Transportation Management Center Video Recording and Archiving Best General Practices
Chapter 3. Successful Practices for Fulfilling Requests for Recorded Video
The procedures used by Transportation Management Centers (TMC) to respond to requests for recorded video from the public and from other agencies are also of interest to this report. Our findings focus on formal requests, that is, ones that are submitted and tracked. However, some agencies also acknowledged that some requests are handled informally, such as footage for traffic studies that may be given to a research agency and then not retained.
Decisionmaking Factors and Process, including Changing Policies
As part of the outreach to agencies, a question was asked seeking the reasons for selecting the main policy choices. Of the 36 metropolitan area TMCs that responded to the inquiry, four of them reported that they never record and all four cited legal and/or policy reasons. One of the agencies believed that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) would require recorded video to be available to the public, a requirement that would induce a need for additional staff. A different agency commented that the State's open records law makes recording (such as required by their associated transit agency) very expensive. In response to a follow up on the possibility of revisiting the policy to not record at all, three of the four TMCs saw no need to reconsider the policy given their current understanding of the legal and legislative environment. The remaining agency stated that the FOIA would require additional staff to provide responses and that would drive the policy decision. As discussed later in this report, understanding the different State FOIA and record retention laws is a fundamental step in determining your current situation.
There were five TMCs that reported recording most feeds most of the time (categorized in this report as ALWAYS). Three of them suggested their primary motivation was to provide a buffer (time) to decide whether or not video of specific times and locations might be needed for later use. Video not flagged for longer-term use would be overwritten.
The remaining two TMCs gave the reason for recording all feeds as a policy or legal requirement.
Further discussions with case study agencies delved into how agencies choose their policies.
In 2014, Iowa's Statewide TMC initiated continuous recording of video (ALWAYS). The decision was led by the Executive Director of the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) and was based on the desire for recordings to be used in training and after-action reports. There were concerns about staff time for releasing video, especially since staffing was being reduced. Iowa DOT staff consulted with Minnesota DOT (MnDOT) staff, who were also recording most of their feeds and fulfilling requests for video from the public. They learned that fulfilling the requests did not have to be an overwhelming burden when steps are taken to increase efficiency.
In Minnesota, Washington, and Wisconsin, ad hoc recording on select feeds on video home system (VHS) tapes has gradually developed the current practice of recording most feeds continuously. In Minnesota, between 2002 and 2007, several digital video recorders (DVR) were added to cover groups of cameras for specific needs (such as installation of new cable median barrier, change of an High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane to a High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane, and monitoring top crash locations). Based on the value of these recordings, a confluence of three enabling factors led to the change to recording all feeds in 2008. The three factors were the I‑35 bridge collapse which highlighted the need for a redundant IP video backup to the existing analog video distribution network, significant server hardware was available at no cost from another MnDOT unit that didn’t need it, and video management software was used for coordinating cameras for the 2008 Republican National Convention. Although some people within the agency had not been in favor of the expanded recording, given the unique needs and opportunities in 2008, it was decided to change the policy. Since then, the value gained has been considered to outweigh the extra work distributing recorded video so the expanded recording policy has remained in effect. Wisconsin started recording most feeds continuously in 2007. The motivation was the value of being able to see and understand the beginning of incidents. The change was implemented as part of the investment in the creating their Statewide Traffic Operations Center (STOC).
Recording policies occasionally reach the media, such as when New Mexico DOT’s (NMDOT) policy of never recording was reported in conjunction with a tragic shooting in 2015 in Albuquerque that happened near a NMDOT camera. NMDOT provided the following statement to the media, "Our hearts and prayers go out to the family who lost their little girl to an act of senseless violence. We work very closely with law enforcement agencies to assist in their operations, and we are certainly open to looking into ways to improve how we can better assist them with the resources we have available." Following up with NMDOT for this report, since traffic operations is the primary purpose of the cameras and since recoding all feeds most of the time would be a significant cost, NMDOT is not actively reconsidering their policy of never recording.
Those examples of changing policies illustrate how shifts are more likely when other changes are happening, such as investing in a new TMC or road facility. It is helpful for agencies to consider technical, operational, and legal/policy factors when opportunities to change arise. Each will be covered in more detail in subsequent chapters, but is summarized as follows:
- Technical—Storage space/networked video recorders (NVR), video management software, resolution and frame rate.
- Operational—Benefits of recorded video, when to record video, staff time to respond to requests to video recording.
- Legal/policy—Open records laws, records retention laws, privacy considerations.
Prevalence of Releasing Recorded Video
For agencies that continuously record (ALWAYS) or those that only record on limited basis (SOMETIMES), the majority do accept requests for copies of recorded video, either through a FOIA process or otherwise. See figure 5.
Figure 5: Chart. If recorded video can be requested.
(Source: Parsons Brinckerhoff)
There was not a correlation between if the recording was continuous and if requests could be made. In Washington State, video is recorded continuously, but the recordings are considered field data that is automatically overwritten and not retained for public records. In Texas, recording is only done for training and video is deleted as soon as the use is complete.
Procedures for Requesting Recorded Video
Best General Practice
For recorded video requests, consider having an efficient process that includes:
- The same Web-based request form for public and law enforcement requests.
- Integration of the Web-based form to a database that tracks request disposition.
Of those TMCs that do allow formal requests, the requests can come in from the public as well as from enforcement agencies, researchers, agency staff, and through subpoenas. While accepting requests from the public could be required by the State versions of FOIA, several agencies have developed request procedures outside the agency's FOIA contact for other agency records. The alternate request processes seem to allow quicker turnaround when the automatic recording time is limited.
