It could catch a bad guy. It could prevent property damage. It could ultimately save a life. It is a mobile video recording system. These systems help transit systems – buses, taxis, trains, law enforcement, first responders – save money by deterring crime and vandalism as well as disposing of false and misleading claims more quickly. Also, by showcasing a safer riding experience, they help increase passenger volumes and rapid transit revenues. “When implemented on school buses as part of an overall security surveillance system, for example, they provide school districts with curb-to-curb protection for their children. As evidence, they save districts money by providing irrefutable proof of what really happened,” says Rick Gougeon, MobileView manager, GE-Interlogix, Corvallis, Ore. These kinds of systems are perfect for any type of mobile application that needs to provide a safe environment or that faces many liability issues or both.

“This surveillance solution has aided tremendously in the reduction of liabilities for municipalities employing public transportation,” says Allison Gaptor, senior marketing manager, Loronix Video Solutions, Denver.

Even the visibility of the system itself serves as a deterrent. It provides the perception of increased operator and passenger safety.

“With mobile video recording, the benefits derived from traditional CCTV applications can be extended into areas that are currently blind spots in fleet operations,” adds Michael Foster, product manager, March Networks, Ottawa, Canada. “Just as you establish video recording to deter criminal activity in physical buildings, with mobile video recording you now have those same capabilities in a physical structure that is primarily a mobile environment.”

Strides have been made in mobile recording. The digital vs. analog question extends to the mobile arena. Digital, for example, has made mobile recording more efficient.

“The reliability issue is paramount and digital systems increase reliability. Most importantly, digital provides clearer, sharper images so that people can view and identify what is happening,” says Gougeon. Transit districts, for instance, are provided extended image storage times and greater reliability.

With digital, there are significant advantages over older analog technology such as increased storage duration as hard drive capacity increases; improved video compression; improved investigation cycles with much faster search and retrieval of video evidence; and the ability to adopt emerging wireless technology to improve real-time remote access to what is taking place within the mobile environment.

“Shifting from analog VCRs to digital video recorders allows for lower operational costs to conduct investigations – no VHS tapes to sift through, and improved sharing of information throughout a security group and associated stakeholders by adopting networking technologies,” Foster adds.

“Digital also has provided alarming and flagging capabilities that allow the marking of video at the time of an incident for easier investigation,” Gapter says.

Video and Red Hands

One example of the effectiveness of these recorders is when an armed man boarded a Los Angeles transit bus and hijacked it. The bus operator immediately activated GE’s MobileView system and began capturing high-resolution images.

The hijacker threatened passengers and waved his gun, then pulled the operator out of her seat and began driving the bus himself. He eventually hit a delivery truck, drove over a sidewalk and smashed through a fence, hitting several cars in an adjacent parking lot. The force of the impact popped out the bus windshield, and the hijacker crawled through the opening. MobileView captured all the action in sharp detail and the suspect was quickly captured.

“The images were excellent,” says Mike Turk, senior transit operations supervisor for the MTA in Los Angeles. “The LAPD officers were very impressed with the details of the images we retrieved for them and they quickly ID’d him.”

Mobile video surveillance images have been widely accepted as trial evidence and Turk has seen enough cases himself to be confident of the system’s results.

“I’ve never seen the admissibility of MobileView images overturned,” he says. “Partly it is because the system is proprietary, so the images can’t be altered using a photo software program. We’ve apprehended sexual battery suspects, pickpockets and assault suspects. The evidence is always admitted. We’ve even overturned fraudulent workers compensation claims based on our video evidence.”

On-board Security

Manufacturers are in concurrence that on-board security systems cannot be compromised by would-be criminals. “The images stored on the mobile video unit are highly secure. Through password protection on the system, access is validated via software. Additionally, extracted video clips have embedded watermarks that can be verified for integrity. All activity occurring on the system is recorded within an audit log – this includes who accessed the unit and on what day,” Foster says.

“Typically images are always stored on the vehicle, and through the use of emerging wireless technology video can be streamed from the system to off-vehicle locations,” Foster says. This can provide real-time access to video of events as they occur.

