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New cameras to watch over subway system

(The following article by Sewell Chan was posted on the New York Times website on August 24.)

NEW YORK -- Officials unveiled the high-tech future of transit security in New York City yesterday: an ambitious plan to saturate the subways with 1,000 video cameras and 3,000 motion sensors and to enable cellphone service in 277 underground stations - but not in moving trains - for the first time.

Moving quickly after the subway and bus bombings in London last month, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority awarded a three-year, $212 million contract to a group of contractors led by the Lockheed Martin Corporation, which is best known for making military hardware like fighter planes, missiles and antitank systems.

The authority abandoned its earlier reservations about cellphone service, agreeing that the benefits of allowing 911 and other calls during emergencies outweighed the costs and the risk of a phone-detonated bomb. It invited carriers to submit proposals by Oct. 12. The winning bidder, which would receive a 10-year license, would have to pay for the installation of the wireless network and would be required to disable all calls at the authority's request. It is not clear how long installation, which will cover 277 of the 468 stations, will take.

The surveillance and cellphone strategies, together with a police campaign begun last month to check riders' bags and packages, are a step toward what some critics have long said cannot be done - putting the nation's largest transit system under constant watch, and fortifying it with enough obstacles to deter potential terrorists.

"We will try everything, and deploy all technologies possible, to prevent an attack from happening," said Katherine N. Lapp, the authority's executive director.

The new security measures will be in place in the subway, along with the authority's two commuter railroads and nine bridges and tunnels and busy transit hubs at Grand Central Terminal, Pennsylvania Station and Times Square. While transit agencies in Boston and Houston have experimented with so-called "intelligent video" software, and London has far more cameras, the New York plan is the first to try to marry several advanced security technologies at once, experts said.

At the center of the effort will be a dense network of cameras that can zoom, pivot and rotate, all while transmitting and recording images of vulnerable areas, from dark tunnels under the East River to bustling subway platforms in Midtown. Each camera will capture distances up to 300 feet and will cost about $1,200. A selected location could have 2 to 30 cameras. For now, there will be no cameras on trains and buses.

Mark D. Bonatucci, a Lockheed Martin program director, who will oversee the effort and who plans to move to the New York area with about a dozen colleagues, showed off a bank of video screens yesterday that will be part of a new computer-aided dispatch system. He demonstrated how security officials, to be based at eight control centers, might respond to two situations.

In the first, a person tries to enter a secure facility using an expired electronic access card; a computer detects and signals the security breach on an aerial photograph of the area. Officials would pinpoint the site, watch the attempted entry on a video monitor and send a security officer to investigate.

In the second, a briefcase is left on a busy Midtown subway platform. As a camera beams live images, software can distinguish the moving people from the motionless package, sending off an alert about an unattended, suspicious object. Police officers with bomb-sniffing dogs would be sent to the platform.

The system has limits. The cameras cannot determine whether a suspicious object has been left behind in a garbage can, for example.

The cameras will be installed in the next few "weeks and months," Ms. Lapp said, while the underlying software and computer systems are designed. The contractors will also devise a new radio communications system for the authority's 700-member police force, which patrols the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Railroad. (The New York Police Department monitors the subways.)

A handful of subway riders interviewed at Times Square yesterday expressed strong support for electronic surveillance.

Rashida Padilla, 26, a business student at Monroe College in the Bronx, said the London bombings convinced her that the authority and the police should take strong measures to tighten security. "It's just scary," Ms. Padilla said, referring to her daily ride. "I'm for anything that they want to do. It makes me feel more safe to have the searches and the cameras."

Jerry Monchik, 53, an electrician who lives on Staten Island and takes the No. 1 train in Manhattan, said that while terrorists "will do what they want to do, no matter what," it was comforting to know that more activity will be recorded in the subways. "It will help with robberies and muggings, and if there is an attack, they can catch people more easily," he said.

While most experts doubt that technology could stop a determined suicide bomber, Ms. Lapp said the emphasis on surveillance was the best approach now available. "Obviously, this system, we hope, will detect a terrorist before an incident happens - not just be able, for forensic purposes after an incident happens, to identify who the terrorist is," she said.

The Lockheed Martin contract, which includes optional extensions for maintenance work through September 2013, will focus on physical security. A second big contract, the details of which will be completed by the end of this year, will focus on equipment that can detect biological, chemical and radiological agents in the transit network.

Lockheed Martin, based in Bethesda, Md., prevailed over two competitors: the Science Applications International Corporation, an employee-owned research and engineering firm in San Diego, and Siemens, the German electrical engineering and electronics conglomerate. The three companies submitted proposals on July 22.

Lockheed Martin, along with other defense giants like the Northrop Grumman Corporation, had participated in talks between the authority and a specialized Army unit in 2002 and 2003. Those talks ended because, the authority says, the military asked for too much control.

"We understand the need for immediate action to protect the M.T.A. operations," said Judy F. Marks, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Transportation and Security Solutions, the business unit that will oversee the contract. "We also understand the need to expedite the movement of people and goods in the metropolitan New York area."

Hiring a military contractor to create a security system is a fateful step in the authority's counterterrorism efforts, which have proceeded haltingly since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In 2002, the authority set aside $591 million for counterterrorism, but as of last month had spent only a fraction of that amount. It has come under pressure to move faster.

For the past 18 months, the authority has surveyed its universe of existing security devices, which include some 5,700 closed-circuit television cameras. Many of them are antiquated, unable to record images or are in relatively unimportant areas.

In a statement last night, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg commended the M.T.A. "for taking this important step to increase the security of our mass transit system." He said completing the system should be the authority's highest priority. "They need to move forward immediately with installing more cameras in subway stations, as they are an important deterrent and will be an invaluable investigative tool for the N.Y.P.D."

The New York Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a legal challenge to the bag-search policy, said it was worried about abuses. "There are questions about both the value and the privacy implications of massive video surveillance in the subways," said Donna Lieberman, its executive director.

Roger Toussaint, president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union of America, called for better training on emergency preparedness. "Done correctly, new technology has its place," he said. "However, the human element is indispensable, and in the event of an emergency, it is personnel, not computers and cameras, who will respond."

Lockheed Martin will work with six partners, including Systra Engineering, a transportation engineering firm in Bloomfield, N.J.; the Intergraph Corporation, a software and data management company in Madison, Ala., and the Cubic Corporation of San Diego, a transportation and military business that helped establish the MetroCard system in the subways in the 1990's.

The other partners are Lenel Systems International, a security technology company in Rochester; Arinc, a transportation communications firm in Annapolis, Md.; and Slattery Skanska, part of the large Swedish construction firm Skanska.

Shadi Rahimi contributed reporting for this article.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

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