Security Converges with Traffic Management

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Texas Department of Transportation officials are reminded of their mission daily. The five goals of the TxDOT Texas Plan are printed on their business cards.
 
* Reduce Congestion
* Enhance Safety
* Expand Economic Opportunity
* Improve Air Quality
* Preserve the Value of Transportation Assets

Note that the word security does not appear, although you don't have to look far to find familiar security equipment and apparatus supporting the Texas highway system.

For a grasp on the value proposition security convergence delivers, look no further than the transportation sector. At the Intelligent Transportation Society of America's annual meeting in Houston last week, surveillance cameras, video management, license plate recognition, smartcards, temperature sensors, RFID and PSIM were all there, but they were not front-and-center. That's because the users in this vertical--transportation planners in the public and private sector don't see security networks as an end in themselves, but as tools to support a broader purpose--namely to keep traffic moving.


Certainly public safety, emergency evacuation and incident response are part of the equation, but even those objectives fit within the greater context of keeping the roads clear. Security Squared accompanied ISTA attendees on visits to two traffic incident management centers in Houston, which the society considers one of the nation's leading cities in the deployment of intelligent transportation systems. The words "security" or "convergence"  were never used, but the impact they are having on managing traffic flow, reducing congestion, improving safety and disseminating information shows that network-centric security is here today, not some long-term emerging trend.

Transtar_control_room.JPGThe Greater Houston Transportation and Emergency Management Center, known as Houston TranStar for short, is the regional hub for top-level management of the area's freeways, tollways, high-occupancy vehicle (HOV), high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, critical surface streets and light rail system. Its control center, pictured, ties together networks from TxDOT, the City of Houston, the Harris County Toll Roads Authority (HCTRA) and the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro), according to David Fink, transportation operations engineer and assistant manager freeway operations at Houston TranStar, who hosted the tour.

From its control room, TranStar can manage, process and respond to information from more than 661 cameras, 5000 traffic signals, 196 dynamic digital signs,14 full weather stations, 134 rain gauge/flood alert sensors and 170 toll tag readers, in addition to ramp meters, speed sensors and a growing number of Bluetooth sensors. Edge devices connect either by 890 miles of fiber optic lines or commercial wireless networks operated by AT&T and Verizon Wireless. The Houston Police Department, Fire Department and wrecker contractors maintain work stations at TranStar. Not only can information and images be relayed immediately to responders on the highways, it can be pushed out in real time to digital signage on the highways as well as to Web sites such as traffic.com and HoustonTranStar.org, which allows visitors to see camera images and signage. The site also is accessible from mobile devices and will deliver email updates on specific routes to commuters who register, Fink said.

TranStar also has a separate emergency operations center which comes into play during hurricanes and any other large-scale emergencies that would require area evacuation. The building can withstand 150-mph winds and has enough fuel to run on diesel generators for 8 to 12 days, he added.

Although TranStar dates back to 1996, much of the current emergency response processes stem from lessons learned after Hurricane Rita in 2005. Although Rita veered east and missed the Houston area, coming as it did, four weeks after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, the storm threat touched off a panicked, unorganized evacuation that created a literal standstill on Interstates 45 and 10, major highways leading out of the city to the north and west, respectively.

DSC_0414.JPGThe new process paid dividends when Galveston and Houston took a direct hit from Hurricane Ike in 2008. By that time, coastal evacuation plans, including a highly publicized "run from water, hide from wind" campaign to keep roads open for evacuees truly in harm's way, were in place and could be coordinated from TranStar. Cameras were able to identify where congestion was and, just as important, where it wasn't. For example, during the evacuation, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who was coordinating the Ike response, was coming under pressure to open the contraflow lanes on I-45, a costly decision because it would require police to be deployed at exits as far north as Dallas to block southbound traffic from entering the highway. While there was congestion north of the city, TranStar cameras showed slow going only for about seven miles before resuming at normal speed, Fink, (pictured, above) said. Emmett was able to make an informed decision not to open the contraflow lanes, saving millions of taxpayer dollars and keeping southbound traffic moving.

