Reaching New Heights

Advancing video technologies are poised to meet emerging application needs

Security challenges in the airport environment are likely to increase rather than decrease over time. The trends toward more passengers, traffic and frequent flights also will mean more people, baggage and airplanes to watch and protect.

To meet demands of increased capacity, many airports are expanding. That means more square footage, more entrances to watch and more overall security. All of these factors suggest a robust opportunity for the video surveillance market in the airport arena.

IP Obstacles

The much-discussed industry transition to IP video has yet to substantially affect airport security systems. One reason is that current IP technology is challenged by the airport market’s need for active video monitoring. Airports are one of the few applications where someone is monitoring 50 to 100 cameras live at one time, which represents a system configuration that is more expensive to create using an IP solution versus an analog system. While costs are coming down, fulfilling such an application using IP still involves additional hardware.

Another obstacle to IP surveillance in airports is the need for a video stream to be 100 percent secure, with zero chance of anyone tapping into the airport’s network infrastructure to access a camera. For security purposes, there must be no possibility, for example, of crossing the airport’s video data stream with its enterprise data stream or of someone hacking into the system. The IP networks have to be separate and secure. Doing such an installation securely is a challenge that needs to be overcome—and soon.

Despite these obstacles, and the familiarity and entrenchment of analog technology in airports, the transition to IP still needs to happen, if for no other reason than because availability of replacement analog cameras will eventually diminish. As the transition occurs in the next several years, it will be yet another factor that suggests a big and looming opportunity for additional business for dealers and integrators in the airport market.

Secured vs. Non-Secured Areas

Video applications can be broken into several areas in a typical airport, each with its own set of security and surveillance concerns. For example, security systems for areas regulated by the TSA are separate from areas that are not TSA-secured.

Mandated security upgrades in TSA-regulated areas have been largely completed, including video cameras used to view waiting lines in the screening areas. The limited opportunities to provide additional technology in these areas will mostly consist of higher-end video analytics, for example to prevent tailgating, to confirm that TSA employees follow procedures or to monitor the agency’s new expedited screening initiative.

Interior security at airports is easier than securing the large outdoor areas. The need to view wide expanses of outdoor areas increases the value of high-powered zoom cameras and lenses that provide high-resolution images. If coverage of a property is limited to cameras that can be mounted on a building, those cameras need to be able to cover a large area, perform well in low light, and function despite harsh weather conditions such as wind, lightning, freezing temperatures and hail. Infrared cameras that capture views in the dark are also useful.

In the tarmac areas, there are opportunities to install additional cameras to expand coverage, driven mostly by publicity concerns triggered by recent news events of runway incidents, passenger misbehavior and baggage-handling issues. The need to serve these areas is driven more by perception than by real security risks. Getting on a plane without a ticket is a rare event, thus a minimal threat, but news coverage can drive an urgent desire to “solve” the problem.

Applications to Watch

Although much of the airport security spending goes to secured areas, interest has also grown for boosting security in non-secured areas, such as passenger drop-off points. In some smaller airports, the facility may allow the airlines themselves to provide video coverage in public areas, such as around ticket areas and baggage claim areas. As a whole, however, airlines are cutting costs and do not have cash on hand for such expenditures.

Especially attractive applications for airport security include areas where additional video surveillance or other technology could help lessen the need for security staff. In passenger drop-off areas, for example, video analytics could identify when a car has been parked too long and augment the efforts of a security or police officer patrolling the area. Considering cost-justification and the chance to realize a return on investment (ROI) for video surveillance, the ability to use fewer staff to patrol an area represents low-hanging fruit.

Video analytics also could be used to identify a package left behind by sending an alert to security to check the situation after a predetermined amount of time. Loitering analytics could provide an alert if someone has been hanging around an exit door for longer than a specified time period. These applications are more valuable in non-secure areas where such events are more likely to occur.

