MTA Board Could OK Anti-Terrorism CCTV System with TSA Funds

3996697625_c9ce62072d.jpgA surveillance camera at the Mariposa station of Muni's T-Third Street light rail line. Flickr photo: Troy Holden

Though it won't help with the problem of cameras on buses failing to record fights and stabbings, the MTA could authorize cameras meant to thwart terror threats on the Muni Metro at its board meeting Tuesday.

MTA staff will ask the agency's board of directors to approve a $230,030 contract with Alta Consulting Services, Inc. for the design of a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system in the Muni Metro subway. Alta (not to be confused with Alta Planning & Design) would be responsible for developing a master plan for the project and overseeing the installation of the system once the MTA selects a separate firm to install it.

The CCTV master plan is being funded by the Department of Homeland Security's Transit Security Administration (TSA) through its Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP), which was created to fund projects that protect transit systems' critical infrastructure from terrorism. Subway systems are an especially high priority for the TSA.

Since the grant is specifically for the CCTV system, the MTA can't use it to fix its existing in-vehicle cameras, which have come under heavy scrutiny lately after camera failures during several high-profile incidents, including a brutal stabbing on a Muni bus and an LRV crash at West Portal station. In both instances, on-board cameras were broken and failed to provide video. The MTA is now scrambling to make sure all cameras on its buses and light rail vehicles are working properly, but that work will remain out of the scope of the CCTV system planning.

The MTA received the TGSP funds in October 2008. In addition to their anti-terrorism focus, TGSP grants cannot be used for in-house staff costs, including in-house planning and project oversight. The MTA selected Alta from among four other firms that responded to its request for proposals for the project in February. The contract requires Alta to complete the master planning and system design phases of the project within the first two months after the contract is officially approved. The next two phases, contract selection and installation, are to be scheduled for completion no more than ten months later.

Alta is also required to provide the MTA with guidance for selecting a firm to install the CCTV system, including any new cameras Alta determines are needed. While the cost of creating a master plan and overseeing its installation is already being covered by the TSA, it is still not clear whether TSA funds will cover the installation itself.

MTA spokesperson Judson True said Muni does already have some cameras in place in the subway stations, but he wasn't able to describe the extent of the current system. It's not yet clear whether the MTA expects the new cameras will help with more conventional security concerns, like assaults and theft, nor whether they'll be actively monitored.