DHS Unveils MassTransit Cameras That Mimic Black Boxes

By Matthew Harwood

An airplane's black box is an invaluable tool for post-crash investigations. Now that same concept will be available for buses, subway cars, and trains, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T).

This morning in Long Island, New York, S&T will unveil its first successful technology developed and certified as part of the department's public-private acquisition model known as SECURE, or System Efficacy through Commercialization, Utilization, Relevance and Evaluation.

The Blast Resistant Autonomous Video Equipment (BRAVE) camera, developed by Visual Defence USA, Inc., is a rugged, inexpensive terrorist-proof camera system that can withstand a suicide bombing and give forensic investigators images of what exactly occurred if a bomb explodes on a crowded subway car. According to BRAVE's Operational Requirements Document (ORD), which spells out exactly what DHS wants, the ability to gather forensic evidence to aid terrorism investigations is the main reason why the department wanted the private sector to build the camera system.

"[M]ass transit vehicles and networks represent a potentially attractive target to terrorists and a unique challenge for law enforcement and transit personnel, due to their relative openness and large user base," the ORD (.pdf) explains. "Recent attacks in London, Madrid, and elsewhere around the world have demonstrated the devastating impacts of attacks carried out on mass transit vehicles. The investigation of the July 2005 attacks in London also demonstrated the forensic power of employing video surveillance data to successfully identify the terrorists directly and indirectly involved in such an attack."

During the camera system's testing, Visual Defence beat out another company bidding for the SECURE stamp-of-approval when their inexpensive forensic cameras and the memory chips inside them survived a diesel fire reaching 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit and then rapid cooling when testers snuffed out the fire with water. During the first round of testing, both company prototypes mounted inside a city bus survived an explosion, mimicking a suicide bombing, that ripped the vehicle apart. (Watch the video here.)

(View more photos of the test below)

Although the ORD concentrates on terrorism-related applications, S&T Spokesman John Verrico also notes the camera system could provide forensic video for all types of situations, from crashes to crimes not involving terrorism.


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