Several emerging video surveillance applications are related to packages, boxes or baggage. It’s now possible, for example, to match a bag or box to a certain person based on the shape of that person as determined by intelligent video. This capability is helpful to monitor whether a bag has been handed off or picked up by someone else. The technology has been demonstrated, but real installations have not yet been realized or made public. Another useful technology is the use of vectoring, which can identify if someone is walking in the wrong direction, such as against the traffic flow.

In some airports, unauthorized taxis or limos picking up passengers can pose a safety problem, and remote video can help to manage the situation. Using video as a tool to manage the problem is a cost-effective approach that minimizes the need for staff while ensuring the safety of airport passengers.

In the area of customer service, using video analytics for crowd control and maintenance can boost customer service efficiency by, for example, identifying if a ticket line is stalled or if there are a lot of people waiting. Using video in this way extends its value beyond the realm of security to position it as a management tool that can improve business operations. Such benefits can also contribute to ROI, especially if they can be combined with a security benefit.

The next wave of video technologies installed at airports could be used for advertising purposes. For example, a camera could analyze a person’s age and gender as he or she walks by and enable an integrated advertising display monitor to customize the marketing message to the identified demographic. Such applications could become more commonplace—there are already live applications in Europe and Asia—and they could be coming soon to an airport (or street) near you.

Start With High-quality Equipment

These emerging applications have at least one thing in common—they all depend on highquality and dependable video images. A good video infrastructure, including quality cameras that provide superior, high-resolution images, is absolutely critical to realizing the potential for new applications. For that matter, high-quality equipment is also necessary to meet the basic goals of an airport surveillance system.

As airports begin to transition to IP video or as new systems are needed for airport expansion, buyers should invest intelligently in high-end equipment, both to ensure realization of current needs and to pave the way for tomorrow’s new technologies. Choosing lowerquality cameras now could negatively impact an airport’s ability to perform analytics in the future. It also might later require additional investment to upgrade equipment, an avoidable cost if the investment in quality is made now. Integrators are much better off quoting better equipment first, with an eye toward employing future analytics solutions.

Higher-resolution cameras—such as those with megapixel imagers—offer the best option for the success of smarter video systems in the future. Higher-definition cameras provide greater image detail. Better images can help to discredit personal injury cases or other false claims of liability and are vital to a successful prosecution in court. Another advantage is the ability to use higher-resolution cameras to cover larger areas, which can contribute to lower overall system costs.

Cameras have to perform despite extreme lighting conditions in airports, where large glass windows are the norm. Stark differences between white and black levels in video images can obliterate the faces or other details of a subject in a darker area. The problem is particularly obvious if someone is standing with his back to the sun amid darker internal lighting. Cameras mounted indoors to view outdoor activity also are a challenge.

These lighting challenges can have a practical and negative impact on the effectiveness of video surveillance systems installed for airport applications. Video details lost to the dark areas of an image because of lighting variations can make all the difference in whether a suspicious character can be identified or even whether faces are visible when someone commits a crime.

Cameras that provide wider dynamic range can provide better video in extreme lighting conditions. The camera can see the darker areas clearly, which might include the face of someone coming through the glass door at an airport. An image-processing technology called Adaptive Black Stretch can transform dark areas into natural-looking, high-contrast images like those seen by the human eye.

Cameras for airport applications should be easy to install and maintain. Access is limited to the secure areas of an airport, so installers need to get in and out quickly. Limited access also complicates maintenance calls, so the less maintenance a camera needs in these applications, the better.

Having automatic back focus (ABF) on a camera can help because it enables the service provider to focus the camera remotely, reducing the cost of time and travel and the need to work in secured areas. ABF also can minimize the time it takes an integrator to install a system.

Ready for Take Off

You can already see the signs of business slowly increasing in the airport vertical. The big spike in airport business that was expected several years ago never happened and was probably stalled by funding limitations at many municipalities—which partially fund airports—and a slower-than-expected trickle-down of federal money. However, indicators point to an imminent uptick in airport business. The latest video surveillance technology is poised to offer a whole new range of benefits when it happens.

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Security Today.


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