Berlin’s U-Bahn, operated by the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) – Germany’s biggest public transport company – is a vital part of Berlin’s critical urban infrastructure. Over 1,300 vehicles are in service on nine lines connecting 174 stations.

Working in close partnership with Synectics, a specialist in operational and security management solutions for transport, BVG has implemented a protective and progressive environment for detecting and managing incidents.

"BVG operates a completely closed network system to protect data – making access to open visualisation tools such as Google Maps impossible. But we delivered a mapping solution that delivers the same benefits."

Steffen Habermehl
Head of Strategic Development and Technology, Synectics

The future of incident handling

BVG recently overhauled the network-wide system infrastructure and command-and-control software utilised by U-Bahn’s Security Operational Control Centre (OCC) operators.

Schematic interactive station maps combined with GIS (Geographic Information System), developed based on open technologies, give precise locational and contextual information to enhance incident response. As an offline system, it integrates hundreds of thousands of freely available data, including processes for data synchronisation.

Mr Habermehl states: “Operators can quickly see the location of station assets, cameras, security personnel, details like fastest exit routes, and can easily switch between, and zoom into, different data levels to have an accurate real-time view of the situation."

Importantly, staff can also see the exact location of around 550 metro-wide customer emergency pillars. If one is activated, video and audio from the relevant pillar are immediately streamed to the OCC so operators can quickly gain an overview of the situation and provide appropriate aid from the immediate area.

Simplification of processes

The focus when updating the system has also been to speed up incident response in other ways, like a redesigned user experience tailored to BVG’s processes and individually customisable for each operator.

Process simplification is evident elsewhere. For instance, on receiving an incoming emergency alert, an ‘incident’ is automatically created, which stores relevant data such as footage. This incident already contains core information, so the operator can focus on handling the event. The system also uses workflows to guide operators through the ‘next recommended action’ in line with BVG’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). As well as saving time, this supports consistent and compliant incident management.

With many U-Bahn stations unmanned, remote monitoring of facilities is vital. Operators can select ‘pre-configured walk-throughs’, which automatically follow an optimised path around the station to complete checks of the cameras.

In the future, the system will automatically alert operators to situations of potential concern.

We’ve optimised layouts, colour-coding, and many other features to achieve a structure where any key function can be reached in just one click, the idea being that precious time is saved for handling any given process.

Steffen Habermehl
Head of Strategic Development and Technology, Synectics

A collaborative approach

For optimised passenger protection, it’s important that the Security OCC can work in close collaboration with BVG’s six control centres. Control centre management teams can access live camera streams, and thanks to integrated communications, emergency calls can be transferred between the control centres and the Security OCC at the touch of a button.

Police also have incident lines into the Security OCC. A police officer is permanently located in the control room with a dedicated workstation and access to incident management functionality. Operators work collaboratively with the officer when necessary – sharing tasks and jointly analysing live and recorded footage as required.

Modularisation: A future-focused strategy

The system also supports collaborative activity in relation to specific incident types, such as vandalism.

As part of the most recent upgrades, the Vandata module has been renewed to better support end-to-end handling of any vandalism scenario, from receiving and processing the initial report to assigning and dispatching clean-up teams. The web-based solution, accessed directly through the central application, logs visual data such as ‘graffiti tags’ and supports reporting to and research for security authorities and the judiciary. Modularisation like this gives BVG much greater flexibility in how they use and adapt the system in future.

Steffen Holz is responsible for the IT infrastructure for BVG’s U-Bahn. He comments: “Modularisation has been a very important process as it now allows us to add or change applications and functionality easily. The system is no longer a monolith that requires significant time and cost to adapt." 

"It’s a flexible system architecture that is much more suited to evolving with our requirements. It is a continuous process, but the steps we’ve taken to achieve this flexibility are significant."

Steffen Holz
IT Infrastructure, BVG

Making 99.99% uptime a reality

Important developments in terms of the system architecture also support improved redundancy and resiliency.

Mr Holz adds: “Synectics has worked with us to remove outdated, legacy technology, update our operating system, and move us to microservice-based software – meaning we can quickly benefit from new patches and system updates. It’s also better from a cybersecurity perspective.

“This is incredibly important from a regulatory perspective – we would have to shut down lines if our ability to receive and respond to incidents goes down for any significant period.”

Other factors and features that support the uptime essential for uninterrupted U-Bahn operations include automated system health checks – Mr Holz and his team receiving ‘pre-event’ warnings in relation to updates or hardware replacements that might be necessary – and 24/7 on-call service support.

Mr Holz explains: “If anything comes up that we don’t have the expertise to handle in-house, we always have access to an expert Synectics technician 24/7, every day of the year. They are truly our partners in this. When you are dealing with such a sizable and critical system, this is so important.”

Shaping the future

BVG’s U-Bahn solution is the largest video management system operating in Berlin and is the result of two forward-thinking organisations working in partnership to address operational and network architecture requirements in line with BVG’s public commitment: shaping the future of mobility. But that doesn’t mean the evolution is over.

“We have already achieved so much with this system but we never rest. Our passengers' safety and journey experience requires us to review our capabilities and improve continuously. This system gives us the agility and confidence to do exactly that.”

Steffen Holz
IT Infrastructure, BVG