Table 4 provides three examples of video request procedures that demonstrate the wide variability in providing recorded video. Unlike most agencies, the three in the table posted the procedures online.
Methods of Fulfilling a Video Request
Methods of fulfilling requests for video vary across agencies. Even with agencies, there can be different practices for more formal requests, such as those tracked through FOIA, and less formal requests, such as data for traffic studies. Since procedures are highly dependent on agency legal, operational, and technical frameworks, there is not a single best practice. Two examples are provided to give agencies ideas on various parts of the process to consider when developing or revising their own methods.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), an agency that records most feeds most of the time, reported the following process and notes:
- Senior TMC staff in each TMC is assigned to process video requests.
- The initial screening of requests are checked to see if they are within the published timeframe of how long video is kept, if the request contains the required location information, if the location is within the agency's jurisdiction, and if the request is an area covered by a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera.
- Many requests, particularly from the public, are well beyond the published availability or have referenced cameras that are actually video detection cameras.
- When relevant video is found through the agency's video management system, it is either burned to a digital video disc (DVD) or arrangements are made to transfer to a flash drive.
- The agency converts the video to Microsoft's Advanced Systems Format (ASF) prior to release.
- Requests from the public, including their lawyers, are assessed a fee according to a published schedule. Requests from other public agencies, such as law enforcement agencies, are not charged.
Initially, NJDOT released clips in the agency’s video management system's proprietary format with the copy of the video management system’s video player. However, many recipients had difficulty accessing the video.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) provided the following fulfillment procedure:
- Request called into control room or Archive Video Administrator.
- Operators obtain requestor's information, check if video available, save any found video, and enter into database.
- Archive Video Administrator notified of request, approval obtained from DOT and law enforcement (if needed).
- Archive Video Administrator burns video to a DVD. If the request is too large for a DVD, other media can be arranged.
- Requestor contacted to pick up the video. There is no cost to requestors.
Wisconsin's in-house information technology (IT)> staff wrote a helpful program to track requests for video.
Impacts on Transportation Management Center Staffing Levels
Best General Practice
Keep the request process simple and scalable. Consider using forms linked to tracking databases when possible to prevent repetitive manual data entry.
Through the literature search and conversation with agencies, it is understood that the potential burden of responding to requests for video when feeds are recorded continuously was an important factor to some agencies.
The online inquiry asked about what kind of burden responding to these requests might impart, there was a wide variety of experience displayed by this outcome. While more agencies perceive the burden as low than as high, either having few requests or having many requests can lead to a high burden depending upon available resources. Figure 6 shows the responses:
Figure 6 : Chart. Burden for responding to requests for recorded video.
(Source: Parsons Brinckerhoff)
Best General Practice
If most camera images are available through a traveler information Web site, direct petitioners to check if there is a camera in their area of interest and if so, to refer to it in their request. Seeing the level of detail may also help manage expectations for video quality.
MnDOT’s Regional TMC (with about 760 cameras recorded for four days) classified the burden as low to medium with many requests, but adequate staff resources. Over the last year there has been an average of four inquiries per day requiring approximately 1/5 full-time equivalent (FTE). Importantly, there has been an increasing trend in the number of requests, nearly tripling since 2010. The totals include mail, phone, email, and written inquiries from the public (including insurance and lawyers), internal agency requests, and law enforcement requests. The same agency also notes that the majority of requests from the public cannot be fulfilled because they are submitted too late, pertain to events not visible on the camera, or pertain to a location not covered by a camera. The public often perceives that the traffic detection cameras are recorded or that they are red-light enforcement cameras.
For Wisconsin's STOC (with about 300 cameras recorded for 72 hours), the Archive Video Administrator spends an average of 6 to 8 hours per week processing up to four requests per day each taking 15 to 60 minutes. The agency considers this a low burden; while there are many requests, there are adequate staff resources.
As discussed further in the FOIA section below, the public information law itself typically covers release of records that exist, not if records need to be maintained or for how long.
Best General Practice
Since video requests coming from law enforcement agencies can comprise 50 percent of the requests, consider assigning fulfillment of video archive requests to a partner law enforcement agency:
- Faster response to their requests w/enhanced chain of custody for evidence.
- Release is not a core traffic management function.
- Some video requires law enforcement approval to release once their investigation is complete.
- Have mechanism to collect fees that offset costs.
Consider, also, the potential risk of perception of DOT cameras used for enforcement
Several agencies noted that the probability of having the desired images may be low. Even for agencies that do record most feeds most of the time, the camera may not have been pointed in the direction of interest. Also, the video quality that is sufficient for traffic management use may not be sufficient to be useful to requestors desiring it for other purposes.
A few agencies noted that requests can be denied, though only under specific circumstances, even when the recordings sought do exist. One example is if video is still under law enforcement investigation. Other examples include critical infrastructure, students in a student setting, and security.
One potential mitigation to the time required for processing requests for recorded video would be to assign the task to operators during off-peak hours. However, agencies such as Iowa DOT, noted a few risks in that strategy. One is that the operators could be subpoenaed to testify in court if they actually copied the video rather than a supervisor. Also, the more people who have access to the files as they are processed, the harder it may be to defend the integrity of the video when used as evidence.
Another potential mitigation to staff time needed to fulfill requests for recorded video where a large portion of requests come from law enforcement would be to have a law enforcement officer access the video system directly to process requests. As noted in the Best General Practice on the topic, there are several potential benefits. However, there is also the risk that public perception of use of DOT cameras for enforcement would be detrimental. Even if law enforcement are just using the video as evidence to support crash investigations, some agencies have expressed a desire to keep the DOT video archive system under their own control.
There are more consensuses on mitigations that reduce the time to process each request, such as the linked tracking forms discussed in the previous section.