Security Cameras Not Coming Anytime Soon

Yesterday, New York Times reporter William Neuman posted a story about the new delays the MTA faces in their attempt to install high-tech surveillance cameras in & around the subway and commuter railroads. Here is his report:

Aging fiber-optic cable in Brooklyn and Queens has become the latest obstacle to a planned high-tech system of surveillance cameras meant to safeguard the subway and commuter railroads, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials.

The system, which is expected to cost at least $450 million, is a crucial component of a larger program to thwart terrorist attacks on the region’s transportation network, but it has met repeatedly with technical problems and delays.

On Wednesday, the authority’s board authorized the replacement of 84,000 feet of old fiber-optic cable, which was installed in the late 1980s. The replacement will cost $5 million and is being done as part of a separate project to build out the subway’s data network.

According to a board document, tests on the cable showed that it had “many broken fibers unsuitable to carry the high bandwidth required” to transmit large amounts of data, which hindered the surveillance camera project. The document did not say how long it would take to replace the cable.

The authority’s board received a lengthy closed-door briefing on the security project on Wednesday and was told that it continued to face significant problems, including delays and increased costs, according to an official who attended the meeting.

“It is clearly significant,” the official said, referring to the severity of the problem.

Plans for the surveillance system were announced in August 2005, when officials said that they expected to have it up and running in three years. The system, which is being built by the defense contractor Lockheed Martin, is to include at least 1,000 surveillance cameras and 3,000 motion sensors, mostly concentrated at major travel hubs and high-volume stations, like Grand Central Terminal, as well as in tunnels and other areas.

It is also supposed to combine several advanced technologies and packages of software that could integrate information collected across the region’s vast transportation network.

But officials now acknowledge that the original schedule was far too ambitious.

“Any I.T. person will tell you,” another authority official said, referring to information technology experts, “that a contract like this could not have been done in the time they allotted. They couldn’t do it in three years.”

The official estimated that it could take two or three more years to complete, although some aspects of the system could be in operation sooner.

The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of the security measures, said, however, that they had not been told when the authority expected to have the system finished.

Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the authority, said that he could not comment on security matters.

A report released in January by the New York State comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, said that the surveillance camera project was behind schedule and was scheduled, at that time, to be finished in December 2009. The officials said on Wednesday that they did not know whether the date had been pushed back further.

The comptroller’s report also said that the surveillance project had been scaled back because of problems adapting the cameras’ software to conditions in the authority’s facilities.

One of the officials who spoke on Wednesday said those problems involved the cameras’ ability to spot an unattended bag or briefcase left on a train platform or other busy area and then alert law enforcement to the possible hazard. That capability had originally been promoted as a major feature of the system, but the official said it had failed in tests.

“There are too many people, too many things moving around in the system,” the official said.

The damaged fiber-optic cable is mainly on elevated portions of the J and Z lines, running from the Broadway Junction station in East New York, Brooklyn, to the Sutphin Boulevard station in Jamaica, Queens, and then along the E line to the Union Turnpike station.

Paul Fleuranges, a spokesman for New York City Transit, the arm of the authority that runs the subway, said that the because the cable was outdoors, it had deteriorated faster than similar cable in tunnels underground.

The replacement cable is being installed as part of a $200 million project that is separate from the security program, to create an up-to-date fiber-optic network throughout the subway system.

That project was expanded last year to include a $21 million upgrade to add technology that would allow larger amounts of data to move along the network. The extra capacity was needed to accommodate the surveillance camera system. However, the board document said the damaged cable could not handle the larger volume of data.

Officials refused to say how the Brooklyn-to-Queens segment of the fiber-optic network fits into the surveillance camera system. When it is complete, the surveillance system will send images and other data to a control center beside the Sunnyside railyard in Long Island City, Queens.

The comptroller’s office has issued periodic reports highlighting delays and increasing costs in the authority’s security program, which was conceived after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The program includes the surveillance system as well as other projects to improve the security of bridges, tunnels and other facilities.

I am not surprised that this project is facing a delay. I will admit that I am not saddened by it as I do not support the installation of these camers inside railroad & subway cars. I find them to be an invasion of privacy although some argue that we are taped just about everywhere. While that maybe the case, it never has gone as far as subway cars in NYC.

Someone has to draw a line between our rights & the bullshit safety that comes with the installation of these cameras. These cameras are not going to prevent an attack no matter what they tell you. I hope they scrap the installtion of these cameras inside cars completely.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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