On a cool, sunny Saturday afternoon, the Daily Metro pulls up to the Caroline Street stop and boards its passengers. After the doors close and the passengers take their seats, the bus pulls into traffic. The newly installed mobile video surveillance cameras and microphones record every movement and sound on a recording device, located securely in a compartment above the windshield. One of the passengers, wearing a grey full-length coat, gets up and proceeds to the seat directly behind the driver. He informs the driver that he has a sawed-off shotgun beneath his coat, and that if his demands are not met, he will open fire on the passengers, one by one. The driver subtly presses the Emergency Alert button, which sends a cellular distress notification to the bus terminal operator. The cameras, microphones and recording device continue to record as the bus terminal operator places an urgent 911 call. Based on the route information provided by the operator, the police attempt to intercept the bus, but the driver has changed routes and is now heading toward a busy outdoor shopping plaza. Significant time passes before the police are finally able to track down the bus. As the bus enters the plaza, the only information the police have is that the bus has been hijacked. As the intercept team frantically attempts to identify all possible scenarios, they struggle with developing an appropriate response plan. Because of the lack of information, there is no way to know the number of hijackers, how many passengers are on board, the status of the driver, or whether the hijacker has a weapon. The bus slows ominously as it approaches the pedestrian crosswalk.

This fictional account is offered as a representation of a growing trend — implementation of security measures that are helpful with post-incident investigations, but provide little knowledge for real-time incident response. Now imagine that same bus being equipped with mobile video technology that allows transmission of on-board video. Police would have critical, real-time information from inside the bus, which could vastly improve their situational intelligence and enable them to develop more precise response plans to save lives and property. In other words, the lack of access to on-board images and immediate historical content on the recording device, eliminates the chance for an informed, active response, and negates many of the intended security benefits of a mobile video and audio system. This paper will outline effective mobile video solutions and present best practices for deployment in transit environments.

1. Risks and Exposure

Public transit has long been identified as a favored target for terrorists. Mass transit vehicles, whether bus or rail-oriented, are attractive to terrorists because they carry a high concentration of people and travel into highly populated areas. An attack on a transit infrastructure could inflict mass casualties, reduce public confidence in mass transit and could produce a significantly negative effect on the economy. Mass transit organizations traditionally have a lower level of security than government buildings and airline terminals. This means terrorist plots involving mass transit systems need not be very sophisticated to have a high probability of achieving the desired impact. The following events involving public transportation over the last few years underscore this concern and illustrate the relative softness of public transit as a potential terrorist target. While these incidents all ended peaceably, clearly each demonstrate the potential for catastrophe.

  • January 2002 — A Pennsylvania school bus driver diverted his fully loaded school bus toward Washington, DC, and was captured six hours later in Maryland. A loaded, semiautomatic rifle was confiscated from the vehicle.
  • May 2006 — Two men of Saudi Arabian descent, one wearing a black trench coat, boarded a school bus bound for Wharton High School in Tampa, Florida. After being apprehended at the next bus stop, both men were interviewed and held by local law enforcement.
  • March 2007 — The FBI issued a cautionary bulletin to police, warning them that members of known extremist groups had applied for licenses to become school bus drivers.
  • September 2007 — The Houston Police Department and the FBI reported seventeen yellow buses were missing from area charter schools, business schools and private bus companies.
  • November 2009 — A Vermont bus driver stole his ex-employer’s bus and took it for a three-state joyride. The driver then posted video of the trip on YouTube®.* Police caught him after the bus company received reports of a bus driver waving at children in a Vermont schoolyard.

Internationally, terrorists have targeted mass transportation systems in cities in the Mideast, Europe, Africa and Asia because of their relatively soft security. To date, the U.S. has been fortunate to have had few incidents. As more advanced security technologies are deployed throughout the U.S. in traditional target areas, such as airports and other highly visible buildings, the growing concern in the homeland security community is that terrorist activities will shift to areas that may provide them with a higher probability of success. Especially vulnerable are those facilities where passenger identification and search is not required. Therefore, mass transit systems and facilities with open environments, high concentrations of people and lower requirements for security systems and procedures, may well become the next viable target for terrorist organizations.

“The threat of terrorism that intensified after September 11, 2001, and the London and Madrid bombings, has made the requirement of full-service, dedicated policing in the transportation industry essential. Public transportation has been identified as one of the top potential targets for terrorism. The failure of any agency to not provide the highest level of protection possible could prove to be fatal and have a negative impact on the transportation industry.” -- Doug Deleaver Retired Transit Chief of Police Homeland Security Consultant.

