Mass Transit Security: Soft Target, Hard Problem (Learn More, Video)

DHS S&T’s Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) Explosives Division (EXD) Surface Transportation Explosives Threat Detection (STETD) Program, is one of four DHS S&T Programs recognized in the 2017 ‘ASTORS’ Awards Program for their Innovative Training and Education Programs, Outstanding Product Development Achievements and Exciting New Technologies to address the growing Homeland Security Threats our Nation is facing.
DHS S&T’s Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) Explosives Division (EXD) Surface Transportation Explosives Threat Detection (STETD) Program, is one of four DHS S&T Programs recognized in the 2017 ‘ASTORS’ Awards Program for their Innovative Training and Education Programs, Outstanding Product Development Achievements and Exciting New Technologies to address the growing Homeland Security Threats our Nation is facing.

Maintaining security on the nation’s surface transportation systems takes significant resources and manpower, both which tend to be in short supply.

For example, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is one of the busiest transit systems in the nation, averaging about 712,000 trips per week day.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority police (Image courtesy of WMATAT)
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority police (Image courtesy of WMATAT)

Metro Transit Police are acutely aware that rail and subway systems are susceptible to attacks or other acts of violence, due to both the high volume of commuters and the open, unstructured nature of the environment.

But what if there were a way to detect potential threats in bags or on persons from the moment they entered the subway?

What if there was a way to know the path individuals take as they move through the system, and to relay that information to transit police in real-time?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is testing a potential solution to this challenge.

S&T’s Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) Explosives Division (EXD) Surface Transportation Explosives Threat Detection (STETD) Program is working to provide the surface transportation end-user community with the capability to screen for potential threat items at the speed of the traveling public.

(Surface transportation such as subway systems can be a unique security challenge due to the large crowds of travelers and the open, unstructured environment. Public safety officials (including mass transit Operators, mass transit police, state and federal law enforcement teams) need a capability to detect potential threat items on persons and in bags without negatively impacting the speed of travel. S&T is developing technology to meet this challenge with the Surface Transportation Explosive Threat Detection Program, helping provide a layered, integrated capability to detect and mitigate the explosive threat at the speed of the traveling public. Courtesy of DHS Science and Technology Directorate and YouTube)

Identifying potential threats on people and in their bags without physically interacting with them or impacting their movement through the system is challenging because rail and subway systems do not have fixed checkpoints like those found in airports.

Don Roberts, DHS S&T Detection Canine Program Manager
Don Roberts, S&T Explosives Division’s (EXD) Program Manager

“The Surface Transportation Explosive Threat Detection Program is working in collaboration with the surface transportation system officials and our technology developers to address an extremely challenging problem through innovative technologies that are designed to work together and provide a layered approach to security throughout the transportation systems,” says Don Roberts, Program Manager in S&T’s HSARPA Explosives Division.

“Basically, we are taking a ‘Curb to Platform’ approach to security.”

The job cannot be accomplished with only one sensor.

This “Curb to Platform” approach uses a network of different sensors distributed at various points throughout rail and subway systems.

The STETD is designed to provide anomaly/explosives detection in a high throughput environment.

This allows officials to get multiple perspectives for better detection without alerting the subject.

One such STETD Program technology is the Intelligent Video algorithm designed by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

The algorithm can detect a leave-behind item while reducing the number of false alerts transit police must resolve on a daily basis.

Another technology, the Forensic Video Exploitation and Analysis (FOVEA) tool developed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory, enables security personnel to tag a person to a left-behind item and then reconstruct the path of that individual across multiple camera views.

With FOVEA, hours of video can be scanned much faster than it would normally take, making the process more efficient and more effective.

These tools are being tested now by WMATA and Amtrak.

(Learn More. Metro Transit Police Chief Ronald Pavlik describes the features and advantages of the Department’s new Security Operations Control Center in Hyattsville, MD. Courtesy of MetroForward and YouTube)

Another key element to the program’s concept is to use low-cost sensors, such as a centimeter wave system, to serve as the initial layer for identifying potential items of interest.

This information can then focus a higher-fidelity sensor, such as a millimeter wave system, to provide a far more detailed view of a potential threat.

This is done in a way that maintains the traveling public’s privacy as well as its safety, by using sensors that emit low levels of radio waves that are equivalent to that of the average cell phone.

