Transportation Management Centers: Streaming Video Sharing and Distribution - Final Report
Chapter 5. Institutional Considerations
Agencies that are sharing closed-circuit television (CCTV) streams (or looking for ways to establish sharing mechanisms) must consider institutional challenges associated with this activity. Some of the institutional challenges will be similar to other existing agency activities, including incident data sharing, resource sharing with partners, public relations, etc. Other challenges are unique to CCTV stream sharing because of the nature of CCTV streams. For example, streams expose images or activities that may not be suitable for the public (e.g., incident scenes, police activity, etc.), so tight control of what is shown, when, and to whom is more critical than in other cases. Public perception of surveillance makes implementing sharing techniques more sensitive than sharing generic travel data, which may appear to be less invasive to the public. Further, CCTV streaming involves constant transmission of large amount of data, which requires specific network and hardware considerations.
Institutional considerations relative to CCTV stream sharing include the following overarching categories:
- Intra-Agency Coordination.
- Equipment and Network Maintenance.
- 24/7 Support Requirements.
- Legal Implications.
- Public Perception.
- Media and Political Pressure.
Contracting can come into play during multiple phases of CCTV sharing. Agencies may wish to contract for equipment, services, or staff support to help in developing and implementing CCTV streaming solutions. Each agency will have its own contracting challenges mainly associated with procurement. For example, some agencies have expertise with contracting for services but not for hardware. Other agencies have the opposite problem.
When negotiating contracts with the private sector, agencies should be open, honest, and have frequent discussions with potential bidders. Good communication will lead to fewer surprises and less disappointment for both the agency and the contractor.
Once an agency is able to share streaming video, it may develop additional contracts with third parties looking to purchase or otherwise fund access to those CCTV streams. This attempt to monetize (or recover costs associated with) streaming video frequently runs into contracting issues. States and local governments are not typically set up to receive funding or be seen as potentially making a profit. Agencies like the Tennessee Department of Transportation have spent time and energy developing contracting methods to receive funds from the private sector.
Other agencies have determined that the work involved to recover relatively small sums of money simply is not worth the effort.
If an agency does decide to develop a contract that allows for cost recovery or revenue generation, the agency will need to consider the following:
- IT/networking costs (the primary reason for cost recovery with CCTV streaming).
- 24/7 operations and maintenance support.
- 24/7 technical/user support.
- Contracting/management/legal (which can be more than networking costs if only a small number of subscribers are expected).
- Periodic system upgrades.
- Insurance/liability—though some States are self-insured.
It is important to think about contracting costs and legal fees. Even if agency staff do not officially charge their time to specific projects, there is a real cost to these additional contracting efforts. Agencies must also think about how dealing with third-party CCTV contracting may pull limited agency resources away from other, potentially more important projects.
Most agencies have stand-alone information technology (IT) departments that manage multitude of IT-related activities ranging from transportation management center (TMC) workstation maintenance to network and security management to ITS equipment interfaces management to software installation and procurement. As transportation operations continue to rely on technology, the overlap between IT and operations increases. Some agencies have addressed this shift by identifying opportunities to collaborate across IT and operations to maximize their investment and resources. Unfortunately, this is more of an outlier than the norm. Many agencies still struggle with internal "silos" where IT and operations exist as separate entities with their own missions, goals, and budgets, and the coordination and cooperation with operations is limited or non-existent. This often results in conflicting approaches to solving problems, unnecessary waste of resources, and "power-struggles" when it comes to decisions and control of resources and equipment.
CCTV stream sharing is an activity that can be significantly impacted by these intra-agency dynamics, in both positive and negative ways.
TMC operations have three primary concerns:
- Install and maintain CCTV equipment in the field and bring streams back to the TMC.
- Control cameras in the field and use streams to guide operational decisions.
- Share streams with partners, third parties, and the public.
IT concerns are intertwined with TMC concerns:
- Provide, secure, and maintain network from the field to the TMC.
- Provide and maintain systems that display and process CCTV streams at the TMC.
- Secure and maintain outbound streaming to partners, third parties, and the public.
Source: Internal CATT Lab Systems Architecture Documents.
With CCTV stream sharing requiring close coordination between these two groups, two areas of focus should be addressed to ensure success:
- Field Equipment Connection to the TMC. Successful coordinated approach will ensure that operations procure and deploy cameras and supporting infrastructure that satisfies needs and goals of IT while providing necessary capabilities for operations. This means early discussions of field equipment security, network segmentation that allows efficient and secure streaming at the TMC, and schedule or expectations for maintenance.
Lack of coordination can result in lack of mutual understanding, resulting in IT staff potentially structuring the network in a way that is overly restrictive, does not allow streams to easily flow to the TMC, does not provide necessary controls for TMC operators, or that may expose the TMC to security threats.