2. Best Practice: Mobile Video Security Technology Applied

When the Department of Homeland Security moved to define transit infrastructures as a critical component for protection, transit agencies and public carriers were granted access to federal funding that could help implement countermeasures against potential terrorist threats. How much overall security is increased by this national investment is in direct proportion to the effectiveness of the newest security products and services. In addition, new security models are continually being developed which can help adapt to the ever-changing deviousness of our adversaries.

Several mass transit agencies have implemented comprehensive, end-to-end security approaches, which help protect mass transit vehicles from their point of origin, throughout their route, and ultimately to their safe return. While in transit, the ability for a command center to have monitoring capabilities inside a vehicle may be critical to protecting passengers, drivers and the public at large. The ability to view the inside environment, on demand and in real time, can help security personnel determine if there is an emergency or eminent threat. When necessary, command center personnel can send video and audio recordings to first responders. Obviously, this can provide first responders with a distinct advantage by giving them the ability to reduce response time and to receive accurate intelligence about a situation. In addition, many mobile video solutions also have the capability for law enforcement officers or emergency medical technicians to view live video and audio from a vehicle. During a terrorist attack or hijacking, this functionality may be critical to saving lives on board and in the vicinity. Overall, mobile video’s on-demand and real-time viewing capabilities can help command center personnel perform more effective triage of an emergency situation and to orchestrate an appropriate response.

In sharp contrast, other agencies are simply requesting, and implementing, cameras and recorders on board without a clear strategy for why and how mobile video surveillance systems can be better utilized to help reduce the threat of terrorism. While standard mobile video systems can certainly help defend an organization against litigation and frivolous claims, the lack of on-demand access to on-board video and audio feeds negates the use of these systems in certain emergency situations. Without real-time monitoring of a vehicle, an on-board threat can’t properly be identified, triaged and responded to immediately. Further, such a limited approach fails to provide critical situational awareness, both to those who can request assistance, such as drivers, terminal operators, passengers, and command center personnel, police and other first responders. As mentioned above, the most effective mobile surveillance solutions allow for covert monitoring of the vehicle, and give the command center forwarding capabilities for audio/video feeds. At the extreme macro level, in the event of a national emergency, such as where multiple hijackings could be orchestrated, a lack of feedback to and from a vehicle could represent a significant hole in the intelligence collectively needed to properly respond to the threats as presented.

3. Transit Security Profile: At Rest, In Transit

The transit community is challenged with deterring threats in a multitude of security environments and exposures. Maintaining a vigil against such threats requires more than tools and technology. It requires active safety programs, practices, training and exercises to minimize threats and to improve responsiveness to incidents. Security and safety must become part of the culture of operations and permeate into the entire organization. Training in emergency management and the National Incident Management System (NIMS), as well as orchestrating and participating in tests and simulated exercises with local law enforcement and emergency management organizations are essential elements of transit security. Such exercises demonstrate vulnerabilities in response efforts and the technologies deployed, particularly underscoring the need for centrally controlled information in the time of crisis.

Transit security plans that seek to provide holistic, end-to-end security solutions can be divided into two categories, each of which presents its own security challenges and exposures. Assets At Rest include transportation offices, terminals, bus stops, maintenance facilities, and parking areas. These locations allow access to fixed critical infrastructure, passengers and a large number of parked vehicles. Assets In Transit refers to the vehicles themselves as they move from their fixed locations through their designated routes.

4. Best Practice: Protecting Assets At Rest

Transportation centers, which include terminals, ticket offices, mixed-use facilities and retail malls, are hubs of activity that provide essential daily transportation to millions of people. Terminals and vehicle stops are attractive targets because of the density of people and criticality of infrastructure. As vehicles are placed out of service, they are exposed to different threats than they were while in service. Without proper security measures implemented in bus garages, parking lots,rail yards and terminals, vehicles can be subjected to sabotage, hijacking or being loaded with dangerous or explosive materials. These threats to security could happen before any of the countermeasures used to protect the vehicle while in transit, such as cameras, recorders, microphones, are even activated.

