Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Passenger and Freight Rail CCTV Surveillance Technology - In-Cab Locomotive Train Cameras

Since the 2008 Metrolink passenger railway disaster there has been an increased interest in on-board video surveillance systems to monitor locomotive train operators. This web page profiles the railway technology partners for March Networks in-cab passenger and freight railway surveillance monitoring systems including the Wabtec Videotrax locomotive digital video recording system.

Additionally, more ruggedized transit CCTV systems that provide digital camera recording, wireless data access, monitoring and extended on-board video recording storage in excess of 90 days can be found here.

NTSB Recommends Surveillance Systems in Metro Trains

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Video Surveillance for Transit Buses - Keeping Up With Technology

(Source: Mass Transit)

Video surveillance is hardly a new idea to most people; in recent times it's increasingly becoming an accepted and even expected part of our environment. There is an ongoing and often lively debate about the pros and cons of video recording itself, regardless of the technology employed. While the practice may have its detractors, suffice it to say there are many organizations, both public and private, that have found video surveillance to be a valuable component of their overall security and risk management programs.

Video surveillance in the transit industry has also been around for many years. Cameras are commonly installed in fixed-location applications such as passenger terminals or train platforms. Within the past 10 years or so, cameras have also been put on board buses and other passenger transportation vehicles. This article will focus on the second category, commonly referred to as 'mobile surveillance'.

Once the decision has been made to implement or upgrade a video system, transit authorities are faced with a deluge of vendors, each promoting their bundle of must-have features. Many organizations choose to employ an external consultant to help them navigate through the sea of information. Whether or not an outside expert is consulted, it is still very important for the purchasers to have a good understanding of the overall technology.

The Basics
For the benefit of those somewhat unfamiliar with video surveillance, here is a brief summary of the basic technology.

The two major components of a video system are cameras and recorders. It is also possible to set up a closed circuit television (CCTV) system with only a camera connected to a video monitor, but the benefits are greatly reduced without the recording. Such systems are typically used simply to provide enhanced viewing range, such as rear-vision cameras for vehicles with obstructed rear views.

When a video system is referred to as 'digital', it commonly means that it is using a digital video recorder, or DVR. Most DVRs store the video recordings on hard drives contained within the DVR. However, the cameras will usually still be analog, as explained below in the section on cameras. Analog video systems use both analog cameras and analog recorders, which would usually be VCRs.

Analog systems are seldom used in transit applications anymore, except as part of legacy installations. The advantages of digital over analog are numerous:

-Longer recording time
-Better picture quality
-Better reliability
-Ability to search recordings very quickly
-Ability to copy and archive without loss of quality
-Ability to transmit wirelessly without loss of quality
-Ability to access video via computer networks over unlimited distance
-Ability to record multiple cameras in high quality
-Easier integration with other digital and analog vehicle systems

Some of these points may not be relevant to all digital systems, but it is clear why they have all but replaced VCRs. Even the cost of the basic digital systems is approaching close to that of the remaining analog products.

DVR Terminology
There are a few terms and related concepts that are key to understanding digital video recording. The first is "resolution." When speaking about DVRs, resolution refers to the level of detail that can be recorded. In the same way as computer monitors, DVR resolution is usually expressed as the number of horizontal and vertical pixels. For example, '720 by 480' means that the DVR will record the video signal as a digital image of 720 rows by 480 columns of pixels. As you would expect, higher numbers mean more detail and a potentially better quality image. Note that better quality is not guaranteed by higher resolution, because other factors may come into play. For example, if the video image coming from the camera is of low quality to start with, the higher resolution recording may not give any advantage.

The second important term is "compression." All DVRs use some type of compression to reduce the amount of data they must store. For example, a single image of 720 x 480 pixels could take up approximately 690,000 bytes of storage in uncompressed form. At that size, an 80GB hard drive could barely store one hour of video. By using compression, this size can be reduced 10 times, a hundred times or even more. This data compression is crucial to allowing efficient storage of video, providing days and weeks of storage instead of just minutes or hours.
Compression and Quality

Most DVRs allow the user to select the amount of compression applied to the video. This setting is often referred to as "quality," because higher compression will result in a loss of video quality. If you choose a higher quality setting, you are reducing the level of compression, and thereby decreasing the storage capacity.