- TMC Connection to External Users. While streaming from field equipment to the TMC tends to be a common activity and therefore is often a settled issue for most agencies, sending streams to external entities is a lot more challenging. By their nature, IT departments are wary of external entities accessing agency network and resources. Operations staffs often require different levels of access depending on their sharing partners, which makes network configuration, bandwidth, kill-switches, and other capabilities more complex. If IT and the operations teams don’t coordinate and design the system together, TMCs risk building paths to share streams and developing policy documents just to find out that IT does not allow external connections.
A successful approach requires proactive communication between operations and IT personnel to ensure mutual understanding of requirements and capabilities and a clear plan for enabling external entities to securely access shared streams.
In addition to technical coordination between IT and operations staffs to ensure network and resources are setup properly, it is important for the two groups to coordinate during procurement efforts. If the IT department is responsible for procuring network infrastructure and equipment, without proper understanding and coordination for stream management and sharing, IT staff may procure equipment that is inefficient or incapable of handling the stream data load. Similarly, should operations staff procure a stream-sharing solution that requires custom stream processing and management equipment, if the interfaces between that equipment and existing IT equipment are not compatible, the agency may find itself wasting money and not gaining the expected performance or capability. Finally, existing IT staff may not be familiar with custom CCTV stream sharing equipment, and if the agency elects to manage the system internally, it may find that IT personnel are unable to troubleshoot or maintain the system.
In sum, the procurement process must consider both IT and operations needs in order to develop a unified approach to ensure proper equipment, services, and infrastructure are procured.
Equipment and Network Maintenance
Successful CCTV stream sharing requires a solid end-to-end solution. This means that each stream generated by the field camera must travel with minimum latency back to the TMC to be used by operators, and then shared out to external entities in a scalable way that does not impact the video stream’s use in TMC operations. To achieve this, TMCs must procure, configure, operate, and actively maintain equipment and a network that support stream sharing.
Device and network configuration can vary in complexity depending on the age and diversity of field equipment and infrastructure, internal TMC needs, and desired stream sharing capabilities. If the agency is working with many different camera models and manufacturers and/or outdated camera equipment, the network and interfaces must support different transmission protocols, which makes the network and interface configuration more complicated.
For simple pan/tilt/zoom and video switching capabilities in the TMC, many agencies may use built-in advanced traffic management system (ATMS) functionality on their workstations. This means that incoming streams may be served to a set number of workstations and the configuration can be simple, although often inflexible because the ATMS is built to do a lot of things and may not necessarily be capable of providing a rich set of features specific to CCTV management. On the other hand, some TMCs look for a more flexible framework and web-based CCTV management and operations approach that allow more flexibility to pull up and control many streams at the same time or to power large video walls. This type of configuration can be more complex as it may require additional equipment and internal TMC network bandwidth to distribute video among many thin clients in the center.
TMC systems that rely on thick client CCTV management and streaming implementation often encounter larger challenges in sharing streams with external entities. Additional equipment is needed to move streams from the source through the TMC and out to external users. The network must be extended and secured, either using secure portals, so-called "demilitarized zones" (DMZs),3 or similar network segments. In cases where the TMC is relying on more flexible thin client architecture, sharing streams externally can be simplified as external entities can be considered to be just another target output. In this configuration, changes may be limited to opening specific network paths or network segments to provide read-only access to streams.
Agencies approach these tasks in several different ways using:
- In-house staff.
- Onsite consultants.
- Hosted solutions
The in-house staff approach is common for agencies with a robust IT staff, especially in cases where IT and operations are actively collaborating on building the CCTV stream sharing solution. An in-house staff generally has a good understanding of the agency mission and constraints, which makes these individuals effective in maintaining and operating equipment and networks. One of the challenges in this environment is in cases where in-house personnel are maintaining proprietary equipment that they may not be familiar with. This requires continuous training and reliance on vendor support. A more common situation is that agencies have smaller IT departments or a weak relationship between IT and operations, which make in-house staff maintenance of equipment and network difficult or even impossible. In these cases, it is common to see agencies hire consultants who are integrated with TMC staff onsite.
The benefit of onsite consultant staff is that they are integrated in the TMC environment, while having support of the consulting firm and focused expertise. This means that if equipment changes or the network must be reconfigured to accommodate a new use case, the consulting firm may be able to provide resources and expertise specific to those needs. These consultants work closely with agency staff to define and implement solutions.
Finally, some agencies opt to outsource the entire solution to a contractor. The benefit of this approach is that the contractor is responsible for deploying equipment, maintaining it, and pulling streams into their system, with the TMC only needing a network connection to consume streams for operations purposes. The contractor handles the process of sharing streams with external entities without needing the agency to modify its network or deal with equipment maintenance. This model is a popular one in the tech world today. Cloud-based services are becoming a norm due to benefits of offloading all of the operations and maintenance challenges and maintaining flexibility to expand (or contract) services as needed. The obvious down side is the loss of some control and direct ownership of equipment. In most cases, for agencies without a strong, established IT department or consultant support, hosted solutions are ideal.
