Saturday 24th October 2020

Case Study: Video surveillance storage drives increased passenger safety and cost savings for city bus lines

Published on April 4th, 2019

For many public transportation providers, video surveillance has become essential to meeting their #1 priority of passenger safety. However, getting real-time access to video data can be particularly difficult when the cameras are installed on moving vehicles.

Faced with this challenge, a city bus line in California deployed a Cloudian object storage system that not only provides such access but also enables much faster search of video files and limitless, non-disruptive scalability to accommodate continued data growth. After an initial roll-out that affirmed the safety and cost savings benefits, the bus line is now adopting the Cloudian solution across its operations.

The Challenge: Ensuring safety and controlling costs

The City of Montebello is located in Los Angeles County, California, where its transportation department operates Montebello Bus Lines (MBL). Providing services to the residents of Montebello and neighbouring cities, MBL operates a total of 72 buses, covering 26 square miles and serving over eight million passengers per year.

Each bus is equipped with five video cameras and a recording system for monitoring activities inside the bus and outside traffic. With MBL’s legacy surveillance and storage architecture, video was recorded locally on the bus, and the data was then transferred to the operations centre when the bus returned to the terminal. If an incident was reported, the data could then be retrieved for review by transit staff.

This process presented two major operational challenges. Firstly, due to the complex logistics involved, video was not immediately available for review when needed. Clips had to be manually located using timecodes, after which they then had to be synchronised from multiple cameras to provide different views of incidents. This was all extremely time-consuming, making it difficult for transit staff to quickly follow up.

Secondly, budget limitations made it impossible to retain video data for longer than 60 days which was problematical because an incident could result in legal action as late as two years after the fact. For cases filed after the 60-day retention period, the lack of a video record put the City at financial risk.

Overcoming the limitations of traditional storage

With these operational challenges in mind, MBL recognised that it needed a new solution to improve public safety, reduce the burden on staff and ensure its storage requirements were met – all within a tight budget. The desire was to have a system that recorded video locally on each bus and also allowed it to be uploaded wirelessly whenever needed for immediate review by transit staff or law enforcement.

During normal operations, the video would be streamed on a set schedule (approximately every three hours) from the bus to the main storage system using either LTE or Wi-Fi. In the event of an emergency, a driver or public safety officer could initiate a capture that would immediately be streamed to the main storage system, thus making the video instantly available and eliminating the risk of data loss in an accident.

MBL initially tried using a basic Network Attached Storage (NAS) system, but it fell short for two main reasons:

  • Transfer speeds: High-end NAS systems were beyond the available budget, and entry-level systems lacked the bandwidth to load data quickly enough to ensure no data loss.
  • Lack of metadata tagging: Each clip required metadata containing environmental information, such as geographic location, speed of the bus, and driver name, but traditional file storage and video management software (VMS) didn’t provide this.

To overcome these limitations, MBL created a solution that combined Cloudian’s HyperStore object storage platform with customised VMS, first testing it on seven buses. That testing confirmed the benefits of the combined solution, including:

  • Simultaneous recording of all five bus-mounted cameras with real-time metadata tagging.
  • Metadata search that can instantly locate clips based on time, location, vehicle, etc.
  • Improved upload reliability by allowing large clips to be broken into multiple parts and then be streamed concurrently (as opposed to consecutive streams which must be restarted in the event of an error).
  • A highly cost-effective and easily scalable architecture that can start small (e.g., during testing) and quickly grow to petabyte-plus size as necessary, simply by adding storage nodes.

A storage foundation for the future

With testing now completed, MBL is working on deploying the Cloudian-based solution on the rest of its bus fleet and is excited about the practical applications. It provides real-time and continuous visibility into what is going on, with MBL staff members able to access video footage from anywhere and respond much more quickly.

In addition, with metadata tagging, they can not only access recorded video based on a specified time or GPS location but also link other relevant data to the recording, such as a vehicle’s speed and weather conditions. Also, because externally facing cameras record activity around the bus, the system can quickly provide information to other city departments, such as police investigating a nearby crime.

By the end of this year, MBL hopes to deploy the new solution at bus stops, further enhancing security. Future developments could even include integrating Artificial Intelligence to determine the number of passengers waiting at different stops and changing bus routes accordingly.

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