Houston TranStar uses a VidSys PSIM system to tie together the various individual information platforms that feed into the center. "We're creating the interoperability layer for [the systems] to be integrated," said James Chong, chief technology officer at VidSys. However, for Chong, there is a difference between interoperability and integration. "People sometimes think of interoperability as the same as integration," he said. In the TranStar environment, Chong explains, most of the original management and monitoring systems remained in place. "You can't rip and replace," he said. VidSys provided a platform for all of them to link. He likens it to enabling ten separate tables to connect, not replacing the ten tables with one large new one.

At ITSA, VidSys announced that Telvent, a supplier of large-scale transportation management software, would be incorporating the VidSys PSIM into its SmartMobility Road Suite. The two companies have been working together at New York's Joint Traffic Management Center, enabling multiple agencies within the state of New York and the New York State Department of Transportation to share critical traffic information and coordinate first responder activities and information.

Meanwhile, the tour of HCTRA's traffic incident management center, which manages 119 miles of toll roads in Harris County and neighboring Fort Bend County. HCTRA also manages the 12 miles HOV/HOT lanes that run west of downtown on I-10. These were the first toll lanes in the U.S. with rates that vary by time of day. HCTRA also has the capability offer congestion-based pricing on the I-10 managed lanes, but has not implemented it yet. Cars with two or more passengers can use the lanes free. Houston's longest toll road, the Sam Houston Tollway which rings Houston, combines automatic and manned toll collection lanes. The other roads use "open-road tolling," which relies on RFID tags mounted on vehicle windshields.

Among its systems, HCTRA uses Milestone's XProtect video management software with license plate recognition to enforce toll collection. HCTRA tolls generate about $1 million in revenues a day, according to Calvin Harvey, assistant administrator for incident management at HCTRA.

Many transportation experts see HCTRA as a model for the future. As revenues from gasoline taxes drop due to changes in consumer driving habits and more fuel-efficient vehicles, planners see toll roads and taxes based on vehicle miles traveled as a new source of infrastructure funding. Countries in Europe and Asia, in fact, are ahead of the U.S. in adopting this approach. However, efficiency, congestion control and compliance will hinge on information networks that tie video surveillance, toll tag databases and payment systems together.

____________________________________________________________________________
Steve Miller, IT project director at HCTRA, discusses deployment of Milestone Systems' XProtect VMS in this Milestone-produced video.



____________________________________________________________________________

On the Houston tollways, LPR systems combined with high-resolution cameras can quickly identify a toll bandit or determine if a particular vehicle owes a significant amount of tolls. If a license plate triggers the LPR system, police can respond in less than five minutes. Before the system wasin place, some individuals had amassed unpaid tolls as high as $30,000, said Harvey. As of now, deliberately unpaid tolls average about $2000, he said.

Open road tolling also means fewer accidents. Harvey estimates that HCRTA's manned toll lanes result in 250 accidents a year.

Several ITSA sessions punctuated convergence takeaways from the two tours. During a session on the National Unified Goal in Safety, Charles Wallace, southeast regional marketing director for Telvent, described how traffic management centers were evolving into emergency operations centers, which in turn were evolving into fusion centers. There are currently 72 fusion centers on the U.S., operated under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security. They serve as a common point for the collection, analysis and dissemination of information related to events, incident and potential threats.

VidSys' Chong, who spoke at a separate interactive session, agreed. He noted that through convergence with intelligent transportation systems, physical security "is bleeding into another market."

Indeed, nationwide, the public and private sectors have been moving forward with the IntelliDrive program, an ambitious plan that will involve deployment of short-range digital radio transmitters in vehicles, at intersections and along stretches of roadway. These sensors, transmitting in the 5.9-GHz band, would be able to provide warning to drivers as to oncoming vehicles, road hazards or highway alerts.

There have been numerous test deployments around the country, including Phoenix and Maricopa County, Ariz. Among the applications under study are systems that would calculate the distance and speed of emergency vehicles approaching an intersection from different directions and give traffic signal priority based on those variables. A system such as this could avoid vehicle collisions such as the one in Houston that took the life of a bicyclist last year, said Larry Head, research professor at the University of Arizona during a session on emergency response and safety. IntelliDrive signaling can also be used to alert drivers of emergency responders on the road ahead, as responders are most vulnerable when working at an accident scene. "The fatality rate for EMS worker is ten times the fatality rate of heavy truck accidents," he said.

In addition to Arizona, IntelliDrive trials are underway in Houston, St. Louis and Brooklyn, N.Y., Head said. 

