The Frontline Report

How today's technologies are being implemented in the nation's airports to keep Americans safe

WHEN homeland security issues are raised, more often than not the discussion begins with airport security. With millions of passengers -- many arriving from or departing to foreign destinations -- and tons of baggage and cargo passing through our commercial airports each day, maintaining security is a daunting challenge.

Often overlooked among debates over permitting scissors or cigarette lighters on board an aircraft is the close cooperation developed between the federal government and the security industry.

One program, known as the Airport Access Control Pilot Program, takes advantage of the experience of those in private industry. This $25 million project is designed to identify new and evolving security technologies and test them to see how they perform in a working airport.

After two years, the project has tested various technologies in nearly 20 airports. The project is due for completion in the first half of this year. The government, through the Transportation Security Administration, will then approve solutions that are successfully implemented, and airport officials can then select those solutions for their facilities.

Video Surveillance
Automated video surveillance software is due to play a large role in helping protect airports. A project currently underway for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Boston's Logan International Airport, will use a video intrusion detection system to help monitor the airport's waterfront perimeter.

The system includes the installation of fixed and dome cameras, along with infrared cameras capable of detecting intruders at night and during poor weather conditions. The cameras will integrate with automated surveillance software that will trigger an audible alarm when violations of security rules, such as movement in restricted areas, are detected. The software will provide full-time monitoring of incoming video signals, which can enhance the performance of onsite security personnel by permitting them to extend their coverage to other areas of concern.

The completed system also will feature a wireless network that can provide security staff with firewalled, secure command-and-control capabilities through a wireless, Web-enabled remote management system.

Stereo Optical Tracking
Other airports are employing another system to help security personnel better determine when unauthorized personnel enter a restricted area. The system uses stereo optical tracking with machine vision technology to provide real-time video that is tied into an airport's existing access control system. This combined system can better distinguish between people and objects to help determine if unauthorized personnel enter secure areas through doorways using practices commonly referred to as tailgating or piggybacking.

Tailgating occurs when one authorized person holds the protected door open for another person that he or she knows or perceives to be authorized. This practice completely removes the authorization system from the process and circumvents the system's ability to reject a revoked or counterfeit pass or badge.

Another form of unauthorized entry is piggybacking, which can occur at heavily used doors, such as in an airport baggage area, when unauthorized personnel slip though the door behind authorized personnel. The system also alerts security personnel if a person tries to block a door from completely closing in order to enter once the area is clear.

Microwave Technology
In a report last spring, the Department of Homeland Security cited airport passenger exits as one of the weak points in airport security. A new security system uses video and microwave technologies to monitor these exits for possible security breeches. The system targets intruders attempting to bypass airport security checkpoints by going the wrong way through an airport exit, or those who attempt to throw weapons or other objects to an accomplice waiting on the other side.

Detecting movement, the system uses microwave technology to scan for people or objects traveling in the wrong direction. If spotted, the system erupts with flashing lights and a loud alarm warning that a security breech has occurred. Simultaneously, video surveillance cameras provide live and recorded video of the breech to airport police, giving them instantaneous access to the suspect's image. Today, with so many airport police equipped with wireless PDAs, the images can be quickly disseminated to officers throughout the airport, aiding in apprehension efforts.

RFID Technology
There also is work underway to help improve security at the nation's general aviation airports through the use of RFID technology. To help monitor the ground movement of private aircraft, an RFID tag is installed in a registered aircraft. Additionally, each person authorized to handle that aircraft carries an associated RFID card.

RFID tag readers, housed in pillar-like construction with a rechargeable battery and wireless modem transceiver powered by an outdoor solar panel, are strategically placed around the airport. The RFID tags located on the aircraft and in the cards assigned to aircraft personnel emit an encrypted signal that is read by the RFID readers and communicated back to the system's software -- helping to identify an aircraft as it moves about the airport.

If an RFID-tagged aircraft relocates from one protected area to another, or moves completely out of a protected area without an associated authorized personnel tag, the software immediately identifies this as a misuse and generates an alarm. These alarms are communicated to a nationwide monitoring network, which then contacts the owner, airport officials and/or law enforcement agencies.

These are just several examples of how the security industry has stepped forward to work with federal officials to create new products and find new applications for existing technology in order to better secure our airports.


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