Landing the Proper Security
The airport perimeter: Preventing threats from the outside in
- By John Distelzweig
- Sep 01, 2017
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Security Today.