In 2005, during the 7th of July bombings, 52 people were tragically killed and 700 injured by four men with home made explosives. Such brutal and shocking acts raised questions about public safety and what can be done to protect passengers on our busy transport networks.
TPSO magazine spoke to Adrian Timberlake, chief technical director at Seven Technologies Group (7TG) and expert in technology that uses AI for counter terror and other security settings, who examines the potential of new technologies in protecting critical infrastructure and improving safety and security on Britain’s vital rail networks.
The case for intelligent security in our rail terminals.
More than 1750 million rail journeys were taken in the UK during 2019. High footfall and crowds can make rail networks and terminals vulnerable to terror. With ever-larger infrastructure projects under development, such as HS2 and the Las Vegas – California high speed rail, counter terror technologies, too, have continued to adapt to serve an increasingly complex world and ever more varied threats of terror. Now that terror plots are often hidden within encrypted digital channels, and terrorists have turned to the use of everyday objects as weapons of destruction, it can be difficult to spot dangerous situations. Therefore, it’s necessary for today’s counter terror technologies to be able to inform security and counter terror personnel of the ‘bigger picture’ and to provide intelligence on developing threats in real time before they reach a critical point.
How do new technologies help to combat terror?
The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) has opened up a vast range of new capabilities for security and counter terror systems, including facial recognition, weapons recognition and the discovery of coincidences, patterns and potential threats from a combination of sensory signatures. For example, a mobile phone MAC address alert combined with a facial recognition reading of a known terror suspect entering a highly populated area would likely trigger a potential threat alert.
AI has also accelerated the proficiency of biometric reading capabilities in counter terror technology. Biometric readings, achieved via facial recognition, provide far greater accuracy than image and video-based recordings alone.
Facial recognition algorithms measure minute facial details such as the distance between a person’s eyes and space between the end of the nose and upper lip to determine a match. The technology has the potential to help counter terror personnel find a suspect in a crowd or in a busy terminal quickly. Greater accuracy can also contribute to reducing instances of human error.
Most importantly, modern counter terror systems can be programmed to send an alert to law enforcement or intelligence personnel when a pre-configured sequence of events occurs. This facilitates early warning of developing threats and can help agencies to rapidly re-evaluate threat levels and manage redeployment if necessary. Early awareness and intervention is key in protecting public safety and upholding national security.
On the 7th of July 2005, there were as many as 4 million CCTV cameras in the UK. However, they failed to aid law enforcement in preventing the attacks and police were left with 1000s of hours of footage to comb through to identify the suspects. CCTV is now considered outdated compared to what new technologies like facial recognition can achieve.
The role of digital transformation in preventing terror.
The Government’s 2016 mandate that all contractors of public sector work comply to BIM (building information modelling) level two standards is helping to upscale the implementation of counter terror technologies in new infrastructure.
Use of 2D and 3D CAD (computer-aided design) models can help to streamline the process of test and evaluation, as any issues (such as obstructions) can be spotted early and can be solved before any changes in implementation incur further cost. This enables plans for the implementation of counter terror technologies to evolve along with the building requirements and design, rather than retro-fitting at a late stage, which risks compromising on safety and security to meet budget requirements.
However, there is still a need for the implementation of modern counter terror systems outside of new infrastructure projects. Extending the use of new technologies to safeguard London’s tube network and coach stations will help to inform law enforcement and intelligence personnel of the wider picture of developing threats, and most modern software platforms can be integrated into existing security cameras.
Our rail networks are a vital part of our social and economic infrastructure, and need to be protected. Construction and new technologies will need to keep evolving alongside each other to create a safer, more secure world.
Adrian Timberlake: Building on nearly 20 years as a Scientific Officer in the Ministry of Defence, Adrian is now the Chief technical director of Seven Technologies Group and specialist in tech that uses artificial intelligence (AI) for law enforcement and counter-terror operations.