Colin Evans, COO of Digital Barriers, outlines the measures rail companies can take to protect their passengers without reducing station throughput

In light of recent events in Egypt, Paris and Brussels our busiest railway stations must be considered an attractive target for a terrorist attack. Yet station staff don’t have the luxury of demanding the level and inconvenience of security measures that is commonplace within airports. So how are they addressing the issues without jeopardising the efficiency of their operations?

It’s a major challenge for security personnel at any large scale rail mass transit hub: how to effectively screen people for concealed weapons and explosives whilst maintaining a good passenger experience. It is both impractical and undesirable to use an airport style security solution whereby every passenger has to enter an x-ray scanner due to the congestion this would cause and disruption to free movement around the station. However, as highlighted by the 2015 Thalys train attack, the 2004 Madrid bombings and even the 7/7 London bombings, this state of affairs has led terrorists to view rail infrastructure as a soft target.

It is important to counter this perception by outlining some of the technologies that are available and already in use at stations to protect rail passengers and staff. Not all security measures have to be visible but it is important that users retain a high degree of trust that systems are in place to deliver them to their destination safely and securely.

Passive screening technologies
Recent security incidents have highlighted the growing danger of person-borne threats, typically hidden weapons and explosives. This includes metal and non-metal objects such as plastics, liquids, ceramics etc – indeed anything that could be considered an offensive weapon and that your typical rail user would be unlikely to be carrying.

Screening for such items within large rail terminals presents unique challenges because of the sheer area encompassed by the hub and the passenger flow, not just in terms of numbers but also from the multiple routes that passengers can take from entering the hub to boarding a train. However, there are natural screening points or pinch points throughout a rail hub that can be utilised, giving the ability to screen passengers multiple times prior to boarding. For example, entrance ways, ticket offices, passenger information screens, turnstiles and gates. At such points it is relatively easy to introduce a passive screening technology that alerts station security staff to any passengers of interest that could warrant further investigation. For example, the compact and mobile ThruVis can screen people at a distance of up to 15m in real time. It can be invisible to the public and has minimal impact on station throughput as it does not require passengers to slow down any more than they already are doing when passing through such entrance points.

Whilst there is much confusion in the mainstream media, passive screening technologies come without the public health implications of active systems such as X-rays. They don’t require a dedicated security area to be set-up and they also carry the added benefit of bringing an element of unpredictability to when and where an individual can expect to be screened. After all with up to 57,000 people an hour passing through our busiest train stations, crowds gather everywhere, not just on the platform. Some of the UK’s most popular train stations are also retail and leisure destinations in their own right. Therefore we need station security staff to be alerted to any potential security threats from the moment people enter the terminal doors, not just when they are about to board a train. This type of technology is also proven having been deployed in multiple countries around the world.

Increasing security and reducing response times
Security personnel require accurate information quickly in order to make the correct decisions and initiate the appropriate response to alerts. Yet it is rare for security staff on the ground to sit in front of a video or computer screen. After all, while there are advantages to deploying screening technologies covertly, it is more reassuring to passengers if the guards themselves have a visible presence on the concourse.

For this reason, we are increasingly seeing the outputs from cameras, body screening devices and other security apparel streamed live to team members’ mobiles and tablets on demand in real time. We are also seeing the increased use of analytics to assist rapid object recognition and alerting for security staff. For example, if the analytics software detects a known shape, such as that of a gun or suicide vest it will highlight it on the screen. This has been shown to reduce operator fatigue and minimise the chances of missed detections, which in certain scenarios could mean the difference between life and death.

In such situations the ability to see real time video from moving trains and public transport in general streamed to security personnel mobile devices or control rooms allow the correct response to be given if and when a situation occurs. Most video surveillance traditionally is static (fixed CCTV) and is therefore only really useful after the event but by deploying the latest real time video streaming solutions that work over cellular networks; security personnel can see what is going on in real time as if they were there.

The security measures deployed within rail stations cannot and should not be as overt or as intrusive as those we are accustomed to within airports. Nevertheless, there is no reason why the terminals themselves can’t be every bit as secure. With the right technology, cleverly deployed, it is possible to put the necessary protections in place without slowing down station throughput or negatively impacting upon the passenger experience.