David Aindow shares the five trends that are changing how urban transport control is delivered.

Today, safety and security are essential ingredients in the passenger experience mix. Demonstrating to the public that measures are in place to effectively protect against emerging threats is central to a service provider’s proposition. This, in turn, is transforming urban transport control rooms' technological set-up and operational focus. 

Here are our five emerging technology trends helping transform urban transport control rooms and the passenger experience.

1. Automated protocol updates and enforcement

Passengers expect preparedness. And preparedness requires three important things – detailed scenario planning, clear protocols to achieve desired (planned) outcomes, and a way to guarantee those protocols are followed.

From understanding what to do if abandoned baggage is detected, to managing potential terrorist incidents, urban transport control teams need Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in place to deal with different scenarios. More often than not, these procedures are followed in a fashion that goes unnoticed by passengers. Remember, feeling safe is part of today’s passenger experience – unnecessary or overt security operations can undermine that.

This means that control rooms will only adopt command and control solutions that intelligently instigate response procedures based on SOPs – either by live, data-driven operator prompts (known as workflows) that adapt to real-time information received or by automating commands to integrated, interoperable systems.

These solutions must be tailorable, i.e. with rules specifically created to match the way each transport operator works. Rigid, ‘off-the-shelf’ software platforms historically seen in control rooms are becoming a thing of the past.

2. Incident recognition and problem anticipation

Transport operators need to be able to identify the issues that call for action in the first place. They need a way to discern meaningful risk indicators and, where possible, anticipate incidents and deal with them before they have a chance to escalate and cause, at best, service disruption. At worst, they could pose a risk to passengers.

It will come as no surprise that an effective solution relies on system integration. What’s different is the level of analysis required. Complex threat detection across single stations, multiple hubs, or entire urban networks often requires the integration of ‘traditional’ safety systems, security devices, and sensors (e.g. to detect seismic activity or movement). Together with emerging analytics applications, these can power sophisticated early warning systems within modern transport control rooms – all linking in with the SOPs and response deployment described above.

Another dominant trend, particularly in balancing citizen privacy with protective surveillance, is for operators to use analytics to change how captured camera footage and any data entered into forms can be redacted or anonymised. This is especially relevant in times of GDPR and similar data privacy legislation, where privacy has become a key trend in and of itself.

With the right video content analysis (VCA), either in-camera or integrated via command and control software, cameras are now often used as spatial sensors – programmed to only record and alert staff when e.g. movement passes a certain threshold. In other words, surveillance when it’s needed.

3. Intelligent dispatch

It is common for major operators to request dedicated intelligent dispatch or computer-aided dispatch solutions as part of their overall control room set-up. In other words, solutions that automatically manage and coordinate the dispatch of appropriate response personnel based on data received, i.e. alerts and workflows triggered by specific threat indicators.

Of all the trends mentioned here, this is perhaps the most overtly public-facing and aligns most closely with the concept of safety as a passenger experience service. In a connected consumer world where tailored responses are expected to be fast and accurate, the same is true of transport services.

Previously, achieving this level of action and coordination would have involved multiple processes and systems. With intelligent dispatch, the same results can be achieved with just one system – only much quicker.

4. Network-wide data-sharing

The best way to leverage the opportunity presented by intelligent dispatch, as well as the other solutions referenced here, is to eliminate any opportunity for information silos.

This brings us to our fourth key trend: control rooms can no longer be isolated entities if transport operators truly address safety and security objectives. Data-sharing between control rooms, operational control centres, law enforcement, and local authorities is crucial to achieving the level of situational awareness necessary to keep pace with passenger expectations and evolving security risks.

Linking command and control solutions deployed across transport networks deliver the localised insight required but also ensure all data can be monitored and analysed centrally. This enables operators to identify areas of operational improvement, surface up problem hot spots, and maximize network-wide incident tracking. This in turn, feeds into reporting and planning processes, including the risk and security scenario planning used to develop SOP programming and dictate integration requirements.

5. Public privacy

Finally, we have the issue of privacy. Data protection rules, especially in Europe, are becoming increasingly strict.

Preserving the personal privacy of passengers is an objective box that cannot go unticked, and this is having a profound impact on the command and control features we are starting to see at the top of our transport clients’ request lists. These include:

  • Automated facial redaction enables control room staff to select individuals in the footage who do not require redaction, such as a person of interest flagged by watch-list scanning. The system then automatically detects and masks all other faces in the shot, thereby protecting the identity of individuals not pertinent to the nature of the footage request or investigation.
  • Processing functionality that turns visual and audio information into purely numerical data unless specific monitoring criteria are met.
  • Highly tailorable system access and permission rights that allow supervisors to closely guard who has access to what data and is automatically updated to reflect personnel changes via integration with HR databases.
  • Automated personal data redaction and anonymisation based on the age of the data, operator permission and access rights, and the organization the information is shared with.
  • Automated activity logging that creates full and easily reportable audit trails of user activity.

We are also witnessing heightened interest in new ways to securely share information while guaranteeing the same levels of data privacy. For instance, cloud-based evidence-sharing solutions that support improved operational efficiency, without operators having to relinquish any control over (and protection of) the data they hold.