Even before the Olympic events get started, Athens Olympics organizers are engaged in their own tight race. One deadline after another has been revised with days to go before the opening ceremonies. Critics have been scolding the organizers for months about construction delays, and vendors responsible for the unprecedented security project complain that the extended construction schedules reduce their own abilities to install, debug, and deploy their systems.
To make matters worse, Athens' utility grid suffered a massive blackout this past July 12, underscoring the fragile combination of intense heat and the aging power infrastructure. Emergency backup generators are ready to jump in and handle sporadic loss of power during the Olympics. But a major breakdown that leaves critical security systems either severely degraded or inoperable is a nightmare scenario that no one wants to experience.
Modern security systems rely on electrical power, wired and wireless networking, and quick physical response. Perhaps there's no better example than the traffic management system Athens has put in place to handle Olympics-related highway flows and the famous Athens traffic jams. In essence, the system is meant to quickly detect any disruption in traffic flow and automatically compensate by rerouting traffic. Time is clearly of the essence because a delayed reaction could easily lead to classic gridlock.
Whether the problem is terrorist-caused or simply a vehicle that has stalled or run out of fuel, the system and its over 200 closed-circuit TV cameras, 24 variable message signs, 700 in-ground loop detectors, and 75 video-detection systems are designed to mitigate it.
The system's central software is Siemens' SI-Traffic Concert. Incoming data is transmitted to the Concert system, which analyzes and processes it and displays traffic conditions using a graphical user interface. Decision-making algorithms determine how best to handle the problem, using the variable-message signs, changing signal routines at junctions, and alerting appropriate first-response authorities. The existing highway system was extensively renovated to present more options for managing traffic.
A key part of the system is the video-detection system, called "Autoscope." It detects speeds, vehicle densities, vehicle types, stopped vehicles, and those traveling the wrong way. Image data from Autoscope's 75 cameras, which are mounted on 14-meter high metal poles, is sent via fiber-optic network to the two control centers. Processed data from Autoscope is then integrated into the Concert data stream.
This system will go a long way toward making traffic flow into and out of Olympic venues more efficient and less polluting. But when they plug it in and turn it on, will they have power?