Cleared for Takeoff

Examining the expanding role of video security in airport environments

NOW approaching the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the need for constant vigilance at the nation's airports is as important today as in those first harrowing days of the aftermath. Along with a human security presence and a host of special procedures, video surveillance can play a vital role in maintaining the safety of airport environments. When properly implemented and employing the latest security camera features, monitoring software and accessories, video observation of secure areas can contribute greatly to maintaining the security of airports.

When properly implemented and employing the latest security camera features, monitoring software and accessories, video observation of secure areas can contribute greatly to maintaining the security of airports.

A great advantage of today's advanced video monitoring technology is that it's unobtrusive. Large, conspicuous cameras have been made unnecessary by a new generation of compact cameras that can not only capture sharp, clear, full-motion images even in low-light situations, but also provide remote controllable PTZ functions, motion detection and sophisticated networkability via a LAN or the Internet. Known as network video cameras, they include models with built-in servers for additional image storage versatility, two-way audio and the ability to pre-set a routine of viewing angles.

"We like Canon's network video cameras for the clarity of their images, even in low light," said Will Ferris, president of Dotworkz, a San Diego-based IP camera system design firm. "It's proven to be preferable to our customers because it's a non-enhanced image. They tend to like that a little bit better because it is not as 'grainy' as an enhanced image."

Viewing Software
Many of today's cameras offer all of the capabilities already listed and include two stationary models with PoE to simplify installation. Fixed and PTZ cameras offer a wide range of sophisticated software options for remote, real-time monitoring of single or multiple cameras on one or more screens through the use of both bundled and optional software. Video also can be digitally stored for immediate, nonlinear retrieval on external servers.

"The days of having one person looking at 30 different cameras and studying them to figure out what's going on are gone," Ferris said. "It's becoming a lot more automated now, especially with the network video cameras."

The bundled software included with some network video cameras allows for the instant downloading of audio and video from the camera's internal server. Canon's Administrator software makes it possible to take over camera controlling rights from another user or override visible range limits to control the camera.

For facilities that require more sophisticated software to accommodate more cameras, there are software packages available that can record video from up to 64 cameras simultaneously to a single storage server. Packages like this can manage three storage servers with a single viewer, allowing users to manage recorded video from a total of 192 cameras. Recorded video clips also can be exported into a separate video file for e-mailing or viewing on another computer. And because this video is recorded onto hard drives, archiving and search functions are greatly enhanced.

Monitoring software is loaded with optimal features that let users construct a sophisticated remote monitoring environment simply and comfortably. The software allows a user to remotely monitor and control cameras from various locations, including via cell phone, PDA or laptop.

Protecting the Cameras
Inside an airport terminal, constant comfortable temperatures and adequate light levels provide a welcoming environment for video security cameras. Outside the terminal, cameras can be subject to harsh weather and temperature extremes. Fortunately, there are a number of solutions to keep the electronics of video cameras in a comfortable temperature range and the lenses of these cameras clear and capable of capturing every detail.

Heat, cold, moisture and wind can all impair the performance of an externally-mounted video camera. Since even a modest-size airport facility can include dozens of secure external doorways, stairways, concealed entrances, storage nooks and other areas requiring observation, it's essential that multiple cameras be deployed. To keep externally-mounted cameras functioning properly, a number of manufacturers offer special enclosures that not only protect cameras from rain, snow, ice and vandalism, but also heat them in winter and cool them in summer.

"At temperatures over 105 degrees Fahrenheit., most cameras are programmed to go into thermal shutdown," Ferris said. "Right now, our Cooldome protects the camera system in temperatures up to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63 degrees Celsius), which is far beyond the safe operating limits of most network and analog cameras."

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dotworkz's Ring of Fire dome is designed for camera operations in severe cold climates. Patented deicing/defrosting circuits remove snow and ice from the dome that obstruct camera view. The Dotworkz Ring of Fire provides a heated interior that prevents cameras from freezing and allows full mobility of PTZ functions under the harshest weather conditions, even as cold as -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

New, Improved Features for New and Improved Roles
Ferris sees the newest features of PTZ cameras as expanding their potential role in high-security areas.

"The cameras now can essentially act like 30 or so static cameras by going into preset tour mode, which they do nicely," he said. "With the preset locations and the motion detection, you can have PTZ cameras scanning bigger areas, and they then become more valuable than static cameras."

Some cameras can conduct "tours," where the camera automatically moves from one preset viewing angle to another at specified intervals. A tour can be continuous or conducted on demand. In an airport setting, however, it is better for the intervals and tours to be less predictable, the better to eliminate the possibility of someone learning the pattern of movement.

The role of network video surveillance in airport security is a vital one, but it's not the only solution. Metal detectors, biometric scanning, X-rays and human security patrols are all crucial aspects of having total security. Cameras can help to catch the things that the other safety measures might miss or to catch deliberate attempts to circumvent them. Proper monitoring of archived footage also can also help spot unusual activity that can indicate a security concern.

"Obviously, the awareness levels have changed," Ferris said. "We are more aware of what steps need to be taken to be safe, and we are paying close attention to system design and camera placement. These types of high-security applications require the highest level of camera performance possible."

This article originally appeared in the September 2006 issue of Security Products, pgs. 42-43.


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