At this weekend’s Final Four college basketball tournament, sophisticated technology is in place to help public safety officials monitor crowds, vehicles, social networks and unauthorized drones from a command center at an undisclosed location in downtown Phoenix.
An array of thousands of cameras and other sensors are already in place across public venues and roadways in the Phoenix area. The games will take take place Saturday night and Monday night at the University of Phoenix Stadium in suburban Glendale, Ariz., nine miles from downtown.
In the stadium alone, more than 700 video cameras are likely to be used to monitor vendors and crowds. Thousands more video cameras and motions sensors are ready to watch vehicles on highways and crowds at 20 Final Four special events, at the four hotels where college teams are lodging and in parking areas.
Public safety officials used the video cameras, sensors and related technology to monitor social networks and drone activity at two major public events in the Phoenix area in the past year, according to public safety experts who spoke to Computerworld. It is very possible the FBI and area police departments will rely on that same technology and analytics software this weekend to make decisions should any major emergency occur.
In Saturday's Final Four games, the Gonzaga Bulldogs defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks, while the North Carolina Tar Heels beat the Oregon Ducks.
Tonight, UNC faces off against Gonzaga for the NCAA championship at 9:20 p.m.
Public safety officials in the command-and-control center will monitor and react to metadata from these video feeds, as well as to data from various sensors. They will also watch social networking feeds, tracking posts by certain people and groups associated with terrorist and criminal activities.
Officials will also be able to track radio communications to and from unauthorized drones near the stadium and other venues, then focus cameras on the drones. They will then be able to hack into radio communications to those drones and take control of them and move them out of the way, said Chris Jensen, director of critical infrastructure, investigations and intelligence (CI3) for Hitachi Data Systems.
Jensen is a former undercover detective, intelligence analyst and systems administrator for technology surveillance for the Phoenix Police Department, where he worked for 20 years.
Hitachi can provide a suite of software for major events like the Final Four to aggregate data from disparate security cameras, sensors, and related systems into a command-and-control center on a real-time basis. These different stovepipes of data include the stadium's video system, disparate 911 systems, video from Glendale and the Arizona Department of Transportation, as well as drone detection and information from social media that can indicate a threat, Jensen said in an interview.
"The Final Four threat matrix ticks off a lot of boxes that we in security worry about," Jensen said. "It's an international event that millions watch -- in addition to 70,000 at the actual event. "
While the Final Four is not a controversial event that would bring protests, Jensen said there is still the lone wolf threat that is studied by intelligence officials globally.
"With lone wolf actors, there's always a threat," Jensen said. "As technology and intel gets better, our industry is trying to provide tools for pros to identify those threats and take action before things escalate."
No current credible threats at Final Four
At a news conference in Glendale earlier this week, Mike DeLeon, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Phoenix Field Office, confirmed that there is "no current credible threat against any of the games or events this week, but we are asking fans to remain vigilant and if you see something, say something."
That statement was still accurate at 2 p.m. ET Friday, according to Jill McCabe, an FBI public affairs specialist for the Phoenix Field Office.
DeLeon said the FBI is providing manpower, intelligence reporting, analytics assessments and emergency response capabilities if called upon. He said the joint terrorism task force has worked for the past six months and will continue to work "to make sure the games and events are secure."
Glendale Police Chief Rick St. John said the area would be put in lockdown starting Friday, lasting four days. "Security will be of the highest importance during the entire weekend," he said.
The city of Glendale has budgeted more than $1 million for its costs in securing the Final Four, but expects its costs could be lower because the stadium and city have experience hosting mega-events like the Super Bowl in 2008 and 2015. From those previous events, they know, for instance, where extra manpower is not needed and where security cameras may be lightened a bit.
Public safety officials wouldn't comment in detail on all the technology being used to secure the Final Four, but several officials said they have been working for months to make sure everything is safe.
Analyzing "sheer volume of data"
Jensen said one of the biggest technology challenges with securing a major sporting event like the Final Four is "the sheer volume of data" being collected. When monitoring video and social networking data, "it's impossible to sift through everything."
Hitachi has provided its suite of software to other large stadiums and major U.S. cities like Washington where gunshot noise sensors are used to respond more quickly to shootings.
To narrow the data from social networks, Hitachi's customers may set a geo-fence on searches of social network posts to within 5 miles of the stadium, for instance. "In Glendale, I wouldn't care if somebody in Montreal tweeted about a bomb, perhaps," Jensen explained. "But I could say, 'Give me anybody who says these certain words within five miles or 50 miles of this point.'"
Officials can also build out a threat matrix for social networks that would rely on persistent automated searches, he said. For example, 10 people might be talking about a fight breaking out at the University of Phoenix Stadium, which could trigger an alert.
With video data, thousands of video streams can't efficiently be managed from a central command post, so tiny edge computers located near cameras can forward less bulky metadata to centralized servers. Software can then sort the metadata for facial recognition and license plate recognition.
Jensen couldn't confirm if that level of detail will be used extensively for the Final Four, but the capability exists.
"License plate recognition is an easier analytic than facial recognition," he said.
"The whole idea is to push analytics to as close to the network edge as possible, with the majority of the work done at the camera level," Jensen said. "If you were sending back all the video data it would add latency to the network and you'd need banks and banks of servers to collect and store it all."
Detecting unauthorized drones
Hitachi's software also potentially can be used at the Final Four and nearby to intercept radio controls for unauthorized drones, Jensen said. The technology exists to take control of that drone and move it to a safe location after focusing a video feed on the device to determine if it is a threat, he said.
"Some drones are very small and are used to take pictures, but we would be able to tell it if a drone has, for example, a payload of five pounds and a flight duration of 30 minutes, which means I need to worry about that," Jensen added.
To detect drones and their size, Hitachi has also relied on third-party technology that can analyze the radio spectrum signature being used by a particular flying drone. That information can be compared to a database to determine the drone's size and then evaluate its threat potential.
"Lately we've been concentrating on the commercial drone market because ISIS is going more toward commercial drones since they are cheap and have more payload capacity," Jensen said.
Analyzing data from many sources
Hitachi's software can cost from $100,000 to millions of dollars, depending on the size of the deployment. One city recently said it wants to use the software to monitor sensors on water supply pipes, to receive an alert if a pipe has been breached. A breach could indicate a terrorist attack to add a poisonous substance to a water supply.
"We can monitor data streams from almost any subsystem, from social media to radar systems to gunshot detectors," Jensen said.