It is very important to remember that video compression does not imply a reduction in resolution. There are many different compression techniques, but reducing the resolution is generally a separate process. However, decreasing resolution can also be an effective way of reducing the storage requirement for video. For example, a 320 x 240 image would require roughly one-quarter the space of a 720 x 480 image.

The reduced quality associated with higher compression can be visible in different ways, depending upon the specific technology used. However, the net effect is the same; lower quality will mean a decreased ability to identify people or objects in the picture. It is difficult to precisely quantify the level of quality or compression you need without referring to a specific model of DVR, since each manufacturer has its own measurement scale. When evaluating and ultimately implementing a video system, it will be necessary to test the equipment under specific, controlled conditions. Only by viewing actual video and comparing the various quality levels will you be able to determine the settings appropriate for your needs.

What About the Cameras? As mentioned earlier, a digital video system does not necessarily use digital cameras. On the contrary, the vast majority of DVRs take their inputs from analog cameras. The typical reason is not because users have replaced VCRs with DVRs and kept their old cameras, though some have done so. Most new installations are still using analog cameras as well, simply because they provide the best combination of price and performance.

Compared to a good quality analog equivalent, the cost is much higher for a digital camera with the same performance. The most common type of digital camera uses a CMOS image sensor. This technology is advantageous for applications such as cell phone cameras, because it consumes less power, and can be implemented with less circuitry. However, CMOS sensors have some disadvantages compared to the analog sensors, the most common of which are knows as CCDs. One big difference is that CCDs perform much better in low light conditions. For bus applications, the ability to record images in low light is obviously very important, since many incidents occur in poorly lighted scenes.

As with DVRs, resolution is also an important term relating to video cameras. For analog cameras, the most widely used measure of resolution does not refer to its horizontal and vertical pixels, though this specification is also available. Analog cameras, and the video signal they produce, are measured in terms of "horizontal lines of resolution." This number is equivalent to how many alternating black and white vertical lines can be resolved in the resulting image. A typical number would be 330 lines for a color camera, and 410 lines for a black and white camera.

Why do cameras use a different measure? Partly because of the history of the technology, but also because the number of lines correspond to the actual detail that can be resolved in the signal. Just because a sensor has, for example, 500 pixels across, this does not mean the video signal you get at the output can reveal a level of detail down to 500 lines of resolution. Other factors come into play, such as how well the circuitry was designed. The same principle holds true for DVRs; the stated resolution will tell you how the video is measured at the input, but you may not be able to see the same level of detail at the output. Just as with evaluating the compression quality, it is important to see the actual output of a DVR before assessing the picture resolution.

How Important is the Camera?
It is interesting to note that most video system vendors talk almost exclusively about DVRs, while barely mentioning cameras. By contrast, users speak about "camera systems." While the DVR is certainly the most complex and costly system part, simple reasoning tells you that the objective of any video system is to produce high-quality images. Furthermore, the old adage about the weakest link in a chain definitely applies; a DVR cannot produce images better than those coming from the cameras.

Technophiles may argue that digital image processing can do wonders to brighten up dark images, remove noise, etc., but that is missing the point entirely. It makes little sense to invest in an expensive, high-resolution DVR and then cripple the system with low-quality cameras. Buyers have many options when it comes to cameras, and shouldn't hesitate to ask the vendors about what features are offered.

There are several options for camera resolution. The numbers of 330 and 410 lines mentioned earlier would be considered "standard" or "medium" resolution. High-resolution cameras offer 450 lines for color and 500 lines for black and white. A new generation of analog sensor, known as HQ, can deliver more than 500 lines of resolution in color, at a reasonable price level. As a reference point, video with 500 horizontal lines is equivalent to DVD quality resolution, which is also approximately equal to 720 x 480 in terms of pixels.

In addition to greater resolution, there are other camera options available. One particularly useful feature is known as the "day/night" function. A day/night camera has the ability to automatically switch its output from color to black and white in low light conditions. By switching to black and white, the camera can achieve much better sensitivity, providing a useful video image under otherwise insufficient lighting.

A related option is infrared illumination. Using small, electrically efficient infrared LEDs, IR illuminators allow black and white or day/night cameras to record useful images in complete darkness. The range of some of these illuminators can easily reach 20 or 30 feet.
The last word about cameras concerns the enclosures. There are a few reasons to look beyond the enclosure as a mere box for a camera. Firstly, there is no reason why a camera cannot be aesthetically pleasing, designed to fit well with the interior look of the bus. Secondly, an enclosure should offer flexible mounting options, allowing the camera to be placed exactly where it is needed, not forcing the view to be compromised. Lastly, the enclosure should be vandal-resistant, discouraging perpetrators from interfering with the surveillance system.