Texas Department of Transportation officials are reminded of their mission daily. The five goals of the TxDOT Texas Plan are printed on their business cards.
 
* Reduce Congestion
* Enhance Safety
* Expand Economic Opportunity
* Improve Air Quality
* Preserve the Value of Transportation Assets

Note that the word security does not appear, although you don't have to look far to find familiar security equipment and apparatus supporting the Texas highway system.

For a grasp on the value proposition security convergence delivers, look no further than the transportation sector. At the Intelligent Transportation Society of America's annual meeting in Houston last week, surveillance cameras, video management, license plate recognition, smartcards, temperature sensors, RFID and PSIM were all there, but they were not front-and-center. That's because the users in this vertical--transportation planners in the public and private sector don't see security networks as an end in themselves, but as tools to support a broader purpose--namely to keep traffic moving.


Certainly public safety, emergency evacuation and incident response are part of the equation, but even those objectives fit within the greater context of keeping the roads clear. Security Squared accompanied ISTA attendees on visits to two traffic incident management centers in Houston, which the society considers one of the nation's leading cities in the deployment of intelligent transportation systems. The words "security" or "convergence"  were never used, but the impact they are having on managing traffic flow, reducing congestion, improving safety and disseminating information shows that network-centric security is here today, not some long-term emerging trend.

Transtar_control_room.JPGThe Greater Houston Transportation and Emergency Management Center, known as Houston TranStar for short, is the regional hub for top-level management of the area's freeways, tollways, high-occupancy vehicle (HOV), high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, critical surface streets and light rail system. Its control center, pictured, ties together networks from TxDOT, the City of Houston, the Harris County Toll Roads Authority (HCTRA) and the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro), according to David Fink, transportation operations engineer and assistant manager freeway operations at Houston TranStar, who hosted the tour.

From its control room, TranStar can manage, process and respond to information from more than 661 cameras, 5000 traffic signals, 196 dynamic digital signs,14 full weather stations, 134 rain gauge/flood alert sensors and 170 toll tag readers, in addition to ramp meters, speed sensors and a growing number of Bluetooth sensors. Edge devices connect either by 890 miles of fiber optic lines or commercial wireless networks operated by AT&T and Verizon Wireless. The Houston Police Department, Fire Department and wrecker contractors maintain work stations at TranStar. Not only can information and images be relayed immediately to responders on the highways, it can be pushed out in real time to digital signage on the highways as well as to Web sites such as traffic.com and HoustonTranStar.org, which allows visitors to see camera images and signage. The site also is accessible from mobile devices and will deliver email updates on specific routes to commuters who register, Fink said.

TranStar also has a separate emergency operations center which comes into play during hurricanes and any other large-scale emergencies that would require area evacuation. The building can withstand 150-mph winds and has enough fuel to run on diesel generators for 8 to 12 days, he added.

Although TranStar dates back to 1996, much of the current emergency response processes stem from lessons learned after Hurricane Rita in 2005. Although Rita veered east and missed the Houston area, coming as it did, four weeks after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, the storm threat touched off a panicked, unorganized evacuation that created a literal standstill on Interstates 45 and 10, major highways leading out of the city to the north and west, respectively.

DSC_0414.JPGThe new process paid dividends when Galveston and Houston took a direct hit from Hurricane Ike in 2008. By that time, coastal evacuation plans, including a highly publicized "run from water, hide from wind" campaign to keep roads open for evacuees truly in harm's way, were in place and could be coordinated from TranStar. Cameras were able to identify where congestion was and, just as important, where it wasn't. For example, during the evacuation, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who was coordinating the Ike response, was coming under pressure to open the contraflow lanes on I-45, a costly decision because it would require police to be deployed at exits as far north as Dallas to block southbound traffic from entering the highway. While there was congestion north of the city, TranStar cameras showed slow going only for about seven miles before resuming at normal speed, Fink, (pictured, above) said. Emmett was able to make an informed decision not to open the contraflow lanes, saving millions of taxpayer dollars and keeping southbound traffic moving.

