Airports adopt new technologies for advanced security
- By John Becker
- Sep 19, 2007
IN recent years, airports have been
pushed to invest an unprecedented
amount of money and time into security.
These facilities can take numerous
technological measures to combat
security risks. This includes card readers
with highly accurate credentials for ensuring
the identity of employees, video analytics
for early detection of suspicious behavior
and digital video recording for visual
evidence of suspects in question.
To that end, the Transportation Security
Administration is issuing a uniform credential
for transportation workers to tighten
security and eliminate the need for multiple,
redundant background checks. The
TWIC program is designed to improve
identity management—through end-to-end
credentialing—identity proofing and identity
vetting. This will apply to all personnel
whose duties require unescorted physical
and/or computer access to secure areas of a
Under TWIC guidelines, employees are
only issued a key card after a face-to-face
meeting with an authorized airline agent,
who collects biographical data, such as I9
documentation, as well as biometric data—
such as fingerprints and photographs.
Users select an eight-digit PIN at that time.
The card tightly binds the cardholder
through three-factor authentication—who
they are (photo identification and fingerprint
identification), what they have (key
card) and what they know (PIN).
To that end, some airports have already
implemented similar measures. For example,
Little Rock, Ark., National Airport was
among the first to deploy a combined smart
card and biometric fingerprint reader solution
to ensure tight control of employee
movement within the facility.
Smart Card/Biometric Solution
The Little Rock airport deployed Software
House® C•CURE® 800/8000 and iSTAR
controllers, a scalable security management
solution encompassing complete
access control, along with HID iCLASS®
smart card and biometric fingerprint readers
from BioScrypt Inc. The systems integrator,
Advent Systems Inc., installed 110
readers controlling access to airport doors
and vehicle gates.
The company also installed a dedicated
security backbone in the terminal, which
includes redundant servers to prevent loss
of information in case of a hardware failure.
System redundancy is transparent to
users; if the main server fails, service is
restored instantly via the backup server.
Using separate standalone servers prevents
any unauthorized entry into the security
system through the airport LAN.
Today, all new airport tenants, contractors
and employees who require access to
restricted areas provide a fingerprint and
undergo a background investigation to
receive a badge. The fingerprint is stored
on the smart card, which also contains a
specific security level that defines which
doors and gates each person can access.
Whenever entering a secure area, the
user presents a proximity smart card to the
card reader, which flashes a green light,
indicating that the card contains authorized
clearances and that the user should proceed
with the biometric verification. The user
then places a finger on the fingerprint reader,
which connects to the database to verify
authenticity. If authenticity is confirmed,
the door automatically opens. If
the system identifies an unauthorized person
seeking access, it automatically alerts
the police and sends a report to the communications
center, along with a photo of
the person whose card is being used, key
information about the user, and the reason
for access denial, such as a lost or stolen
card. With the pertinent data and photo in
hand, communications center dispatchers
can instantly provide police with a description
of the person.
“Our users love the new system because
they feel more secure,” said Tim Doll,
director of operations for Little Rock
National Airport. “It’s made our dispatchers’
“Our previous system displayed coded
text on the monitors, so dispatchers would
have to know what each code meant for
each alarm. C•CURE simply displays a
map of the terminal building with a flashing
light, indicating the location of the
door in alarm mode on the map. It tells the
dispatcher the reason for the alarm, such as
‘door forced open,’ and it shows a picture
of the person using the door, along with
pertinent information about them.”
The airport has issued approximately
1,900 cards to date. Airport tenants are
required to notify badging personnel
immediately if someone is no longer in the
employee database so they can automatically
disable the badge.
“Today, the airport is more secure,”
Doll said. “We have better reporting capabilities.
We have more control over monitoring
and changing things on the system
than we did before. I can sit at my desk
and change parameters on any door in the
airport, pull up a report if someone left a
door open and have information within
seconds on who went through the door
last. It’s worked out great. I get four to five
calls a month from other airports looking
to do the same thing.”
During the specification process, Doll
kept TSA apprised of the new security system.
The agency is pleased the airport has
eliminated the chance of someone using a
lost badge to gain access. TSA is considering
making this type of system mandatory
for all airports.
State-of-the-art video surveillance systems
also are becoming more common in airports
around the world. Avianca Airlines in
Colombia, for example, uses digital video
management systems to fight drug trafficking.