Enhanced DVR Features We have already mentioned that DVRs can offer a recorder resolution of 720 x 480 pixels. This would currently be termed as a "high," or "full" resolution for a DVR. Technically, higher resolutions are possible, but would not be warranted unless there are cameras to match. At the other end of the scale would be a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels, which is close to that of normal TV broadcast quality.

The reason to choose a lower resolution may be cost-driven, though the difference is becoming quite small. A more common concern is the storage requirement. Regardless of the compression used, higher resolution will require more storage. Looking at it another way, with any given size of hard drive, a higher resolution will result in shorter recording capacity. Between 320 x 240 and 720 x 480, the difference may be as much as four times. In some cases, regulations may force an organization to settle for lower resolution in order to meet a minimum time requirement for retaining recorded video.

Real Time Recording
Another term used with DVRs is "frame rate." This specification indicates how many images are recorded every second. A standard video signal in North America, following the NTSC standard, is comprised of 30 images or frames per second (fps). In Europe and other areas using the PAL standard, the number is 25 fps. These rates are sometimes called "real time," though as you can see from the differences in the standards, the numbers are somewhat arbitrary. In fact, they are derived from the frequency of the AC power in a country, i.e. half of the 60 Hz power in North America, and half of the 50 Hz power in Europe.

It is true that people will perceive a series of images presented 25 times per second or faster as continuous motion. However, it is a mistake to think of the 25/30 fps rate as an absolute determination of real time video. If you have ever seen TV footage of Tiger Woods' golf swing, you were looking at high-speed video, recording at much more than 30 fps. The point is that an image rate of less than 30 fps may be quite suitable for transit surveillance. Many people would be hard pressed to differentiate between 20 fps and 30 fps. Once again, evaluate based on real video samples, before specifying "real time" as an absolute requirement. Just as with resolution, a higher frame rate will increase the storage requirements and likely will also increase cost.
Multiple Cameras

The frame rate specification becomes even more important as the number of cameras per DVR increases. Until quite recently, most DVRs were limited to a total of 30 fps aggregate, i.e. across all cameras. For example, with six cameras, each was limited to a maximum of 5 fps. Newer DVRs offer higher aggregate rates of 60 fps, 120 fps, or more. The advantage is the possibility of smoother video, i.e. higher frame rates, for each camera. The downside is increased storage requirements as well as cost.

One way to mitigate the storage problem is through the use of alarm recording. Specifically, alarm inputs can be used to trigger higher quality recording on specific cameras for a limited period of time. For example, when a driver hits the panic button, the alarm can cause the quality setting, the frame rate or other parameters to change during the alarm recording interval. Other alarm inputs can also be used, like inertia sensors, which detect extreme changes in speed such as during an accident.

Improving Storage
The limitation which seems to come up most often is storage. In most video system implementations, agencies are interested in maximizing the storage time. At the very least, there is a forced compromise between recording time and the parameters which affect image quality: resolution, compression and frame rates. Two areas of advancement continue to reduce the amount of compromise required.

The first area is hard drive storage. Driven by consumer demand for more storage, hard drive manufacturers are continually offering larger capacity drives. Every few months larger drives appear, and the prices of existing drives are lowered.

Furthermore, newer DVR designs are able to incorporate larger 3.5-inch hard drives, as opposed to 2.5-inch drives which are more commonly used in mobile applications. The key is that the DVRs must be properly designed to protect the 3.5-inch drives from the increased shock and vibration of the mobile environment. DVRs have typically used 2.5-inch drives because they were designed specifically for more vibration-prone laptop computers; while 3.5-inch drives are intended for relatively stable desktop or server applications.

The second area of major improvement in storage is video compression. With the huge demand for consumer and other video applications, video compression is a hot topic for researchers. Aided by ever more powerful processors, DVRs can squeeze more video into a fixed space, without having to sacrifice overall video quality. MPEG4 is one type of compression which is becoming increasingly popular, because it offers significantly better performance over older methods such as MPEG2, or MJPEG.

