European R&D Project Aims To Enhance Security of Goods In Transit

Terror organizations have demonstrated their willingness to target mass transportation networks along with other areas of critical infrastructure. The theft of high value, high risk products in transit cost European businesses over €8.2 billion a year, according to recent European Union (EU) figures. These ill-gotten gains, and in some cases, the stolen goods themselves, can be used to fund or assist terrorist activities.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the United Nations agreed on proposals to enhance the security of dangerous goods in transport. Unfortunately, monitoring systems, early warning and deterrent technology have not been available to address this problem at an affordable cost. As a result, there has been an uneasy acceptance that in certain parts of the world, piracy, hijacking or theft are facts of commercial life.

However, a solution has been developed through the Architecture for Recognition of Threats to Mobile Assets Using Networks of Affordable Sensors (ARENA) research and development project funded in part by the EU’s FP7 security research program.

Maria Andersson, at FOI, the Swedish Defense Research Agency and Technical Coordinator for ARENA explained how the generic surveillance system that has been developed could provide robust, proactive threat detection and recognition while being able to differentiate between real threats and false alarms across a range of environments using an affordable system of sensors.

“FOI coordinated the seven-strong research partnership drawn from five EU countries,” Andersson said. “The project is coming to a close in July at the end of its three-year lifespan. Over that time the project sought to investigate a system applicable to a range of different deployments: stationary platforms relative to the land, such as a truck or train stop; stationary platforms relative to the sea, such as ships in port or oil rigs; mobile platforms relative to land, such as trucks or trains in transit; and mobile platforms relative to the sea, such as ships at sea or oil rig support vessels.”

“Its research built on existing work on the surveillance of public spaces,” Andersson said. “No new sensor development was done. Instead, the team focused on exploiting existing,low-cost sensor technologies like visual and infra-red video, acoustic sensors, seismic sensors and radar. It also built on other work, such as the Integrated Mobile Security Kit where a multi-sensor surveillance system is installed in a van which can be brought to public space when needed. Another contributing technology, known as ADABTS (Automatic Detection of Abnormal Behaviour and Threats in crowded Spaces), addresses automatic detection of abnormal human behavior that might signal crime is afoot. And another, called SECTRONIC, is a 24-hour small area surveillance system for maritime application.”

ARENA also aims to minimize nuisance the system might cause if it were to go off for no reason.

“Humans are naturally good at putting together lots of fragmentary information and signals and spotting what is a threat and what is not. Machines on the other hand are not,” said Andersson. “The ARENA system combines complementary sensors to reduce false alarm rates. The threat-detection task was also broken down into four interconnected steps: object detection, object tracking; event recognition; and threat recognition. The fewer the bystanders to the vehicle, the easier the system could interpret what is going on, meaning that it would be easier to detect a threat in a quiet railway siding than when standing by a busy platform. For the same reason, trains may, on the whole, prove easier to protect than trucks, which often park in places where there is innocent foot traffic.”

The project also tackled the sensitive legal and ethical issues involved in surveillance and electronic security, particularly those revolving around privacy. Andersson said that it will be crucial to have the consent of the driver for any camera system which secures a vehicle on the basis of facial recognition. Facial recognition cameras are only used in the cab of a vehicle, so present no challenge in respect of the privacy of passers-by.

FOI’s partners were: Maritime Design and Engineering Company, BMT Group; ITTI, an IT company from Poland; hi-tech firm SAFRAN Sagem Défense Sécurité of France; electronic security company SAFRAN MORPHO, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO); and the University of Reading in the UK.

Over 70 per cent of all goods transported in the EU are transported using road haulage, a transport method which carries one of the highest risks of being victim of criminal activity. Truck thieves generally steal the whole vehicle or break into trailers to take the contents, sometimes cutting panels and causing other costly damage to gain access. Drivers are also vulnerable to attack and theft. The most common place for a truck to be attacked is at an unguarded parking lot while the driver is asleep. Large cities, like London and Madrid, are the biggest hot spots, but countries like Belgium also have a problem. In the UK alone, 324,000 crimes were recorded against the transport and storage sector in 2012.

The threat is equally pressing at sea as it is on land. Modern day piracy has presented a significant challenge since civil war broke out in Somalia in the early 1990s with an upsurge in recent years posing a threat to critical maritime infrastructure. There were 49 piracy incidents in the first quarter of 2014, according to the International Maritime Bureau. Two of these vessels were hijacked, 37 boarded and five fired on board. Five more attempted attacks were reported. There were 12 reports off the Africa’s west coast, including the hijacking of two vessels with 39 crew taken hostage and two kidnapped.

ARENA may signal the beginning of a fundamental shift in the balance of power away from criminals, improving the safety of transport personnel and, ultimately, cutting costs.

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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