Houston TranStar uses a VidSys PSIM system to tie together the various individual information platforms that feed into the center. "We're creating the interoperability layer for [the systems] to be integrated," said James Chong, chief technology officer at VidSys. However, for Chong, there is a difference between interoperability and integration. "People sometimes think of interoperability as the same as integration," he said. In the TranStar environment, Chong explains, most of the original management and monitoring systems remained in place. "You can't rip and replace," he said. VidSys provided a platform for all of them to link. He likens it to enabling ten separate tables to connect, not replacing the ten tables with one large new one.

At ITSA, VidSys announced that Telvent, a supplier of large-scale transportation management software, would be incorporating the VidSys PSIM into its SmartMobility Road Suite. The two companies have been working together at New York's Joint Traffic Management Center, enabling multiple agencies within the state of New York and the New York State Department of Transportation to share critical traffic information and coordinate first responder activities and information.

Meanwhile, the tour of HCTRA's traffic incident management center, which manages 119 miles of toll roads in Harris County and neighboring Fort Bend County. HCTRA also manages the 12 miles HOV/HOT lanes that run west of downtown on I-10. These were the first toll lanes in the U.S. with rates that vary by time of day. HCTRA also has the capability offer congestion-based pricing on the I-10 managed lanes, but has not implemented it yet. Cars with two or more passengers can use the lanes free. Houston's longest toll road, the Sam Houston Tollway which rings Houston, combines automatic and manned toll collection lanes. The other roads use "open-road tolling," which relies on RFID tags mounted on vehicle windshields.

Among its systems, HCTRA uses Milestone's XProtect video management software with license plate recognition to enforce toll collection. HCTRA tolls generate about $1 million in revenues a day, according to Calvin Harvey, assistant administrator for incident management at HCTRA.

Many transportation experts see HCTRA as a model for the future. As revenues from gasoline taxes drop due to changes in consumer driving habits and more fuel-efficient vehicles, planners see toll roads and taxes based on vehicle miles traveled as a new source of infrastructure funding. Countries in Europe and Asia, in fact, are ahead of the U.S. in adopting this approach. However, efficiency, congestion control and compliance will hinge on information networks that tie video surveillance, toll tag databases and payment systems together.

____________________________________________________________________________
Steve Miller, IT project director at HCTRA, discusses deployment of Milestone Systems' XProtect VMS in this Milestone-produced video.



____________________________________________________________________________

On the Houston tollways, LPR systems combined with high-resolution cameras can quickly identify a toll bandit or determine if a particular vehicle owes a significant amount of tolls. If a license plate triggers the LPR system, police can respond in less than five minutes. Before the system wasin place, some individuals had amassed unpaid tolls as high as $30,000, said Harvey. As of now, deliberately unpaid tolls average about $2000, he said.

Open road tolling also means fewer accidents. Harvey estimates that HCRTA's manned toll lanes result in 250 accidents a year.

Several ITSA sessions punctuated convergence takeaways from the two tours. During a session on the National Unified Goal in Safety, Charles Wallace, southeast regional marketing director for Telvent, described how traffic management centers were evolving into emergency operations centers, which in turn were evolving into fusion centers. There are currently 72 fusion centers on the U.S., operated under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security. They serve as a common point for the collection, analysis and dissemination of information related to events, incident and potential threats.

VidSys' Chong, who spoke at a separate interactive session, agreed. He noted that through convergence with intelligent transportation systems, physical security "is bleeding into another market."

Indeed, nationwide, the public and private sectors have been moving forward with the IntelliDrive program, an ambitious plan that will involve deployment of short-range digital radio transmitters in vehicles, at intersections and along stretches of roadway. These sensors, transmitting in the 5.9-GHz band, would be able to provide warning to drivers as to oncoming vehicles, road hazards or highway alerts.

There have been numerous test deployments around the country, including Phoenix and Maricopa County, Ariz. Among the applications under study are systems that would calculate the distance and speed of emergency vehicles approaching an intersection from different directions and give traffic signal priority based on those variables. A system such as this could avoid vehicle collisions such as the one in Houston that took the life of a bicyclist last year, said Larry Head, research professor at the University of Arizona during a session on emergency response and safety. IntelliDrive signaling can also be used to alert drivers of emergency responders on the road ahead, as responders are most vulnerable when working at an accident scene. "The fatality rate for EMS worker is ten times the fatality rate of heavy truck accidents," he said.

In addition to Arizona, IntelliDrive trials are underway in Houston, St. Louis and Brooklyn, N.Y., Head said. 

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