An action movie opens to a scene on the metro platform where a bag has been left unattended, raising suspicion in the metro’s security control room. Video cameras zero in and, through movie magic, security personnel track the footage backward to identify who left the bag. Now, they can track the suspect’s movements to catch the culprit and save the day.
It’s actually not movie magic that facilitates saving the day; it is a technologically advanced reality being demonstrated right now thanks to tools in development by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T). The technology is being tested within the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) by the Metro Transit Police to ensure riders’ safety.
Working in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory, S&T is developing a suite of video forensic tools to quickly review and analyze video for unique and specific security assessments. The suite of tools is currently installed in Amtrak’s Emergency Management Agency and WMATA’s new Security Operational Control Center.
“The Video Forensic Tools monitor for potential threat indicators as well as criminal or other suspicious behaviors. There are three distinct tools in the suite, each facilitating a unique analysis,” explained Program Manager Don Roberts.
- Fast Event Review allows for the rapid review of key events surrounding a situation to determine the potential of an explosive device that has been placed in a public area.
- Video Summarization compresses long durations of surveillance video into much shorter summary clips to create an easy-to-view index of all events in a given scene.
- Path Reconstruction tracks an individual of interest across multiple camera views allowing the operator to reconstruct the individual’s path.
“The ability that we have now as an agency to review video real time, to monitor it real time, to go back in time, and using video analytics software, it’s really advanced the security side here at Metro,” Metro Transit Police Chief Ron Pavlik said. “It’s a great technology advancement, probably one of the greatest since I’ve been here. It really gives us the ability to quickly confirm a possible incident.”
Pavlik describes the capability as an integral part of the metro security strategy and highlights that, through video analysis in 2015, metro police have made more than 500 arrests and closed more than 200 cases.
“The Video Summarization Tool specifically was successfully demonstrated during the Pope’s visit to Washington in September 2015,” Roberts said. “In the future, the suite of tools will be key in achieving S&T’s goal of screening individuals, baggage, and other items entering large stadiums, special event sites, mass transit systems, and important facilities at the speed of life.”
While it’s called forensic tools, there is only a few seconds delay, so the suite can be used near-real-time to assist the transit agencies or other venues, such as large crowd event gathering.
Through the program, S&T works diligently with universities, industry, and other department components to develop new technologies and systems capable of detecting explosives. This suite of tools, developed with input and support from the Transportation Security Administration, provides law enforcement officials screening capabilities to better protect the nation.