A Moving Target
The technology employed by video systems has advanced significantly over the years. Just as with personal computers, we have seen prices decrease while functionality and capabilities have increased. This scenario of ever-improving products at lower and lower prices presents an attractive opportunity for purchasers, but inevitably leads to the vexing question: "When should we buy?" The best advice is the same as for all technology buyers, base your decision upon your requirements, not on future promises. If you really don't need the system today, then it makes sense to wait. However, don't be afraid to commit to a purchase simply because of the fear of obsolescence.

A related question is whether to buy the absolute newest technology on the market. Again, common sense combined with an analysis of your own needs is the best guide. You may buy one or two more years of useful service by investing in the latest and greatest, however, the tradeoff is almost always higher initial costs, coupled with higher technical risk.

Apart from the obvious potential problems of unproven products, there is also the real possibility of unintended obsolescence. Often times manufacturers are forced to choose a technology before clear standards have emerged. In an attempt to be the first to market, vendors will gamble that their chosen path will end up being adopted as the industry standard. With numerous vendors and multiple competing technologies, it is inevitable that some will end up guessing incorrectly.

This article has touched on only some of the key areas of mobile video technology. However, regardless of the features being considered, the approach should be the same. Start with, and stay with, your needs. The flashy new features can be very appealing, but make sure you have fully assessed the risks as well as the benefits.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Honolulu Bus Camera Project Advancing

Monday, June 14, 2010

Surveillance Video on Bus Captures Molestor

Laguna Beach - A 48-year-old man who allegedly molested a teenage girl on a bus in Laguna Beach was in custody today, and authorities called for other possible victims to come forward.

James Norkin was detained by his parole officer on Wednesday for failure to register as a sex offender, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

The parole officer saw news reports about the search for the bus molester and contacted sheriff's detectives, said department spokesman Jim Amormino.

Norkin, who was being tracked with a GPS device, was called to his parole officer's Costa Mesa office on Wednesday because he wasn't where he said he was, Amormino said.

He was taken directly to the state prison in Chino, where deputies today confirmed he was their suspect in the Sunday afternoon groping incident on an Orange County Transportation Authority bus in Laguna Beach, Amormino said.

The alleged victim got on the bus with two other girls younger than 15, and as they rode to Laguna Niguel, Norkin sat down next to them about 3 p.m. and allegedly touched one of the girls in a sexual manner, Amormino said.

The girl was so frightened she did not move, but one of her friends saw what was happening and yelled at the man to stop, Amormino said.

Norkin, who got off the bus at the Laguna Hills Mall stop, has a prior record of indecent exposure, Amormino said.

He said anyone else who may have been molested by Norkin should call the sheriff's department at (866) TIP-OCSD.

Amormino said OCTA buses "are extremely safe. It's a rarity this happened on the bus."

He credited the agency's surveillance system for helping to catch the suspect.

"They have one of the best surveillance systems I've ever seen," Amormino said. "We have several angles, and the sound is good. This dangerous predator is off the street, and this is a good example of law enforcement and the media working together."

OCTA officials praised the sheriff's deputies and reassured riders that the buses are safe.

"There is no greater responsibility than providing for passenger security and we take pride in the fact that crime is extremely rare on our transit system," OCTA Chairman Jerry Amante said.

Last year, 57 million people rode the bus nearly 19 million miles, and only 11 serious crimes were reported, on the buses, which is about one crime per 5.2 million boardings, agency officials said.

OCTA Bus Security for Passengers (Orange County)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Orange County Transit Bus Surveillance System Identifies Sex Offender

A man suspected of molesting a teenage girl aboard a bus has been identified by authorities and is currently behind bars in state prison, officials said.

Authorities Thursday identified the man captured on a bus surveillance camera as 48-year-old James Norkin, who authorities said has been convicted of sex crimes and was required to register as a sex offender.

Seeking the public's help to identify the man, sheriff officials on Wednesday released video surveillance of the man, who officials said began touching an underage girl sexually as the two rode a bus from Laguna Beach toward Laguna Hills Sunday afternoon.

Officials said the man boarded the bus, sat in the back seat, and began touching the girl, who was already sitting there.

One of the girl's friends noticed what the man was doing and told him to stop, but he continued until he exited the bus at the Laguna Hills mall, said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

The victim didn't say anything because she became frightened at what was happening, he said.

Sheriff officials received several tips from the public after releasing the video, Amormino said, but the break came when a parole officer identified Norkin from the video.

"This is a perfect example of teamwork," Amormino said. "The parole department worked very close with us."

