Landing the Proper Security

Landing the Proper Security

The airport perimeter: Preventing threats from the outside in

Events in recent history concerning attacks on transportation hubs have increased the importance of safeguarding airports around the world and further highlighted the need for accurate, reliable and smart security systems to protect aviation assets. IP cameras, access control systems and biometric technologies are playing an integral role in recognizing prohibited materials and suspicious individuals that pass through an airport’s doors. However, it remains imperative that airport directors, operations managers, integrators and installers also turn their attention to threats from the outside. If the perimeter is not properly secured, the entire operation is at risk to intruders and attacks.

Meeting the Challenges

“Airports provide many unique security design challenges. The amount of property to be protected and the perimeters can be enormous,” said Ted Wheaton, senior systems project manager at Ross & Baruzzini, a global engineering, architecture and consulting firm headquartered in St. Louis.

For example, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the largest airport in the United States and occupies more than seven square miles of land. The task of securing such an expansive area such as this is daunting for any security executive, not to mention expensive. Costs can rack up quickly when implementing even the most basic of physical perimeter defenses, like fences and camera poles, which require weeks of trenching, cabling and installation. However, the cost of implementing advanced perimeter solutions is small when compared to an airport or runway closure resulting from an intrusion. Shutting down runways for even minutes can result in significant losses for airports. Having the ability to quickly detect and address an incident is essential for maintaining optimal airport operation.

Another hurdle that staff must manage for perimeter security is controlling the various portals that people travel through. For example, in order to board any plane people move from an unsecured side of the airport to a secured side (through Transportation Security Administration), and then from the gate onto the plane. There are hundreds of portals, or doors, that lead to concourses or terminals. As such, system integrators must decide which ones warrant additional measures such as electronic badging with specialty cameras. Protecting against unauthorized entry and preventing people from going onto the airport tarmac is another level of this obstacle that security personnel are all too familiar with. It is not only a serious breach of security, but also a notable inconvenience, as it causes air traffic to stall, which can result in lower customer satisfaction and loss of revenue for the airlines.

By far, the greatest challenge airport directors face, when it comes to security, is an overall lack of capital needed to make the ideal system improvements. More often than not, airport operation managers must work within small department budgets to improve electronic security, modern IT infrastructure, maintenance and operational training. When money is designated solely for security improvements, it is typically allocated for interior security systems. Investments usually go to things like internal screening devices and baggage-handling technologies used for identify verification and recognition of weapons, drugs and other illegal substances. Rarely do airports get money for outdoor perimeter systems to proactively detect threats from the exterior.

Hiring for security staff can be affected by the limited funding received. Many airports lack the desired manpower for operations and monitoring, and as a result, are forced to assign some airport employees dual jobs function. For example, the person who was doing badging during the day might also be the one conducting investigations at night, or airports may subcontract out these positions entirely to a third party.

As far as addressing funding needs for the airport end user, there are more initiatives forming that help create more capital for security. More money is being generated through Homeland Security and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) resources, and nonprofits like National Safe Skies Alliance help airports identify their security risks, needs, possible solutions and additional fiscal sources.

While airport security directors have to contend with small budgets, security integrators must grapple with designing complex, integrated perimeter solutions in a short timeframe. When a request for proposal is announced, system designers sometimes have as little as two weeks to bid on a project that has been in discussion for years. This quick turnaround makes it difficult for integrators to conduct indepth evaluations of new technologies or the risks of reusing existing wiring infrastructure, electronic devices and other equipment. Hard pressed to complete installation within the hours of being contracted, and faced with unfamiliar products, contractors can make equipment substitutions without full knowledge of how it will affect the system as a whole. This can cause project delays and even project losses.

Fortunately, resources are becoming available to help solve these pain points for system integrators. Manufacturers across the security industry are increasingly developing assets to aid integrators in their product research and analysis. Security suppliers are publishing more camera selection guides and vendors are introducing online site planning tools that simulate camera mounting height, range and image detection to optimize placement and performance for the actual site. Security companies are also heavily investing in their support and application integration centers so that systems designers can access immediate help and product information at any time.