The security technologies needed to protect vehicles at the point of origin are mature and readily available. Securing the perimeter of yards and garages with high-security fencing, electronic gates, surveillance cameras empowered with video analytics to detect aberrant activity, high-intensity lighting and signage, all complement a physical or virtual guard presence and serve to protect vehicles while out of service. Controlling access to offices, garages and parking facilities, as well as integrating ID badge systems with human resources policies and implementing electronic intrusion detection can help deter those with malicious intent from gaining access to the critical areas, such as HVAC rooms, security command centers, vehicles and vehicle operation centers.

5. Best Practice: Protecting Assets In Transit

Today, most vehicles are equipped with varying degrees of communications equipment which provides some level of information exchange between the bus driver and the bus control center. For quite some time, drivers primarily used two-way radios and cellular phones to communicate to the station.

More advanced technologies now exist that can be used to enable better communications between drivers and their station. These technologies include: Mobile Data Terminals (MDT), Automatic Vehicle Locators (AVL), Global Positioning System (GPS) units and Emergency Alert buttons. Each of these technologies has their own set of benefits and limitations.

Mobile Data Terminals, or MDTs, are being used more frequently for communication purposes and are present on many buses. Some vehicles are equipped with AVL systems, which can provide constant and accurate vehicle locations to the terminal control center. Alternatively, GPS units may be installed on vehicles to provide location updates. In the event of emergency, many buses are also equipped with an Emergency Alert button that, when depressed, sends a silent distress call to bus operations and/or directly to the police. In situations where the driver does not want to alert a potential assailant to the police notification, an Emergency Alert button is often the only means by which a call for help can be placed.

When used in combination, these communication technologies can provide important information that is essential to law enforcement and first responders before entering a crisis situation. Unfortunately, the reality is, that in many cases, only the location of the vehicle is available. This leads responders to the correct location but doesn’t provide vital situational information. Questions not answered by these types of systems include:

  • Is the driver in control of the vehicle?
  • How many assailants are involved?
  • What do the assailants look like — how are they different from the other passengers?
  • Is the incident that caused the alarm still active, or has it subsided?
  • Are there weapons involved, or threat of explosives?
  • What is the demeanor and status of the passengers on board?

As is illustrated by these questions, without these critical data points, responses by law enforcement cannot be calculated based on fact, and the harshest assumptions must be applied. Simply put, the ability to affect the most desirable, calculated response is compromised by the lack of accurate information and, therefore, exposes the vulnerability of relying solely on these types of communication technologies.

6. Best Practice: Closing the Loop on Informed Response

The investment a transit agency makes in acquiring and implementing surveillance equipment, such as video cameras, microphones and recording devices, along with positioning systems and integration with vehicle instrumentation, provides a powerful information base, capable of feeding significant intelligence to central operations for both emergency and non-emergency incidents. Without question, the information collected can be mined for myriad business uses, such as route optimization, litigation defense or driver safety compliance. These uses, however desirous, are not homeland security-based concerns and are merely by-products of the safety issues being addressed. Failing to close the communication loop, or to not positively affect the security level on board a vehicle, is to miss an opportunity to increase protection for drivers, passengers and by-passers alike.

Recorded information passively gathered on a vehicle only becomes actionable when it can be received and acted upon by those outside of the crisis. By adding on-demand telecommunications capabilities into the vehicle environment, activated via triggering the Emergency Alert button, it is possible for central security operations to view and hear, in real time, what is occurring on the vehicle. Assessment of the situation can be made immediately by trained monitoring agents at central operations, who can in turn contact and dispatch local authorities who execute their responses based upon a scripted protocol. Live images can be shared with local authorities — indeed, some implementations have integrated wireless communications between the vehicle’s security solution and the laptop of pursuit vehicles, allowing law enforcement officers access to and control of the cameras inside the mass transit vehicle. It is also possible to page back in time on the mobile DVR to see what caused the disturbance initially, providing even greater insight for responders. The confluence of location data and current situational information provides the first responders with the ability to develop the most informed and effective response in the timeliest manner, by leveraging information and expertise.


Public transportation is both a national resource and treasure, and is at the core of our society and economic well-being. In 2007, nearly 10 billion trips were recorded on public transit systems within the U.S. alone.** The best protection for our mass transit systems is three-fold: protect the bases of operation, protect vehicles in transit and provide actionable intelligence in emergency situations. Together, these three points of protection will provide the most effective defense against those who would use our mass transit resources against us.

To learn more about how Tyco Integrated Security Transportation & Logistics can help your organization, please contact 1-866-865-4728.