Wake up and smell the coffee



Paul Hennings, Director, IP UserGroup, UK


Our greatest fears have been realised over the past few weeks with the attempted car bombing of London’s Haymarket, the second car found in Cockspur Street and the horrendous site of the jeep ablaze as it tried to smash into the terminal at Glasgow Airport. Although at the time of writing this piece no-one has claimed responsibility for the attacks it is clear that terrorism in the UK has moved into a new and frightening phase. Car bombing and worse suicide car bombing has been the method of choice in both Baghdad and Afghanistan for some time, but to see it employed on the streets of our great cities is a new development.

A new role for security systems

The question on everyone’s lips is how can we combat this type of atrocity and how long before someone is maimed or worse killed. From a security perspective this type of activity is our worse nightmare, identifying potential risk and denying access to sensitive areas is a challenge that the security market will have to rise to. As we see on TV and from comments from those on the ground, there is already technology which provides ‘crystal clear’ images and can record and store data of an  extremely high standard for post-event analysis, but is there anything else that the industry has in its armoury that will assist in preventing this tyre of terrorist activity.

Traditionally CCTV and surveillance technology has beenutilised to monitor and deter but does it now have a new role;‘identification.’ Ask any video forensic scientist what they need to give best results and they will say “the highest resolution image at the highest frame rate recorded continuously,” but all will also agree that this is simply not possible in all cases. So what can be done?

Joined up security

Let us take each of the incidents and look at what could have been done in an ideal world utilising the very latest networked security technology – I hasten to add this does not necessarily mean that much of this solution is not already in place. Incident one: Haymarket. Bringing potential problems to the attention of CCTV monitoring stations has always been a huge issue, I can only guess how many cameras there are in Central London but it will be several thousand, so how can a potential incident be identified and the security services alerted – Analytics – the latest buzz word in the security industry.  Put simply this is a layer of intelligence which analyses digital video data caught on CCTV and processes the data against certain rules.

Examples include reading Car Number Plates (as in the congestion charge area) identifying unattended luggage and in this case spotting a suspicious vehicle, which has been stationery somewhere that it should not be and at a time when this is not normal behaviour. The system would alert the monitoring station, possibly bringing up the image from the CCTV camera in question on his monitor and in some cases automatically focusing other available cameras on the area of interest – what follows would be the usual procedure for dealing with a suspect vehicle which I will leave to the security services.

Within seconds the owner of the car will be known from its number plate, where it entered the congestion charge area and even who paid the fee. All of which is  invaluable intelligence for those on the ground. As we have seen in this case joined up security also identified the vehicle from automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) systems on the motorway network, providing information on where the vehicle had travelled from, how often and with luck have some quality images of the occupants of the car.

Throw in a couple of facial recognition algorithms and bobs your uncle… Potentially we know who the perpetrators are, where they have come from, and what they look
like – again we leave the rest to the professionals who will then return to the CCTV footage for assessment, however now they have a far more focused view of the  situation and again with the latest digital storage and retrieval technology can call upon supporting information from across the network.

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