Fighting fraudulent claims with IP-based video surveillance


Video surveillance systems can serve a dual purpose: as deterrents to illegal behaviour and providing evidence to prosecute offenders.

More than glorified VCRs, these systems are growing smarter as wireless, with the incorporation of GPS and other automation technologies.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County based in Pittsburgh, recently began upgrading its existing cameras with an IP-based mobile video surveillance system developed by Ottawa-based March Networks Corp.

The organization manages public transit for the region.

About 100 buses have already been equipped, and the Port Authority plans to upgrade about half its 1,000-bus fleet over time with the new system, says Stephen McCauley, acting police chief at the Port Authority.

The Port Authority introduced video surveillance in 1998 not just as a public safety measure but also to counter fraudulent insurance claims, which are a big issue in the litigious U.S.

“Sometimes a nickel-and-dime accident that wasn’t even reportable to the police department happens, but you’ll have several people claiming they were injured,” says McCauley. “Our claims department has definitely seen a reduction in claims. Nothing speaks like a video when you pull it out in court.”

The buses are equipped with four video cameras trained on the driver, two exits, and down the aisle, explains Rick Snyder, bus procurement specialist for the Port Authority.

If an incident occurs, drivers push a button on the recording unit to bookmark it on the hard drive. The system is used strictly to record events – drivers are provided with another system to radio police.

Buses are harsh environments, so video surveillance systems need to be extremely robust, says Snyder. They need to survive dirt, shock and vibrations and must work with the bus’s weak 24-volt batteries and uneven power loads distributed to other systems for lighting, heating and air conditioning. March’s VCRs are sealed to withstand environmental conditions, and the units did well in third-party testing, says Snyder.

The VCRs are also robust in a visual sense, says Mark Holden, a San Diego-based business manager at March Networks. “You have light coming through doors and windows that can wash out a camera or a person’s face, and low-light conditions in the evening when the interior lights come on,” he says, explaining that the cameras have automatic irises that self-adjust to lighting conditions to ensure images are recorded properly.

Another feature the Port Authority found attractive was the system’s self-diagnostic capabilities, says Snyder. When the bus returns to a depot, the units conduct an automatic self-health check and relay the information wirelessly to the LAN. “It allows us to schedule maintenance to fix any problems, so we know about it before someone tries to pull info from the video,” says Snyder.

The advanced querying capabilities were also a plus. “If I want a video from a particular bus between noon and 2:00, the next time the bus comes home, the system wireless downloads the video off the bus and sends it to the police desk,” says Snyder.

Holden explains that the system can do searches by longitude and latitude because it integrates GPS coordinates with the video images. “We can play the two side by side using Microsoft MapPoint. So when you’re watching a video, you can also see in real-time where that bus was going,” says Snyder.

Snyder says March Networks is planning more integration in the future. “Right now, the biggest problem is disparate systems,” he says. For example, automated vehicle location (AVL) equipment uses GPS technology for route management, but the AVL is also the conduit to transit police if an incident occurs. The company is looking into integrating its DVR with the AVL. “So you not only get audio and visual alarms, you’ll also get a visual representation of the alarm,” says Snyder.

In the U.S., many transit authorities are moving away from single disparate systems and are looking for unified enterprise systems that marry all components, he says, adding that many Canadian transit commissions appear to be finally receiving funds to upgrade their security and are looking into video surveillance systems.

“Sept. 11 made us aware of lapses in certain segments in the U.S., and I’m sure Canada feels the same,” says Snyder. “We now have the opportunity to look at these systems and figure out how to manage them remotely and get a better ROI. Be it a perp or terrorist, transit authorities can have quality images they can use in court and protect passengers.”

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