In most cases, when a driver starts a vehicle, cameras automatically begin recording events and documenting on-board actions. Most cameras are mounted in low-profile vandal-resistant housings that can be flush-mounted inside or surface-mounted inside or outside the vehicle.

According to Brian Curliss, market solutions manager, Silent Witness, British Columbia, Canada, “Our recorders are much less susceptible to vibrations. We spent a lot of time to truly understand what goes on in a bus environment and we took that info and we designed a suspension system for the hard drive. The patented suspension system allows for reliable recording over the roughest of roads."

SIDEBAR 1: Shopping for Mobile DVRs

Purchasing a mobile DVR doesn't have to be an arduous task, if you know what features to look for and where to find them. Some of the following are the hottest commodities on the market.

The March Networks 5000 Mobile DVR Series consists of purpose-built systems that offer reliability for harsh environments. The 5000 MDVR series is designed to leverage an organization’s existing and future network infrastructures, which include 802.11 local area networks (LANs) broadband wireless technologies for wide area networks (WANs).

The certain 5000 Mobile DVR Series is available with a removable hard drive caddy, which allows organizations to quickly gain access to video evidence without the use of either a wired or wireless network connection. The systems meet IP65 test levels to prevent dust and water contamination, which are common problems in these mobile environments. The systems operate in a wide range of AC and DC environments, allowing the unit to be supported in first-responder vehicles, trains and transit buses. Built-in 10/100BT network connectivity allows the unit to interface seamlessly with IP-based networks. The system is available with options to support GPS (global positioning systems) location and speed information synchronized with video, as well as wireless WAN access using 3G cellular phone technologies.

Images are recorded to the GE Interlogix Mobile View DVR, a mobile recording device with 120 GB of fixed data memory that is protected inside a rugged outer housing to provide shock and vibration protection. The DVR can be programmed to capture a system total of 24 to 30 pictures per second at various resolutions. Different cameras may capture images at different rates. The system stores between 33 hours to 19.8 weeks of images, assuring that users still find the images they need without fearing they have been recorded over. Stored images can be retrieved and viewed at the central station, in the field, or, using the cellular transmission option, directly from the vehicle to the central station.

Images generated by driver panic buttons or impact sensors are saved in a special file format with a time-and-date stamp to make finding and retrieving them easy and fast. Such images also are protected from automatic overwriting. All images have a time and date stamp associated with them.

When used in conjunction with a cellular transmission system, users can capture, store locally and transmit images to a central monitoring station, which can also dial into the bus system and request images at any time. The system also can be programmed so that the central station automatically begins receiving images directly from the vehicle whenever an alarm or trigger is activated.

The user can remove the DVR from its outer housing at the vehicle site and take it to the central station where it is inserted into the docking station. Data then can be viewed, enhanced, sharpened, enlarged, printed, e-mailed or transferred to alternate mass media for long-term storage.

Loronix's NT-based system consists of a mobile digital video recorder (MDVR) and a video review station. The MDVR contains an industrial computer designed to digitize, compress and record video of up to eight color or black-and-white cameras onto a removable hard drive, the Data Pack. The system ensures video integrity through Loronix’s proprietary authentication process, which performs a mathematical algorithm to produce a “fingerprint.” This fingerprint is compared to the fingerprint created and stored when the recorder originally captured the video. If the two fingerprints are identical, the video is verified. If the two fingerprints are different, the video is failed, indicating that the image has been altered. An entire video clip or just individual segments may be authenticated. This system also provides an option to record audio.

The Digital Chaperone from Silent Witness is an advanced digital recording system that is designed to increase student and driver safety on school buses. The Digital Chaperone system is comprised of the MDR100 mobile digital recorder and the customer’s choice of cameras. With its unique suspension system, the recorder writes reliably to a hard drive even over the roughest of roads. With high-quality images stored on a digital hard drive, Digital Chaperone provides school bus operators with fast and easy image retrieval, printing, distributing and archiving. It comes with a built-in camera switcher, which accepts video signals from two sources – a camera inside the bus that captures potential problems and an additional camera that records drivers who ignore the extended stop arm.