Reaching New Heights
Advancing video technologies are poised to meet emerging application needs
- By Greg Peratt
- Sep 01, 2012
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.
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
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
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.