Bridging A Security Gap

By Holly Gilbert Stowell

The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) is an independent state agency that finances, owns, operates, and maintains the state’s eight toll facilities: four bridges, two tunnels, and two turnpikes. The Francis Scott Key Bridge, one of the two main bridges, provides an important passageway across the Baltimore Harbor, especially for trucks carrying hazardous material, which are prohibited from going through tunnels. The other primary bridge, the Bay Bridge, connects the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area with Maryland’s Eastern Shore, beaches, and other popular tourist spots. These two main bridges also span shipping channels that lead to the Port of Baltimore.

“Both bridges are crucial to the Port of Baltimore, and would have a serious effect on the economic standing of Maryland if one of these bridges were compromised and stopped cargo ships from entering the port,” explains Ricky Williams, director of security at the MDTA.

Securing a bridge requires a combination of technological solutions and human effort. Highway and toll booth traffic, animals, debris, and pedestrians are just a few of the elements that can interfere with the structure’s operation and maintenance. Severe weather can further impede an operator’s ability to maintain a safe environment. Boats, which are capable of transporting materials that could be used for harm, are also a constant security concern that must be monitored. These entities are difficult to predict and control, requiring a solution that will warn of an interference before it becomes an actual security issue.

Williams was hired about nine years ago to help improve security for the buildings and structures owned and operated by the authority, including the bridges. “What we wanted to do was create better situational awareness for our responders and also for our operators monitoring them,” he notes. Working with the IT division of the MDTA, he set out to award a large security contract that would ultimately enhance security at all the MDTA properties.

Williams didn’t want operators to have to monitor several disparate systems coming in, but rather envisioned using a PSIM (physical security information management) application, which is a central monitoring platform that pulls in feeds from surveillance cameras, maps, radar, and other monitoring tools to display security events. In terms of camera and radar solutions, he had worked with several vendors in the past, but a high rate of false alarms was a persistent problem. He also says that existing technology wasn’t being used to its full extent. “As I always say, if you’re going to put a camera up and not maintain it, don’t put it up to begin with,” Williams notes.

In early 2012, the MDTA awarded the contract to Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), now Leidos, to find an integrated solution to upgrade security at the four Maryland bridges as well as at the MDTA security operations center. Neil Chung, chief systems engineer at Leidos, tells Security Management that he chose SpotterRF’s compact surveillance radar (CSR) to install in and around the Francis Scott Key and Bay Bridges.

“Multiple radars that could be strategically placed around the critical infrastructure was the best application of the radar technology,” says Chung, “[rather than] having one maritime radar to sweep the entire area; then there would be lots of blind spots because of the bridge structure and the bridge piers.”



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