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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Transportation Management Centers: Streaming Video Sharing and Distribution - Final Report

Chapter 4. Operational Considerations

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) sharing is often viewed as a technical problem to be solved; however, CCTV sharing can impact operations, the operator, and other policies directly in the transportation management center (TMC). As mentioned in the prior chapter, the vast majority of agencies see positive operational impacts resulting from CCTV sharing; however, the following factors should be considered.

Operator Impacts

Public Cutoff Switch: Some agencies have decided that they will have two separate video feeds for each and every camera. Feeds for trusted partners (like first responders) are continuously streamed regardless of how far zoomed in the camera may be, what is being shown, etc. Feeds for the media and the public website may be outfitted with cutoff or kill switches that are enabled when the agency needs to zoom in close to an event that may contain sensitive information, particularly gruesome images, etc. These cutoff switches are optimal from a technology standpoint, but do require a change to standard operating procedures (SOPs) within the operations center. The implications to operators and operations may change depending on the partner type:

  • Trusted partners (EMAs, First Responders, etc.)—These partners would experience little negative impact as cutoff switches are not necessary. Conversely, a significant positive impact can be expected resulting from coordinated response and relationship building, as discussed in chapter 2.
  • The media—These organizations would experience some impact depending on the technical setup. If an agency has a cutoff switch for when an operator must zoom in to particularly gruesome incidents, then the operator must be mindful of when to turn on/off the switch. Prolonged video cutoff can lead to an increase in calls from the media and the public wondering why the video is turned off, which can potentially overload the operators. If the agency does not have a kill switch, then it may be necessary to have an agreement (or understanding) with the media that governs when they should or should not broadcast certain types of video. Having these types of conversations with the media can have positive impacts on the relationship between the State and local DOT and the media, and can yield better coordination and collaboration in the future.

Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) Control: The vast majority of agencies only stream their video feeds and do not provide actual PTZ control to other agencies. However, if PTZ is granted to third parties, the agency TMC staff will need to enact SOPs that dictate when third parties can have control, and how to resolve conflicts when one agency wants to pan left and another wants to pan right.

Zooming and Privacy: If the agency does not have a cutoff switch and is sharing its video freely and openly with the public, the agency may decide to restrict operators from zooming in to incident scenes too closely to avoid triggering privacy concerns.

Dashcams: Several agencies now have dashcams and/or PTZ cameras mounted to the top of their service patrol and maintenance vehicles. These cameras offer TMC personnel additional insights into conditions on the ground and provide coverage where pole-mounted cameras are not located.

Some agencies have had to change standard operating procedures (SOPs) for both their field and center personnel to account for these new cameras. Field personnel must be instructed when to turn on or off the camera (if they are not automatically turned on when the vehicle is operational). Among TMC personnel, some agencies have created additional protocols that dictate radio communications to the vehicle operator before video streams can be viewed (in case the operator may be on a break, at home, etc.) to address privacy concerns. At least one agency, however, has recently changed their SOPs to automate many of these protocols and has otherwise relaxed rules that would have increased operator workload.

Management Impacts

Uptime Expectations: Once an agency decides to share video, some managers begin to worry about expectations from partner agencies, the media, and the public on the availability of their video streams. If an agency is managing the system internally, there can be an increased workload and strain on employees to maintain an acceptable level of service that does not embarrass the agency or needlessly divert staff away from other critical tasks.

Cost: While there are significant operational benefits to sharing CCTV with others, doing so is not free. Managers must weigh the cost of providing these video feeds with the cost of not sharing the feeds. With constrained fiscal environments, managers must also determine if sharing CCTV feeds is more important than other competing programs. This has caused a level of stress for some managers, leading some to evaluate if they should monetize their CCTV feeds to recoup their own costs of providing video to others. In such cases, managers are then obligated to evaluate the cost and burden of attempting to monetize the feeds to determine if they can develop, implement, and manage a fair and sustainable cost-recovery program. Said one State DOT manager interviewed for this document, "the juice is rarely worth the squeeze."

The majority of agencies interviewed for this report noted that CCTV video is only truly valuable and beneficial when it is openly shared with all "need to know" agencies, and that any roadblock to sharing is generally viewed as both detrimental to the health, safety, and efficiency of the transportation system as well as counterproductive to achieving the significant benefits documented in chapter 3.

Developing a Successful Concept of Operations

Agencies that spend time developing philosophical principles of video sharing have been more successful in developing stable, well-funded, and impactful video sharing relationships that are more resilient when agencies or their partners experience changes in leadership. Examples of other agency concepts of operations (ConOps) are provided in appendix A, but some overarching themes to the more successful systems in operation today include:

  1. Signed MOUs that have restrictive language, imposing legal references, or require that participants abide by the laws of a specific State are avoided at all costs. Some of the larger sharing systems do not have any MOUs at all, but rather stick to a guiding set of principles in a simple ConOps document.
  2. All CCTV video remains the exclusive property of the originating agency and may be used only with permission by the originating agency. Example language: "All live video remains under control of the Originating Agency, both for sharing with other agencies, the public, or in response to disclosure requests under public information laws or discovery requests."
  3. The originating agency will maintain PTZ control of their video system's cameras. The originating agency has full discretion to approve or deny requests for PTZ changes or control by any other participating partner agency on a case-by-case basis.
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