A first-of-its-kind system to detect suicide attempts along railroad tracks will be piloted in Palo Alto. The Suicide and Accident Intervention System, which was developed by Sunnyvale-based CSC Integrations specifically for detecting suicide-related behaviors, has already gone through a beta-testing period in March and April. The Palo Alto City Council approved funding for the system for a 60-day pilot period on June 27.
The pilot, which will cost $207,025, is focused on the East Meadow Caltrain crossing. It covers about 1,000 feet to both the north and south using color video cameras, thermal cameras and sensors.
The data is processed by an artificial-intelligence system, but the city will separately pay CSC Integrations to provide human monitoring of the video feed during the 60-day trial. The active monitoring will occur between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m., but the company and city staff will test the system at other times as well, according to a city manager's report.
Company owner Jason Jenkins said the technology has proved promising, with zero false alarms.
"I'm very excited. If we can save a life, it is so worth it," he said.
The price tag could be considerably less than the approximately $800,000 a year the city has paid out for guards at five locations. The security guard program has been marred by missing guards and the arrests of some who engaged in criminal behavior, such as residential burglary, while on the job.
But the city is not removing the security guards, at least not at this time. The City Council recently approved a more than $1 million contract with Cypress Security through the end of the year.
Jenkins said the electronic-surveillance system is highly promising. It understands the different behaviors of pedestrians and bicyclists who are legitimately crossing the tracks and persons who are contemplating suicide, the latter who do such things as loiter.
When the cameras and sensors recognize the pattern of behavior, they send out either a high alert or low alert, depending on how imminent the danger is. The information goes to the city's 911 dispatch center and to train controllers, who can respond or stop the train, Jenkins said. The system can also send a photo of what it detected.
Fence-mounted detectors are also available, but they are not being used at the Palo Alto site at this time, Jenkins said.
If the pilot is successful, the system could be used along the entire length of the city.
The contract is sole sourced, since no other existing technologies meet the city's requirements, the city manager's report stated.
Motion-detection systems are currently used throughout the country to identify criminal and terrorist threats, such as at military installations. The software is capable of classifying objects as people, vehicles and watercraft, and it eliminates background interference such as vegetation moving in the wind, rain and lighting changes.
The 60-day pilot will be operational as soon as the city and CSC Integrations agree the system is functioning and stable, according to the city manager's report.