By leveraging technology assessment tools and financial opportunities, integrators and end users are better positioned to not only overcome the challenges associated with adopting greater security measures, but also with implementing strategies that safeguard against new risks.

Rethinking Security

In the past, each airport has handled security individually. Often, system upgrades were implemented as a response to a major security breach, with the most notable example being the 9/11 attacks.

This month marks the 16th anniversary of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The incident devastated our country and led our nation’s leaders to reconsider strategies to secure airports. The result was a security task force and technological revolution. In the wake of the attacks, airport security became the government’s jurisdiction. The Department of Homeland Security was created and as well as the Transportation Security Administration, in which the initial rollout required the hiring and training of 60,000 employees in the span of a year. Preventing in-flight threats and hijackings were the immediate security priority and planes were soon fitted with fortified, impregnable cockpit doors. No fly lists were continually monitored and updated. Friends could no longer greet families at the airport gates. Passenger screening intensified, and travelers went through full body scanners.

There has been tremendous growth in detecting and quelling interior airport and airplane risks. However, times are changing. Threats have shifted from in-flight offensives to people entering airports and launching assaults on citizens in the exterior areas of the airport. In January 2017, a man opened fired in the baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale Airport. Last year, suicide bombers entered Zaventem Airport in Brussels and detonated two explosives in the check in area and a third at a nearby metro station. Just a few months after the Brussels attack, three men walked into Istanbul Ataturk Airport, opened fire in the terminal and discharged two bombs.

The need for airports to protect their borders is clear, and it is time for security directors to proactively embrace technologies that are on the forefront of recognizing threats from the outside in.

Perimeter Detection through Radar, Thermal

One of the security technologies redefining situational awareness for airport perimeter security is radio detection and ranging, or radar. Providing 360-degree coverage, radars quickly identify and track persons and vehicles at long distances, ranging from a few hundred feet to several miles. The immediate detection enables security personnel to recognize, assess and respond to a threat long before it reaches the fence line.

However, targets on the ground are not the only long-range threats airport security directors need to address. Today, security executives need to be aware of aerial objects that cross the skies. Terror groups are increasingly using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, to conduct surveillance and carry out attacks. Earlier this year, ISIS fighters launched two drones, one carrying a bomb and one with a camera, over Mosul in Iraq. As the weaponized drone flew over the city, it detonated the explosive while the other drone recorded the incident. To protect against something like this happening at an airport, security manufacturers are developing and releasing radars with new drone and UAV detection analytics. This is certainly one of the new technologies airport directors would do well to adopt, adding another layer to their perimeter security solution.

Thermal imaging cameras are another essential component to an airport’s perimeter system. One huge advantage of thermal cameras is their ability to make invisible, visible. Thermal cameras produce images based on heat signatures and can see in complete darkness, or through rain and light fog. As airports operate around the clock, thermal cameras address the need to monitor people and vehicles at night as they enter and exit the premises or restricted areas. Since these cameras do not require light, no additional infrastructure is needed for light poles, creating a cost-savings for the airport.

Deploying thermal cameras embedded with high performance perimeter edge analytics also enhances intrusion detection for airports.

“Thermal imaging sensors with embedded analytics can be configured with ‘masking’ to monitor very specific areas for movement,” Wheaton said. “When properly calibrated, they can detect a specific size and shape of target with a high degree of resolution and accuracy. They also can provide latitude and longitude coordinates that can be correlated with other system sensors, and they can provide this location information to video management systems for real-time target tracking with assessment cameras.”

Thermal cameras with analytics have become trusted, reliable solutions with a low rate of false alarms. Additionally, the high analytics ranges of these cameras allow for greater detection coverage using fewer cameras, reducing the total cost of ownership for the end user. San Jose International Airport, Orlando International Airport and Edmonton International Airport have all recently added thermal technology to their security solutions by installing cameras from FLIR Systems.

