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Peace Bridge upgrades security

A new breed of surveillance cameras and motion detectors will soon add a layer of security at the Peace Bridge.

And another newly installed sensor will lead to quicker responses to icy conditions on the bridge.

The new human surveillance detection system alerts bridge employees when one or more people are on or under the bridge or anyplace they're not supposed to be on the U.S. or Canadian plazas - and it doesn't rely on a security guard staring at TV monitors minute after minute, hour after hour, to notice them.

General Electric's VideoIQ analyzes movement in a video stream and distinguishes humans from other objects. When it detects a person in a secure area, it triggers an alert to those monitoring the video, draws a colored box around the person's image on the monitor and then tracks them.

The system is in the final phases of testing and should be operational within a few months, said Anthony D. Braunscheidel, facility manager at the Peace Bridge.

> Surveillance still needed

A problem with traditional video surveillance is that somebody is still needed to constantly watch the monitors and evaluate the images. So it's possible to miss a security breach if the security official gets bored and loses focus after hours of staring at monitors, or if that person has other responsibilities to tend to away from the monitors.

"What it replaces is a guard drinking coffee looking at 200 cameras," said Ron Rienas, general manager at the Peace Bridge.

The intrusion detection system makes the Peace Bridge less vulnerable to security threats, but it's just one layer of security, Braunscheidel said.

"While the use of camera technology is extensive covering much of the facility, it should not be taken as providing an impregnable wall of defense," he said. "This is one tool in our arsenal. Additional lighting and good old fashion ground-level awareness by staff can also be effective in certain instances."

The Peace Bridge has used motion detectors before inside facilities, but nothing close to the sophistication of VideoIQ, Braunscheidel said.

Without the ability to distinguish humans from other objects, motion detectors can be as much a nuisance as a security tool, said Chris Bonn, administrative supervisor at the Peace Bridge.

Bonn said he doesn't want bridge employees rushing to some area of the bridge every time a bird or a cardboard box blowing in the wind sets off a motion detector.

GE says its surveillance technology solves that problem.

The technology can distinguish people from other moving objects with 95 percent accuracy, recognizing them by what they look like and also by how they move, according to GE's Web site. And it can do so in low light, heavy rain and other difficult conditions.

Four dozen cameras will be hooked up into the new system at the Peace Bridge. In all, the Peace Bridge has 95 security and traffic cameras on both sides of the border, not counting the ones monitored by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Braunscheidel said.

In trial runs, the technology has tracked a person crossing Peace Bridge traffic - drawing a red box around the person's image on the TV monitor. Images of the moving vehicles are not outlined and do not distract the cameras. The camera remains fixed on the person.

VideoIQ separates objects from a camera image into foreground and background elements. After separation, the system ignores background motion such as moving water. The system then begins to classify the foreground elements into humans and non-humans using sophisticated algorithms which discern the difference between human and non-human movement.

"This is some pretty new stuff," said James Pellette, network administrator at the bridge. "This system will give us new eyes. Is it 100 percent? No. But it's really good."

> New traffic aids

The Peace Bridge Authority opened a traffic operations center in its new threestory administration building in Fort Erie, Ont. Images from nine surveillance cameras can be shown at the same time on a 42- inch monitor in addition to smaller monitors.

Those who work in the center are also using a new temperature sensor on the bridge.

A sensor was installed about two months ago on a sidewalk near the deck. Eventually, seven devices will be installed, probably in the deck to give bridge employees the most accurate reading of the deck temperature while making them unobtrusive to the public, Braunscheidel said.

A visual alarm flashes on a computer screen when the deck temperature reaches 35 degrees.

The sensors will enable the bridge's operations supervisors to respond to changing weather conditions sooner. Before, bridge employees did a manual check of icing on the bridge.

When the temperature falls to 35 degrees, the maintenance staff begins applying liquid de-icer to the driving surface to prevent the bridge deck from freezing.

"Transmitters are nothing new," Braunscheidel said. "But, the integration into an existing traffic management system which allows one of my operation supervisor the ability to obtain real-time data is indeed novel."

e-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com