These sensors can be placed in walls, on platforms, columns, ceilings, and even on turnstiles.

It’s impossible for law enforcement officials to be everywhere at all times.

The STETD Program is developing technology to help those officials, providing solutions for enhanced security in the surface transportation environment, or anywhere there are unstructured crowds (stadiums, convention centers, schools, etc.).

With the development of these tools, S&T is striving to keep the traveling public safe.

DHS Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) Honored in 2017 ‘ASTORS’ Homeland Security Awards Program

The 2017 ‘ASTORS’ Homeland Security Awards Program, was organized to recognize the most distinguished vendors of Physical, IT, Port Security, Law Enforcement, First Responders, (Fire, EMT, Military, Support Services Vets, SBA, Medical Tech) as well as the Federal, State, County and Municipal Government Agencies – to acknowledge their outstanding efforts to ‘Keep our Nation Secure, One City at a Time.’

DHS S&T’s Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) Explosives Division (EXD) Surface Transportation Explosives Threat Detection (STETD) Program, was one of four DHS S&T Programs recognized for their Innovative Training and Education Programs, Outstanding Product Development Achievements and Exciting New Technologies to address the growing Homeland Security Threats our Nation is facing.

The 2017 ‘ASTORS’ Homeland Security Awards Presentation Luncheon
The 2017 ‘ASTORS’ Homeland Security Awards Presentation Luncheon

American Security Today was formed after careful reflection of 9/11 and its aftermath when the Department of Homeland Security was established and there was an immediate explosion of new products and solutions for what was perceived as an imminent second attack on primary targets in the United States.

As time moved forward from 9/11 itself and in recent years, the threats to our nation have evolved from a large scale 9/11 type attack to:

  • Domestic and International Terrorist Attacks carried out by ‘lone wolves’ and coordinated individuals
  • Cybersecurity breach attacks against our government agencies, financial institutions and critical infrastructure facilities
  • Unprecedented urban violence
  • Cultural shifts and societal media bias, which make it increasingly difficult to secure our nation in this constantly evolving threat environment.
The 2017 ‘ASTORS’ Homeland Security Awards Presentation Luncheon
The 2017 ‘ASTORS’ Homeland Security Awards Presentation Luncheon

These current circumstances have put forward another rapid expansion of new ideas, products and solutions to combat these ever changing challenges and no one is working harder to develop innovative solutions than DHS S&T.

AST would like to take this opportunity to thank the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) for Your Exemplary Service to Our Nation – with the following 2017 ‘ASTORS’ Government Excellence Awards.

astor plat 2017 cut for announcement

  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T)

    • Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environ (EDGE) Virtual Online Training for First Responders Open at No Cost to All U.S. First Responders Agencies, Across Disciplines for Coordinated Response to Critical Incidents
    • Excellence in Homeland Security
Michael Madsen, AST Publisher, and Bob Walker, EDGE Program Manager, DHS Science & Technology Directorate
Michael Madsen, AST Publisher, and Bob Walker, EDGE Program Manager, DHS Science & Technology Directorate

astor plat 2017 cut for announcement

  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T)

    • Resilient Tunnel Plug (RTP) to Strengthen Mass Transportation Critical Infrastructure from Disruptive Flood Events
    • Excellence in Homeland Security

astor plat 2017 cut for announcement

  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) First Responders Group (FRG)

    • Flood Apex Program, Applying New & Emerging Technologies to Improve Community Resilience from Flood Disasters, Reduce Fatalities and Property Loss
    • Excellence in Homeland Security
Michael Madsen, AST Publisher, and Adam Hutter, Director of National Urban Security Technology Lab (NUSTL), DHS S&T
Michael Madsen, AST Publisher, and Adam Hutter, Director of National Urban Security Technology Lab (NUSTL), DHS S&T

astor plat 2017 cut for announcement

  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects (HSARPA)

    • Surface Transportation Explosives Threat Detection (STETD) to Develop the Capacity to Detect Potential Threat Items Throughout Rail and Subway Systems Without Alerting the Subject or Negatively Impacting the Speed of Travel
    • Excellence in Homeland Security

Congratulations to DHS S&T, DHS S&T First Responders Group (FRG), and DHS S&T Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects (HSARPA) and Explosives Division (EXD).

We look forward to covering your continued efforts to Enhance National Security, Improve Public Safety, and Safeguard Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders.