Tri-City hockey crowds to be taped for U.S. security research

Tri-City HeraldSeptember 13, 2013 

RICHLAND — Hockey fans at the season opener of the Tri-City Americans will have a chance to help the U.S. Department of Homeland Security improve its facial recognition capabilities.

Video will be taped by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory at the Sept. 21 game in a portion of the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

It is planned to be used by the U.S. government to test the capabilities of facial recognition software that is available or in the prototype stage.

Eventually, state-of-the-art facial recognition technologies could be used to identify terrorists and criminals in public areas, according to the national lab in Richland. The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate works to make technology available to agencies ranging from local police offices to the U.S. Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

PNNL previously has collected video at the Toyota Center for work with the Department of Homeland Security. But past video either has not captured members of the public or has been too low resolution to identify faces.

Hockey fans who don’t want to be on the video will be given options to avoid the cameras.

No video will be shot in the arena and signs will be set up in the corridors around the arena to direct people to areas without cameras. PNNL staff will be available to answer questions.

PNNL has purchased 46 seats at the arena to make sure walking areas are clear for those who don’t want their video captured, said PNNL engineer Marcia Kimura. Information explaining the project also has been mailed to season ticket holders.

“If they didn’t want to be videotaped, they could very easily not be videotaped,” said Nick Lombardo, a PNNL project manager.

Multiple cameras, bought off shelves in the Tri-Cities, will be set up in the main entrance, the hallway between sections S and W and at the concession stand at section W.

It’s not the public’s faces that PNNL is interested in capturing. Rather, they're trying to detect PNNL staffers in the crowd.

“Basically the crowd is background,” Kimura said.

Twenty PNNL staff members will be at the game to see how many times the detection software can find them and match them with already-shot still photos of them.

Half have been told to just do what they’d normally do at the game. But others have been given instructions to walk in a particular direction around the concourse at certain times or stand in line at a concession stand.

All will wear monitoring ankle bracelets that will signal when they are close enough to a monitor to potentially allow their face to be recognized.

That will help researchers know at what point on a video that detection technology could be able to find them.

PNNL will collect video to reflect different conditions that could test the capabilities of detection technology. The cameras will be placed at different heights to get high and low angles of faces and they will collect video in areas with different lighting. It also wants to get videos of crowds walking mostly in the same direction, such as at the end of the game, and crowds in which people are walking in the corridor in both directions, such as between periods.

In addition, a concession stand test is planned of people standing in straight lines and in a serpentine queue.

The video will be used to see how many of the 20 PNNL faces the technology can pick out of the crowd and also how many times the video picks out the face of a random member of the public.

That means a hockey fan’s face could be incorrectly identified as the person for whom the video is searching. However, no names of people will be collected, said Patty Wolfhope, program manager at the Department of Homeland Security. And only government researchers, not the technology developers, will see the video.

The season opener between the Americans and Spokane Chiefs could be the first of several tests, including more at Toyota Center games later in the season and possibly at another location.

PNNL may need to collect more videos showing different conditions, including some with longer lines than might be found at Toyota Center games.

The Toyota Center agreed to be the site for the video, one of several projects it has helped PNNL with in recent years.

“I think it’s in our best interest to help facilitate the development of the technology,” said Cory Pearson, executive director of VenuWorks, which operates the center. “It’s in everybody’s best interest.”

Lower-resolution video was collected at hockey games at the Toyota Center in 2008 for Department of Homeland Security work to develop screening for explosives, and improvements in explosive screening could improve security at public places, such as sports complexes. The current work could provide information that is valuable as facilities are designed to best handle crowds, Pearson said.

The video that is collected at the game and future events will provide a set database, allowing an apples-to-apples comparison of the performance of different facial recognition technologies, Lombardo said. The project may not only help the Department of Homeland Security assess the readiness of technology available, but also help it inform developers on where improvements could be made.

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