With American Dynamics™ CCTV
surveillance cameras and digital video
management systems from Tyco
International, airline authorities can stop
illegal activities and provide visual evidence
to prosecute drug smugglers.
Avianca Airlines operates out of several
international airports with daily flights to
major U.S., European, and South and
Central American cities. Today, Avianca
protects its assigned gates and cargo warehouses
with nearly 100 dome and fixed
cameras positioned to record specified
activity inside and around the perimeter of
its facilities. CCTV footage is recorded,
which provides easily accessible video.
Intellex units are connected through a local
Having replaced old VCRs with Intellex
digital video management systems,
Avianca security also can access footage of
interest within minutes, instead of having
to run through hours of video to find what
they are seeking. In addition, the airline
records footage directly from the dome
cameras 24/7 in high-traffic areas. For lesstraveled
areas, such as the baggage warehouse,
officials have programmed the cameras
to record footage only when they
detect certain motion in the field of view.
This system helps Avianca use valuable
network bandwidth more efficiently by
only recording footage of interest.
In Good Hands
Avianca also purchased a matrix switcher
system, which makes it easy for operators
to manage a complex CCTV system.
Security personnel can control more cameras
and easily switch between camera
views and monitors in the control room.
This provides greater situational awareness,
helping to identify and address problematic
activities more effectively.
“The systems help us to prevent illegal
or dangerous incidents among passengers
and employees,” said Edgar Cano, chief
manager of national airports for Avianca.
For example, using cameras and
DVMSs, Avianca security personnel work
alongside authorities in Colombia to monitor
for illegal activities and apprehend suspects.
In several instances, the airline has
caught drug smugglers by identifying illicit
behavior via CCTV camera recordings.
An example presented itself on April
18, 2006, when an unaccompanied 5-yearold
girl arrived at John F. Kennedy
International Airport aboard Avianca
Airlines Flight #020 from Bogota,
Colombia, with two hard-sided suitcases.
An inspector conducting a routine exami-nation opened one of the girl’s suitcases
and noticed an unusually thick side. The
inspector probed the siding of the suitcase
and discovered a white powdery substance
that field-tested positive for heroin. The
officer seized the heroin, which weighed
approximately 1,042 grams. While customs
contacted the Administration for
Child Services, Avianca officials retrieved
video to determine if the child’s mother
acted suspiciously on tape when she
dropped the child off.
The surveillance system gives airline
authorities the means to provide visual evidence
for criminal trials by burning footage
onto CD to share with authorities. The airline
is able to share surveillance footage
with authorities within minutes, aiding law
enforcement personnel in faster identification
and apprehension of suspects. The
visual evidence, in conjunction with the
substance found in the girl’s possession,
was enough evidence proof to prosecute
the mother for illegal drug possession, illegal
drug trading and child exploitation. She
is now serving time in jail.
“We’ve had positive feedback from our
passengers, as well as our employees,
about the system,” Cano said. “It’s very
easy to use, so our staff is able to get up
to speed quickly and has already been a
more recognizable force throughout the
airports. Passengers also feel the difference.
They know they are safer traveling
with us because they know that they are in
Another powerful tool available to airports
for fighting crime is video analytics software.
Incorporating sophisticated video
analytics functionality into digital video
systems gives airports early insight into
both unusual traffic patterns and behaviors
and potential criminal activity. Today,
many retail video management systems
incorporate these new levels of intelligence.
These systems analyze patterns and
trends—enabling airports to quickly identify
and stop potential threats. This is a powerful
resource, particularly for remote areas
such as airport runways.
The systems are configured to continually
sift through live video, looking for
events that the organization defines as
unusual, such as a person leaving an
object behind. The system automatically
notifies security personnel of such an
event occurring. Instead of relying exclusively
on security guards to catch every
suspicious activity via monitors, video
analytics software is programmed to pick
up on these activities.
This analysis can determine a wide
range of behaviors, such as a person or
object crossing a virtual tripwire, a person
or vehicle entering an area of interest,
people loitering near a restricted area or
objects left behind or removed from
secured areas. When an alert is triggered,
the security officer on duty can instantly
switch to the specific camera that captured
the incident and examine the video
Common sense practices, strong vetting
of employee credentials and innovative
technology are being employed by airports
worldwide to combat a variety of
threats. When employed correctly, these
measures will result in safer travel and a
more secure environment for passengers
and employees alike.