Continuous Support Requirements
Most TMCs are operating 24 hours per day, 7 days per week (24/7) to ensure coverage and response to congestion and incidents at any time. Some States may operate multiple TMCs with reduced but offsetting hours to achieve 24/7 coverage. Because of this coverage requirement, most ATMS functions and CCTV streaming are operational and supported 24/7. However, CCTV stream sharing is not always considered to be a critical function, especially in cases of constrained budgets and resources. As agencies realize the value of stream sharing with partners and third parties, the importance of maintaining stream exporting grows. Neighboring jurisdictions may be relying on shared streams to support their 24/7 operations. For example, local agencies may use incoming shared streams to adjust arterial signal system timing or activity in the middle of the night if there is a major incident that closes significant portions of the main State-operated thoroughfare.
TMCs approach 24/7 support of stream sharing differently depending on the size and complexity of their sharing system, staffing levels, expertise, and capacity.
- No Support. Some TMCs just do not have sufficient staff or budget to support 24/7 stream sharing. In these instances, if the stream sharing system goes down, partner agencies and third parties lose access to agency streams until regular work hours or appropriate staff is available to address the issue. The impacts are widespread, including the lack of coordinated response, potential for increased congestion and incidents, and overall loss of trust between partners.
- Limited Support Using In-House Staff. Agencies that realize the importance of 24/7 stream sharing but have staff or budget constraints may setup limited support arrangements. In these instances, staff may be on rotational on-call duty, or a vendor/consultant may be on-call to address critical issues after hours. The extent of this support may be addressing several typical and well defined issues, with any more complex issues being left to be handled during regular hours.
- Continuous Support Using In-House Staff. In-house, full, 24/7 support is usually set up during the development of a CCTV stream sharing solution. This support arrangement may include a team of dedicated internal or consultant staff that is trained or has necessary expertise to troubleshoot networks, equipment, and software used for sharing. This type of arrangement is not typical as the cost associated with training and securing on-call support in-house is high.
- Hosted 24/7 Support. As agencies are increasingly relying on hosted solutions, they are finding that one major benefit is inclusion of hosted 24/7 support. Hosted CCTV stream sharing systems are based on equipment and infrastructure owned and hosted by a dedicated service provider, and part of the provider solution includes 24/7 support of the equipment and systems. This means that if there is an issue with the system, the TMC may not even be aware as the failovers, load balancing, and hardware maintenance that may be occurring behind the scenes on the service provider’s side, but the streams continue to be available.
By its nature, surveillance capabilities bring a host of legal considerations agencies must address. Some of the primary legal considerations include handling of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for access to archived or realtime streams and appropriate use of surveillance equipment to preserve public privacy.
For the most part agencies have been able to address these challenges with respect to operating cameras for transportation operations purposes. To reduce cost and the challenge of responding to FOIA requests, many agencies have opted not to store or archive video streams. Those that do archive video may have specific staff responsible for responding to FOIA requests. Many TMCs define standard operating procedures (SOPs) that govern how operators use incoming CCTV streams. These SOPs usually specify permitted use scenarios focused on surveilling traffic flow, incidents, etc. In many instances, agencies also implement physical limitations to the field equipment to prevent cameras from being positioned in ways that provide a view into private residences or non-transportation related areas.
While agencies have managed these typical legal implications related to normal use for many years, the legal implications associated with stream sharing are newer and more complex. This complexity lies in relinquishing some control over stream usage once the streams leave the TMC network. Agencies do not have direct control over how streams are used by partners and third parties. To address these concerns, agencies rely on memoranda of understanding (MOUs), open agreements, and service charges.
Memoranda of Understanding and Open Agreements
Agencies often develop MOUs with their sharing partners to support acceptable use and management of shared streams. MOUs vary in complexity but are generally meant to be simple and specific, allowing for quick agreement and limited protection when it comes to stream sharing. MOUs can address how shared streams can be used or specify unacceptable use of shared streams. While not typically legally binding, MOUs are a great tool to ensure mutual understanding between partner agencies while leveraging partner resources.
Open agreements are more formal in that they represent a contract whose terms do not constitute entire agreement between the sharing agency and its partners. Instead, open agreements may be focused specifically on CCTV stream sharing, where the agency wants to ensure it shares CCTV streams with its partners, but at the same time reserves the right to change the terms quickly to address any legal or privacy concerns.