The growing trend for airport intrusion detection is deploying pan-tilt thermal cameras with radar. When the radar identifies an object, it slews the thermal camera to point to the target, locks the camera and provides a clear video feed to the security manager who uses the visual to assess the incident. When these technologies are integrated by an advanced video management system (VMS) or physical security information management (PSIM) solution, a GIS map appears to provide the exact location of the target. The locational tracking provides essential information as to the path the intruder takes once inside the airport perimeter and not just an alarm from a specific point. There will be a response time to deploy security personnel, and it is critical to know where the intruder has moved to in order to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. All in all, thermal-radar solutions deliver unparalleled situational awareness for security staff and allow airports to monitor larger areas with fewer patrols. They serve as a cost-effective alternative to fence detection systems, which require significantly more infrastructure.

HD Cameras, Facial Recognition and LPR

With radar and thermal acting as the first echelon of response to exterior threats at airports, new multi-sensor cameras and emerging video analytics are optimizing identification and assessment of those threats.

“The key trends that are redefining airport security in general are the rapidly improving CCTV camera capabilities,” Wheaton said. “The wide dynamic range, high resolution, and multi-sensor features of some of today’s cameras are enabling the use of fewer cameras with greatly enhanced real-time and play back viewing of the video.”

In other words, one HD 360-degree camera can do the job of multiple PTZ or fixed cameras; this again presents a cost-savings for the airport. These next generation cameras are characterized for having superior post analytics, enabling security managers to rapidly search video for a specific event or individual.

Multi-sensor cameras are gaining traction in the airport sector, particularly pan-tilt cameras with both thermal and visible light sensors. The dynamic duo allows staff to quickly detect people or vehicles in low-light or no-light scenarios and later identify the individual utilizing the visible light camera feed.

Facial recognition and LPR are two technologies that are proving to be game-changers for human and vehicle identification at airports. The analytic software can be easily downloaded into existing cameras and VMS, and by adding them to a perimeter security solution, airport staff gains access to law enforcement databases and can instantly recognize a wanted person.

Say a suspicious man approaches the airport entrance. As he approaches, he passes into the purview of a camera and is recognized by biometrics software like facial recognition. He’s then entered into a homeland security database and is positively identified as a person on the watch list. Simultaneously, the car he left in the parking lot has a license plate that has been reviewed by a local police department and recognized as a stolen vehicle. Soon after, the man is apprehended before he is able to get past the check-in area. HD cameras, facial recognition and LPR certainly represent the future of security identification and make crime prevention a reality.

Bringing it Altogether

While the aforementioned technologies provide quick detection and identification of threats, a robust VMS is key to bringing it altogether and allowing airport security teams to respond. When radar or a thermal camera with analytics detects an intruder, the VMS triggers alarms and notification to security teams. Through the VMS, security officers in the control room can access acoustic devices and give commands to the unidentified individual on the ground. Should the suspicious person become non-compliant, the officer could initiate a lockdown of all the nearest doors to contain the suspect and dispatch additional personnel to the area. These are just some of the delay, deter and defend actions managed through the VMS.

For airports looking to manage several security technologies with information gathering processes and IT infrastructure, directors should consider deploying a PSIM solution. PSIM solutions, also known as command and control software, operate as a “system of systems.” Whereas a VMS is the central component of a video solution and derives its function due to its connection with cameras, a PSIM is a separate solution for aggregation. For this reason, an airport using security devices that are manufactured by several companies, and in many cases different VMS solutions, scattered across many different sites within the airport, will be able to more easily integrate their technologies through a PSIM rather than a single VMS. Additionally, a PSIM is ideal for deep integration between radar systems and cameras, delivering geo-referenced map-based presentations of all devices, targets and sites and providing unparalleled situational awareness. A PSIM solution essentially equips airports with the tools it needs to easily manage these advanced security technologies.

Radar, thermal imaging, high-resolution cameras, analytics and PSIM solutions are the core building blocks of an end-to-end airport perimeter security system. While these technologies are not necessarily new, they are just now becoming accessible to all airports. In the past, radar and thermal cameras were commercially developed, military qualified technologies that only primarily government entities could afford. However, higher demand and greater production of these solutions has resulted in lower price points for the systems. Today, airports are able to deploy a greater number of advanced technologies not at a capital project price, but at a per unit price. This ultimately results in enhanced security monitoring capabilities and greater protection for the airport perimeter.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Security Today.

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