what are they looking at, where are they looking and what information would help them the most? Sometimes less is more when it comes to the message so travelers are not overwhelmed with too much information. A clear, concise message in an environment that is not cluttered with signage ensures that the messaging is visible and effective.
Using digital signage for public safety in a transit setting can help keep travelers safe and aware, helping to create a more secure future for passengers and transit agencies alike.
Ben Hardy is product manager for Sharp NEC Display Solutions.