Data-driven decisions: using physical security system data to improve transit operations


By Jermaine Santoya

Security departments within transit organizations are sitting on a goldmine of data collected by surveillance cameras, video management systems (VMS), access control systems (ACS), automated license plate readers (ALPR), intrusion systems, and other connected physical security devices.

With the rise of data analytics, physical security system data can be used as more than just a tool to respond to crime or a necessary expense to keep assets and people safe. It can become a core element in the digital transformation of your transit operations.

Analytics can turn physical security data into smart, actionable insights that improve operations, efficiency, revenue generation, rider experience, and more. But as the volume of data grows, it’s increasingly challenging to make sense of the data collected.

Having sufficient data management and structure is key to unlocking the value of physical security data. Unifying physical security systems on an open platform can help. Following are some tips for transit organizations on discovering and delivering physical security data to improve operations and insights.

Define your terms and needs

As you set out to get more from your physical security data, it’s important to distinguish between video analytics and data analytics.

Video analytics are specific algorithms that parse continuous video footage into discrete events. Examples include detecting intruders, counting people, tracking objects, and producing an alarm based on certain types of anomalies. This makes it easier for operators to comb through hours of footage.

Data analytics takes a broader look at events and data to help operators and administrators glean insights from them. This includes finding trends, uncovering opportunities, and improving processes.

Data analytics offer the best insights when they’re deployed to confirm a hypothesis or answer specific questions.

Start by identifying what questions you’re trying to answer. Do you need to know bus demand in real time? Do you want to be alerted when objects are left behind on a bus or train? Are you needing to count the number of people at a train station to efficiently manage routes?

Once you’ve defined the questions, identify who has access to the data that answers these questions, and how that data can be accessed.

Apply the data available through physical security systems

A unified physical security platform can centralize both video analytics and data analytics to deliver a global view of your operations from a single interface. It can then be applied to automate and measure operational steps across a range of use cases.

Automating people counting

One of the most common applications of video analytics in operations has been through people counting. In a transit environment, these numbers give valuable routing information. For example, if your team notices that certain buses are filling up beyond capacity, you can schedule another bus to take on the extra demand and make the journey more enjoyable for passengers.

Maintaining traffic flow

For large facilities like train stations and airports, as well as highways and streets, bottlenecking is a major issue. Roadwork, changes in traffic patterns, and immobilized vehicles can generate sudden delays or even risks to health and safety. Roadside traffic sensors, light detection and ranging (LiDar) sensors, and ALPR sensors can help track information about everything from traffic patterns to parking violations. Traffic flow data can also be gathered for foot traffic to understand how people flow through transit facilities.

Data and video analytics can help maintain the flow of vehicles or

pedestrians and alert your team of emerging issues.

Understanding anomalies

Data analytics can be used to understand not only when issues occur, but the circumstances and problems leading up to them. You can run reports to identify the most common anomalous events and explore them more deeply.

For example, if your ‘exit door open’ warnings are coming from the same doors, perhaps those sensors need to be adjusted or the locks changed. If you see that people are pushing through the doors incorrectly, you can install instructional signage. This can help reduce the number of ‘open door’ alerts and the number of times staff need to respond. Reducing these nuisance alarms allows operators to focus on actual incursions that require their attention.

Unification for a better operator and customer experience

When your organization brings data from many different sources into one place, you can get a more comprehensive view of what’s happening in your environment.

Making the switch to a unified system isn’t just something that benefits just one team. The power of a unified system is its ability to bring data together from disparate systems and departments and present it intuitively. When onboard systems are connected to wayside systems, transit agencies can more easily optimize fleet deployment and reduce bottlenecks at stations, bus stops, and parking lots.

This data can also be used to improve the passenger experience. For commuters, knowing whether a bus or train is late, or which train car is least crowded can make a huge difference in their day. They want to be able to quickly check when the next bus is arriving, pre-pay their fare or parking fees online, or reserve a parking spot for tomorrow.

These outcomes require an approach to technology built on non-proprietary open platforms that allow easy data sharing and aggregation for analysis.

Spread the wealth

Taking physical security system data beyond its primary purpose of protecting people and assets means changing the way transit organizations think about that data. Departmental silos have existed for so long that we often don’t question the divisions. One group may manage buses and another manages subways or light-rail transit (LRT).

As a result, your transit organization may be paying for duplicate security and operation systems. Onboard systems that don’t communicate with wayside infrastructure systems are often a source of redundant technology and don’t provide a complete picture of operations.

A unified, open physical security platform helps transit organizations tap into the full potential of devices and equipment they already own. You can use the resulting data in new ways to streamline operations. A unified system brings teams across the organization together on a common toolset to gain insights and make improvements to the processes they do every day.

Jermaine Santoya is Industry Marketing Manager, Mobility, at Genetec, Inc.