Keeping an Eye on the Road
Transportation Technologies Make a Play for Homeland Defense<@VM>Watching Where the Trucks Go
- By William Welsh
- Nov 16, 2001
Mitretek Systems Inc.'s Gil Miller said intelligent transportation systems can be used not only to support public safety personnel but also to reroute traffic in response to disasters.
Innovative technologies that already help government officials track vehicles and manage the flow of traffic can play an important role in responding to terrorist attacks, according to the U.S. transportation industry.
The Intelligent Transportation Society of America is taking its case to Capitol Hill this month as well as to federal, state and local transportation officials to show them how intelligent transportation system technologies can be a key element of Homeland Defense by improving disaster prevention and response.
Intelligent transportation systems cover a broad range of technologies, including information processing, communications, control, electronics and global positioning system satellites. Such technologies can track the movement of vehicles, monitor and control the flow of traffic and help provide security at borders and other checkpoints.
Gil Miller, vice president of the Center for Telecommunications and Advanced Technology at Mitretek Systems Inc. of McLean, Va., a nonprofit science and technology company, said that intelligent transportation systems can be used not only to support public safety personnel but also to reroute traffic in response to disasters.
Miller said the Intelligent Transportation Society's initiative is an important move for the industry and a good way to show policymakers and government officials that intelligent transportation systems are a flexible and highly adaptable set of technology solutions.
Although the organization's leadership said that the deployment of intelligent transportation technologies will not require massive funding, industry observers cautioned that any new costs should fall on the government rather than the private sector.
State and local government spending on transportation will grow at a rate of 8 percent from $7.43 billion in 2001 to $10.11 billion by 2005, according to Gartner-Dataquest of Stamford, Conn.
But less than $1 billion of the current expenditure goes to the hardware, software, construction and installation of intelligent transportation systems, said Larry Yermack, chairman of the Intelligent Transportation Society and president of PB Farradyne Inc. of Rockville, Md., a systems engineering firm.
The federal government provided $218 million in grants to state and local governments in 2001 for intelligent transportation studies and projects, said Michael Huerta, senior vice president of transportation systems and services for Affiliated Computer Services Inc. of Dallas.
Yermack said the Intelligent Transportation Society's goal is to familiarize lawmakers and government officials with intelligent transportation technologies and ways they might be applied to homeland security. He said that intelligent transportation technologies are relatively inexpensive to deploy and that large-scale funding probably will not be required.
"It's a matter of intelligently using the resources that already exist rather than looking for a massive increase in funding," he said.
Tom Davies, senior vice president of solutions at Current Analysis Inc. of Sterling, Va., said transportation, like many other areas of state and local government, is now being looked at from a national security standpoint.
"Transportation is one of the critical infrastructures and protecting it is an extremely high priority. In that regard, intelligent transportation systems take on new meaning just beyond traffic management," Davies said.
Huerta said his company sees a "huge potential" for the use of intelligent transportation technologies for homeland security.
As with many public safety systems, the challenge is not technology development but overcoming interoperability issues, said Tim Schoch, deputy program manager for the Advanced Regional Traffic Interactive Management Information System run by TRW Inc., Cleveland. The system is a regional traffic management center for the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky metropolitan area.
"I don't think they are big dollar items," he said, referring to the deployment of intelligent transportation technologies.
As the systems engineer to the U.S. Department of Transportation's ITS Joint Program Office, Mitretek Systems is helping the federal government develop, among other things, interoperability standards for components of traffic management systems, company officials said.
One of the most promising applications of intelligent transportation systems for homeland security involves the tracking of hazardous material shipments, industry officials said.
Yermack said the federal government could institute a national system for hazardous material tracking that would involve advance filing of shipping plans, tracking of materials and coordination with law enforcement for interdiction if a shipment is hijacked.
"From a technical perspective, it's something that can be done," he said.
ACS entered the transportation business when it acquired Lockheed Martin IMS in July. The company operates an electronic toll collection program on the East Coast known as EZ-Pass and also runs a commercial vehicle operations program in 23 states known as PrePass that allows trucks to bypass weigh stations.
The idea of a hazardous material tracking system raises important policy questions, ACS' Huerta said. First, if a national hazardous materials tracking system was established, the trucking industry would expect the government to pay for it. Second, the trucking industry would want assurances that whatever information is collected is not misused in a way that would put the companies at a competitive disadvantage.
For the latter, Huerta said trucking companies would expect the government to keep confidential any information about customers, load composition and the origin and destination of those loads to keep competitors from using it to target their customers.
Between $100 million and $200 million of ACS' $1 billion in state and local government revenue comes from its transportation business, Huerta said.
Because the federal government mostly focuses on setting standards and conducting demonstration projects, it has fallen on the private sector and state and local governments to decide how to fund the deployment of intelligent transportation systems, he said.
ACS has made "a major investment" in PrePass, Huerta said, pointing out that ACS has provided the initial technology at no cost to the motor carriers and state weigh stations that pay a fee to participate in the system.
PrePass is a service that allows trucks to be weighed electronically at interstate speeds, checked for compliance with state-required credentials and bypass state weigh stations.
Advanced traffic management systems also can play a major role in disaster recovery and response. TRW, for example, has worked on traffic management programs in a number of cities, including Atlanta, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, Ky., Phoenix and Salt Lake City. The company's experience with telecommunications and public safety communications put it in a unique position to conquer the interoperability challenges facing its state and local government customers.
TRW is in the process of defining the architecture and building unified communications centers in Austin, Texas, and Washington. These centers will house not only transportation operations but also police, fire and emergency medical services functions.
Following the Sept. 11 attacks, traffic operations centers in New York and Washington responded immediately by posting information on detours and road closures, Yermack said.
Still, there could have been better coordination between traffic management and public safety operations. "One of the biggest lessons we learned [from Sept. 11] is the need for much better coordination between traffic center and police operations," Yermack said.The Intelligent Transportation Society of America believes that certain intelligent transportation system technologies can increase domestic security and improve disaster response. The primary technologies are:
? Automated vehicle location systems. These systems use global positioning system technology to track the movement of vehicles from a central base computer. They often are used in conjunction with on-board cameras.
? Advanced traffic management systems. These systems monitor, control and speed the flow of traffic. A control center analyzes data collected from sensors, cameras and other devices on the roadway and broadcasts the information to travelers via message signs, a three-digit traffic information number and other means.
? Universal transponders or tags. These radio or radar transmitter receivers are activated by a signal and can be used to track vehicles. The devices are mounted in cars and trucks, allowing them to pass through toll booths and weigh stations without stopping.
? License plate-reading technologies. These technologies are used at borders, parking facilities and other checkpoints. They typically include a camera, central processing unit for image processing and control, software that recognizes characters and a storage or transmission subsystem for recording date, time and location.Source: Intelligent Transportation Society of America
William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.