MOUs and open agreements are sometimes accompanied by additional technical safeguards, such as specialized sharing portals and user or institutional permissions structures. For example, agencies may have MOUs with some partners and not others, or for some specific cameras and not others. To handle this, agencies may develop an access policy that specifies permissions that controls which cameras are shared with which partners. While these policies may require technical implementation, the real challenge is updating and maintaining the lists as cameras are added and removed and new sharing partners are included.
A number of agencies have noted that MOUs and other official agreements have been roadblocks to effective and open sharing. Almost any MOU or other agreement will require legal counsel to review the documents. This inevitably leads to delays, negotiations, and other issues that the two agencies signing the MOU need to work out. Additionally, some agreements may state that the signatory must agree to abide by the laws of a particular State. These types of agreements can kill multi-State video sharing efforts. (See the Virginia DOT Use Case in chapter 12 for a cautionary example of one such MOU).
Concepts of Operations as a Replacement for an MOU
Because of the issues with MOUs and other agreements mentioned above, some agencies have opted simply to develop a Concept of Operation (ConOps) for how video sharing should occur. The ConOps is high level in its description of the philosophy of sharing and avoids any legally binding language. When agencies decide they want to share video data with one another, they simply agree (either in writing or via handshake) to agree to the principles of the ConOps. An example of one such ConOps responsible for a major multi-State, multi-agency CCTV sharing initiative can be found in appendix A.
Most agencies do not charge their sharing partners for access to shared video feeds. This is to reduce barriers and encourage operational collaboration between agencies and agency partners. Many agencies also share their streams freely with third parties such as media and the public as part of the agency’s mission to keep the public informed of traffic conditions.
However, sharing costs and risks increase when sharing streams with external non-agency entities. Network access, large numbers of streams, stream quality, implementation of kill-switches, and other necessary adjustments for sharing with third parties introduces additional costs. While many agencies cover these costs as part of their operational budgets, others introduce fees for the streams sharing service to third parties. While the fees offset some of the cost of this implementation, the intent is not necessarily cost recovery.
The fee structure can take a couple of different forms:
- Flat fee. This approach sets a flat fee to access TMC video streams for media and third parties that may be redistributing them or otherwise commercializing them. The fee is not meant to offset the cost of sharing, but is meant to provide commitment from feed consumers to use streams in a responsible manner and potentially add value.
- HD stream fee. This approach usually provides TMC video streams of average or low quality free to third parties. This quality is usually sufficient for most normal uses. In addition to the free feeds, the agency may offer access to higher quality or HD streams for a fee. This fee provides cost recovery for additional hardware and bandwidth necessary to generate and distribute higher quality feeds. Third parties that require high quality streams, such as media outlets, get the benefit of better-looking video for their broadcasts at a fairly low cost.
The largest commercial consumers of TMC video streams are media outlets. TV and radio stations, especially in metropolitan areas, dedicate significant portions of their broadcasts to traffic updates. Morning and evening rush hours sometimes include traffic reports every 5–10 minutes. The market for this information is competitive, so media outlets are always looking for more and better information to share with their viewers and listeners. CCTV streams represent a great source of information for both TV and radio. TV news benefits from being able to not only observe live streams to get information, but also display those streams as part of their broadcast. People have significant visual capacity, and a quick 10-second live video of congestion, a lane closure, or road conditions can be sufficient for them to make commuting adjustments. As for radio, traffic reporters use a variety of information sources, including public and commercial traveler information websites, traveler calls to the station, public safety scanner radios, and, finally, streaming video. Streaming video can often provide more accurate and immediate information than any other sources of information.
Because media find such a great value and utility in streaming video, they are always looking for ways to obtain more streams at the lowest possible cost. Getting those streams from TMCs is a natural fit given the TMC’s mission both to operate the system and inform its customers. Media pressure to obtain more streams has caused many agencies to consider stream sharing even if they did not see a use case for sharing with partner agencies. Once TMCs made basic streams available to the media, many TV outlets found that high-quality streams look sharper and more attractive as a component of the live telecast. One way the agencies make this offering available to the media is by investing in additional infrastructure and equipment to enable higher quality streaming. Given that this investment primarily benefits the media, agencies will often attach a price tag associated with providing these high-quality feeds. The cost does not always offset the investment, but it accomplishes two goals: 1) it reduces the cost of providing this service, and 2) it ensures that the service is limited to only those that truly require it or can assist the agency in achieving its goal of better informing its customers. In some instances, the cost and fee can cover the cost of installing and maintaining CCTV stream sharing equipment and infrastructure, and in rare cases generate some profit that can be reinvested in system improvements of the system to provide more and better quality streams.
3 In computing, a DMZ is a section of a network that exists between the intranet and a public network, such as the Internet, to protect an intranet from external access. By separating the intranet from hosts that can be accessed outside a local network (LAN), internal systems are protected from unauthorized access outside the network. [ Return to note 3. ]