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There are many challenges to creating an effective security program in any airport infrastructure. Technology plays a significant role in any robust airport security initiative and, when deployed properly, can help security personnel address potential vulnerabilities in a more timely fashion, in addition to increasing effectiveness overall. With this in mind, airport officials seek out new technologies that help them meet these goals while maintaining high levels of protection for passengers and employees.

Many airports realize the value and benefits IP-based security devices can bring to their facilities and are moving forward with plans to transition CCTV systems to network-based technologies. Furthermore, the value of high-definition video surveillance as evidentiary support has grown, and airports are deploying more high-resolution cameras.

There also are plans to integrate video surveillance with other technologies -- such as access control, video analytics, license plate recognition and facial recognition -- to streamline security operations and reduce the need for manpower. Even with these upgrades and new installations, there is no room for scheduled system downtime.

“Security systems in airports are categorized as mission-critical systems, so those systems cannot be down,” said Danny Peleg, director of market development for transportation at Genetec. “When an airport transitions from one system to another, it is important that they still be able to maintain and use their system regardless of the transition. The transition has to be smooth, relatively fast, and cannot impact the performance and reliability of the system.”

Peleg added that airports can make use of existing technologies to maximize existing infrastructure. Facilities with an open-architecture video management system have an easier time of it. Some VMS vendors offer systems with a closed architecture, making interoperability between systems and technologies nearly impossible. The beauty of open architecture is that it makes it easier to integrate on both the hardware and software level, and it avoids the additional costs of a complete overhaul.

As long as an airport has network connectivity among its systems, technologies and sites, it is possible to integrate various system components.

“However, this depends on the other systems and technologies that will be connected,” Peleg said. “As long as those systems speak the same language -- in other words IP -- then it should not be a problem. In the case of cameras, for example, adding IP encoders to an analog camera would help rectify this issue.”

The Absolute Value of Surveillance
Video surveillance is a proven method of reducing crime and speeding up investigations, which is why there is an influx of camera deployments on a global scale. There also is an uptick in the use of high-resolution cameras and digitalbased systems.

“Airport security executives recognize the value of high-resolution video,” said Robert Hile, director of integrated security solutions at Siemens Industry Inc. “The adoption of these emerging technologies provides an enhanced layer of security for employees and passengers, and reduces the likelihood of a terrorist event or security breach.”

Peleg said for an airport to move to a feature-rich, IP-based system, it needs network infrastructure in place before beginning a transformation.

This means all elements of the IP security infrastructure, including the physical network, switches, storage and workstations. With these necessary elements in place and a clear action plan for the transition itself, an airport should be able overcome any challenges and successfully implement an IP security solution.

An open-architecture VMS can quickly retrieve recorded video footage and security data, which is critically important because every minute that goes by when a potential breach occurs costs airports $20,000 to $25,000, according to Peleg. Fast retrieval of security video and data is thus vital, he said.

In the same respect, failover and redundancy features also are important to ensure access to all live and archived camera feeds. This capability is requested in almost all airport applications.

Airports need to have a system that guarantees 24/7 access to security data, he said. If the system is down, airport officials would not be able to pull up video and data during that down period. For airports, that scenario is unacceptable.

Increased Security and Cost Savings
All of the above lends itself to a high demand for IP storage devices. In a typical surveillance installation, storage can comprise up to 50 percent of the cost of the system, including acquisition and ongoing maintenance fees.

This can lead to a significant investment from a user standpoint.

Virtualization can reduce hardware investment and increase availability in high-capacity environments such as airports. As storage is a significant portion of the cost of a traditional surveillance system, facility managers often make compromises on retention times, video resolution or camera counts to meet their budgets.

These virtual servers reside on storage appliances, allowing airports to eliminate stand-alone servers and saving them about 25 percent overall. In addition to having lower support costs, virtual servers can help airports realize about 40 percent savings in power and cooling and in rack space. And virtual servers still meet the reliability, performance and management needs of today’s surveillance systems.

“Anytime you can help customers reduce the amount of storage hardware, you help them tremendously,” Peleg said. “Why? First, space is limited in airports, and these facilities do not always have enough real estate to hold a significant number of storage and server devices. Secondly, purchasing, maintaining and cooling physical storage devices can become expensive.

