Keeping People Connected: The Importance of Understanding Basic Networking

INTERSECT17, GRIDSMART’s annual high-tech transportation event, started out with a riveting day of training with distributors and end-users from around the world. While there are intense discussions this week about cybersecurity and the intricacies of keeping the bad guys out, sometimes it’s important to go back to basics and not take for granted those areas with smaller budgets that are now taking their transportation systems into a connected and networked world.

For this reason, Steve Atkins, Traffic Systems/IT Field Engineer with Northeast Signal based in Elbridge, New York, hosted a session entitled, “Intro to Networking in ITS,” to make sure that there is a base-level of knowledge for those regions expanding their traffic systems.

“Not everybody came up through the ranks and learned the same skills the same way,” says Atkins. “Technology continues to evolve at breakneck speed and it’s extremely important for transportation professionals in our interconnected world to understand the basics of networks and how to keep them secure.”

He pointed out that many smaller to mid-sized cities and regions began to build networks with limited budgets, pieced together over time without the benefit of dedicated IT support. Often times, it was the best that could be done in the moment, but now that we are moving toward connected and autonomous vehicles, those networks are going to expand exponentially with a dramatic increase in data.

He says, “Imagine a network as a room full of 100 people. It would be easier to identify a bad actor or device if you put 20 people into 4 smaller rooms. That’s why designing smaller, more efficient networks is critical to maintaining safety, but a lot of networks have never been planned out. They were just put together, piece by piece.”

Atkins said it will be critical moving forward to have IT departments become true partners in the planning of traffic information networks, which traditionally has not been the case. As our intersections and traffic boxes create and communicate more data, it will be imperative that these public safety devices are protected like other networks within government, because the whole system is only as strong as its weakest point.

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