Ports are turning to smart video and wireless device tracking systems to meet transportation security regulations.
As compliance deadlines for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) approached over the past year, some port operators warned that one program requirement could bring operations grinding to a halt. TWIC regulations required that anyone without a credential be escorted within the facility by a cardholder.
Operators winced at the prospect of hiring personnel to serve as escorts. The rules offered an alternative, however, stating that escorting could be accomplished through electronic monitoring outside a port’s most critical areas, which are designated “restricted.” Two ports are taking advantage of that option by using smart video and wireless device tracking.
The Port of Wilmington, Delaware, is doing so by leveraging an existing Siemens Siveillance SiteIQ smart video system. Port officials needed only to add cameras to expand the system’s coverage, says Richard Dasugo, a senior applications engineer with Siemens Building Technologies.
The Port of Wilmington relies on the facility’s network of pan-tilt-zoom cameras and large, flat-screen monitors at security stations that allow monitoring of multiple camera images in a window-based graphic interface. When a noncredentialed visitor arrives and signs in at a port entrance, the security officer responsible for “escorting” via video can elect to track the individual among different cameras manually or can set the system to automatically track the visitor within the facility from camera to camera. The system is not smart enough to let operators click and forget, however, Dasugo says.
If, for instance, a visitor under monitoring walks side-by-side with another individual, then they separate, the system cannot always tell one person from the other. Thus, Dasugo says, to satisfy TWIC’s escorting requirement, the Coast Guard, which is responsible for TWIC enforcement, requires that a security officer maintain visual contact with the subject via the monitor.
Just down the coast, the Virginia Port Authority (VPA) is testing wireless GPS technology to monitor noncredentialed access for the 1 percent of its approximately 14,000 workers who do not have a TWIC card. VPA’s system, called Trusted Agent, relies on Sprint Nextel phones, along with a two-way radio and GPS tracking application from Xora, all feeding information into VPA’s existing Orsus Situator operations management platform.
Noncredentialed individuals entering the port are issued a system phone, which they must carry with them. They are then tracked remotely on an electronic map of the facility, says Rafi Bhonker, Orsus vice president of marketing and sales. The system reports each person’s position every five seconds. The person can also be contacted at any time via the device’s push-to-talk radio function.
The Trusted Agent system lets security staff establish preset profiles for both individuals and one-time visits. The system can also establish a zone, or geofence, tied to each device so that it will alert security if a device leaves the approved area and can alert operators if the person carrying the device deviates from a preset tour or time schedule. Similarly, the system can alert operators if one of its wireless devices sits stationary for a predetermined period, which might occur if someone had abandoned the device, whether on purpose or by accident.
Trusted Agent does have one weakness: GPS reception. GPS receivers require a clear line of sight to four satellites to function properly. That can be difficult to attain amid tall buildings or indoors. Ed Merkle, VPA’s director of port security and emergency operations, explains that when a device loses GPS reception, the system reverts to far less accurate cellular network positioning and alerts a security dispatcher. The dispatcher, in turn, contacts the noncredentialed individual by using the phone that person was issued when he or she arrived at the port.
Based on its current limitations, Trusted Agent remains somewhat of a pilot program being tested with a small segment of port visitors, Merkle says.
VPA was willing to try Trusted Agent in part because of its low cost. Three phones and the first month’s service cost $1,100, with a monthly service rate of $189.
“It may not work perfectly today or tomorrow, but in six months the solution may be there,” Merkle says.
Back in Wilmington, Siemens is examining technology that could solve the challenge of tracking noncredentialed visitors behind closed doors: active RFID tags. Under this system, visitors issued tags would be tracked by readers throughout the facility. But first developers must devise a system that functions reliably amid a port’s electromagnetic soup of constant two-way radio, cellular, and radar signals, Dasugo says.