“Therefore, the ideal is to find a storage solution that can help airports store massive amounts of video and security data in the most efficient and cost-effective way. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, for example, opted for a virtual storage solution that helped reduce costs and save energy. And similar to IP video management systems, leveraging the IP network for storage purposes with virtual servers offers flexibility and ease of growth.”

There is rapid adoption of combined storage and server solutions in the transportation market because the reliability requirements are well-suited to the failover and recovery features these facilities require. On top of that, Peleg said the cost savings and environmental benefits are immediate.

“Being environmentally friendly comes down to using storage that is more efficient, that does not require additional hardware purchases, maintenance and climate control,” Peleg said. “On the VMS side, working with an open-architecture system helps airports reuse existing equipment and leverage existing network infrastructure. Using an advanced VMS gives airports the ability to host 300 cameras per server. In a physical storage option, this means an airport would require less storage hardware and therefore benefit from another alternative for energy-savings.”

No Room for Error, or for Downtime
Airports rely on video surveillance as a tool to help limit risk, increase safety and investigate incidents. Peleg said that the high cost of shutting down means there is no room for system failure or subsequent downtime.

When it comes to storage appliances, drives are the most common component to fail. When a failure does occur, system administrators must have immediate access to replace the drives quickly and easily. Storage systems that do not provide simple user access or that require removal of drive trays are more difficult to maintain and often require scheduled downtime because the drives cannot be removed without overheating.

Therefore, storage appliances with front-accessible drives are strongly preferred for critical environments that rely heavily on captured video because faulty drives are easily replaceable and easier to maintain. Users can simply replace a failed drive by plugging a spare into the system while it is running.

“Digital storage appliances store recorded video for longer periods of time and are more cost-effective and reliable than traditional storage products,” Hile said. “Furthermore, these platforms experience less downtime due to the ease in drive replacements and, for the user, make video readily available for forensic purposes when needed.”

Real-world Results: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which sees more than 30 million travelers each year, is a perfect example of an airport facing a variety of security changes and challenges, and it is taking them head-on.

Sea-Tac, a division of the Port of Seattle, was looking to upgrade its six disparate and analog-based video surveillance systems with one fully merged IP-based solution, while preserving its existing investment in analog cameras. On the recommendation of systems integrator Ingersoll Rand, the airport chose Genetec Omnicast as its security management platform, as it could leverage the airport’s existing security infrastructure. The Omnicast system also allowed the airport to fully integrate its surveillance system to a third-party access control solution, as well as to an internal application that provides situational awareness to key airport managers.

Today, the airport’s surveillance system consists of hundreds of analog cameras that are IP-enabled with encoders and a mix of IP-based surveillance cameras in critical areas. Sea-Tac Airport also opted for Pivot3 Cloud- Bank appliances for video storage, archiving recorded video on 11 virtual servers. The airport saved 40 percent in power and cooling by leveraging the Pivot3 Scale-Out Application Platform, which combines server functionality and storage into a single appliance. Overall, Sea-Tac uses 120 terabytes of Pivot3 storage with embedded virtual servers to support more than 1,100 cameras. Virtual network video recorders eliminated the need for stand-alone physical servers.

The virtualization strategy also delivered failover for video applications to meet the TSA’s stringent requirements for reliability during failure scenarios, and the system supported the upgrade to digital storage while preserving the existing investment in analog cameras.

The combination of Omnicast, which enables users to pre-set recording resolutions of all cameras, and Pivot3’s cloud computing servers, provided Sea- Tac with a significant and immediate storage-space savings, and a reduction in energy consumption. With the Genetec- Pivot3 solution, the airport was able to reduce the amount of equipment inaaits main equipment room by 80 percent. This was good news for the Port of Seattle, which oversees the airport: According to Chris Evans, Sea-Tac’s electronic systems foreman, who has administrative responsibilities for the physical security system, the authority strives to be the “greenest” authority in the country. Thanks to Pivot3’s virtual storage capabilities, the Port of Seattle is one step closer.

This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of Security Today.


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