Norkin was taken into custody Wednesday on suspicion of violating parole by not registering his residence as required, Amormino said.

He was sent to state prison in Chino, and was then identified by the parole officer, who saw the video on television, Amormino said.

"He's behind bars, where all sexual predators belong," Amormino said.

According to court records, Norkin has an extensive rap sheet that includes convictions for indecent exposure and failure to register as a sex offender.

In 1998, Norkin pleaded guilty to a single charge of indecent exposure. In 2006 and 2008, he also pleaded guilty to failure to register as a sex offender. He faced a similar charge in 2009, but the case was dismissed.

"While it is an unfortunate inevitability in a county of 3 million people that crime may occur on a bus, we hope this sends a clear message that it will not be tolerated and suspects will be caught," said Will Kempton, chief executive of the Orange County Transportation Authority, in a written statement that praised the quick work by the sheriff's department.

Sheriff officials plan to seek new charges of child molestation against Norkin, Amormino said.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Calgary Bus Camera Catch Bus Thief

CALGARY- Calgary Police have arrested a second man in a transit bus theft over the weekend.

Robert Allen Smith, 29, has been charged with theft over $5000, dangerous driving and several other charges.

Surveillance video released earlier this week showed two men joyriding in a stolen Calgary

Transit bus resulted in police arresting one of the suspects in a matter of hours.

A tipster called police Monday night after recognizing one of two men who were recorded by the bus's on-board camera after taking the vehicle at about 5:30 a.m. Sunday.

"It's definitely a great indication Of The Power Of Video," Acting Staff Sgt. Kristie Verheul said.

The culprits stole the full-sized bus as it sat idling in the 7200 block of 52nd Street S.E. while the driver took a bathroom break inside a fast-food outlet.

Police estimate the joyride lasted about 20 to 25 minutes before the culprits abandoned the bus on Penworth Close S.E.

All the while, a camera recorded the men as they drove north in the bus, damaging at least two vehicles in the process.

Dallas School Buses Testing Stop Arm Ticketing System

Not stopping when a school bus has its "stop" sign out could soon net drivers a $300 citation -- even if a police officer isn't around.

The agency that runs Dallas school buses is testing camera equipment that can record the passing vehicle and its tag number. Plans call for $300 citations.

In a recent survey, drivers of Dallas County Schools' 1,245 buses on the road witnessed 769 crossing-zone violations in one day.

"We need a deterrent," said Larry Duncan, president of the agency's board. "It's not just education; that has proven not to be enough. We have to educate and we have to enforce."

Cameras on School Busses to Catch You?
WATCH Cameras on School Busses to Catch You?
Dallas County Schools provides services such as transportation, technology and psychological services to independent school districts throughout Texas.

The agency wants Dallas and other cities it serves to pass a law that would establish a school zone wherever a school bus is stopped. Cameras could then enforce the rules.

"There's no cost to the city of Dallas for this," said Dallas County Schools Superintendent Rick Sorrells.

Dallas County Schools has found a vendor that would install and monitor the camera equipment and then send the citations. The costs would be covered by money from the citations.

Duncan said any remaining money would go toward other safety programs.

The agency wanted the program in place before school starts again this fall.

But some Dallas City Council members expressed concerns during a Public Safety Committee briefing on the plan Monday.

"It seems like maybe this is an atom bomb when maybe we could be shooting some bullets to try to alert the public," Councilwoman Ann Margolin said.

Some city leaders recalled the complications Dallas faced with red-light cameras, which were intended to improve traffic safety by reducing red-light running.

At first, red-light cameras were at first a big moneymaker. But Texas lawmakers added rules to give the state a cut of the revenue, and red-light running sharply declined as drivers learned to avoid the cameras.

"Sometimes there's unintended consequences when you try to do something right," Councilman Ron Natinsky said.

Dallas County Schools said it wants police to review bus violation pictures. Citation money would also cover that expense.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown said he has many questions about the proposal.

"I'm willing to work overtime and look at it and vet through this process," he said.

Public Safety Committee members supported the concept, but said Dallas County Schools leaders will have to be patient as City Hall reviews the details.

FTA - Transit Security Fact Sheet and Technology Overview

Friday, June 04, 2010

Surveillance Captures School Bus Driver Lecturing Student about Gay Rights

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Iowa School Bus Cameras Aimed at Drivers Illegally Passing Stop Arm