An evolving challenge
For many of us, it’s hard to believe that almost ten years have passed since the World Trade Centre attacks of 9/11 shook the world, bringing the aviation security industry firmly into the spotlight. Since then, airport security has been at the forefront of counter-terror measures, as procedures and technology are continually updated to face the ever-changing security threat. As the terrorist threat level for the transport sector was recently raised from substantial to severe, it is now more important than ever to ensure that Britain’s ports and airports are secured at all times, for the safety of staff and passengers.
Since 9/11, despite advances in counter-terror measures, airports have remained vulnerable. In 2007, Glasgow airport was attacked as a Jeep Cherokee loaded with explosives was driven into the main atrium. Luckily, this attempt was unsuccessful, as was an attempt on Christmas Day 2009 to detonate explosives on a Detroit-bound aeroplane in an incident worryingly reminiscent of 9/11. Not so fortunate was Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport in early 2011, as over 100 people were injured and 35 killed as a bomb was detonated in the arrival hall of this, one of Russia’s busiest airports just days after the UK’s terrorist threat was raised from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’.
A large, transient population, high volumes of luggage and easy access by members of the public means that airport security measures are always tested to their limits. Because of this, security personnel have come to rely heavily on technology to support them in ensuring the safety of passengers, crews, equipment and airport staff.
With regulations strictly enforced around the items allowed within carry-on hand luggage, the use of security technology for luggage screening and monitoring the movement of bags from check-in desks to the aircraft in order to reduce the risk of tampering has become increasingly complex. This latter area is a critical aspect of flight safety, and includes the use of bar code readers to scan the labels of bags, automatically linking them to individual passengers at the time they board to ensure that unaccompanied luggage is not loaded onto an aircraft.
Radio Frequency Identitifcation (RFID) chips can also be used for this purpose and can be particularly useful in moving freight around the airport. Tag identification and location information is instantly forwarded over a network to a host computer running software to provide real-time management solutions via powerful reporting, display, and decision and control functions. Linked assets and people can be tracked and located within close proximity, thus providing an automatic, non-invasive asset protection solution while enabling freedom of movement.
Other systems are capable of screening hold baggage using computer tomography equipment to generate a detailed, three dimensional image of the contents of a bag. Computer tomography comprises a non-destructive evaluation technique for producing two- and three-dimensional cross-sectional images of an object from flat x-ray images. It allows the characteristics of the internal structure of an object to be determined, such as dimensions, shape, internal defects, and density. The baggage passes between a radiation source and an imaging system, connected to a computer, developing a cross-sectional view of the object and its contents. This has the ability to speed up the scanning process, which is of course a key factor in any mass transit environment and increases the throughput of baggage and personnel scanning systems and reducing their susceptibility to false alarms.
A large-scale challenge
By their very nature, airport sites are expansive, with a meandering perimeter and plenty of wide open spaces that are often difficult to police and secure. As such, the outermost perimeter of the site represents a key starting point in terms of physical protection combined with electronic measures such as CCTV and motion-detection technology.
Attempts to breach fencing, for example, can be electronically monitored using fence-mounted vibration detectors that trigger an alert in the security control room. Working in conjunction with these detectors, automatically directed CCTV camera observation can be triggered to track intruders’ movements in order to direct security patrols towards them quickly.
The difficulty of controlling large perimeters is compounded by an operating environment that presents a number of challenges not encountered in the protection of other locations, including the risk of interference and false alarms arising from jet blast vibration and the presence of systems such as ground surveillance radar. A combination of sensors and analysers therefore allows systems to be programmed to recognise the kinds of vibration specifically caused by intruders. The analyser will respond to events such as cutting, ramming or climbing, whilst ignoring the sort of movement caused by air and ground traffic or wind.
A watchful eye
At Luton Airport, CCTV is employed both for internal and perimeter security and to monitor the majority of airport operations. The active airside area of the airport is covered by cameras incorporating an analytics mode ‘virtual tripwire’, which identifies designate unauthorised areas in each camera’s field of view. Whenever a vehicle or person crosses into these areas an alarm is automatically triggered and the appropriate camera view is displayed in the control room. The surveillance system is also linked to air traffic control monitoring of runways, taxiways and aprons, baggage handling areas, Customs & Excise, retail and catering operations and car parking. Control software provides authorised users with access to the video feeds from anywhere on the network.
CCTV technology is not only useful in securing the airport buildings and perimeter, but can also be utilised on board aircraft themselves to address the potential threat from terrorists who may want to hijack a plane or detonate a device on board. Such systems – which are already in operation across a number of airlines – consist of covert and/or overt CCTV cameras installed throughout the passenger cabins of an airliner and connected to an advanced Digital Video Recorder (DVR).
Of course, an especially critical area that these systems can help to secure is the cockpit door, preventing unauthorised access to the flight deck. Using the latest surveillance technology, flight deck crew can now readily view the area outside the flight deck door and adjacent galleys, via monitors, to access any situation and identify personnel before allowing them access to the cockpit, a capability which works in conjunction with the requirement to fit intruder resistant flight deck doors.
Effective security technology that’s easy to use is a feature of ‘smart’ access control systems, which represent the next layer of protection beyond the perimeter. Depending on the location and sensitivity of the building or area involved, access control measures can range from paper-based logging systems for temporary contractors’ permits through to access control cards using RFID chips for more convenient proximity reading of card details and activation of gates, turnstiles and vehicle barriers.
Biometric-based systems such as fingerprint readers and iris scanners are alternatives for higher risk locations. These use the unique human characteristics of a person to provide irrefutable proof of identity. Besides their important security function, access control systems can be used as a health and safety tool in the event of evacuation by quickly producing an accurate register of anyone still within a building or area.
One British Security Industry Association (BSIA) member provided a fully integrated access control solution to London’s Heathrow Airport during the construction of its new Terminal 5. This system is used for managing access throughout the airport and preventing unauthorised access to secure areas. It is also used for managing the flow of passengers, visitors and baggage through access points inside the airport.
In order to meet T5’s requirements, the BSIA member was able to customise its system to the airport’s needs. Consequently, the member fulfilled T5’s request to integrate access control with a CCTV system as well as design a card reader that enabled operators to automatically segregate international, domestic, arriving and departing passengers.
A further challenge revolved around the efficient use of available departure gates, which was achieved with a system of 14 interlocked doors to enable staff to easily control the flow of travellers, whilst maintaining security and segregation between international and domestic passengers.
A physical presence
Despite these recent advances in security technology, a physical security presence is essential to maintaining order in airports, and also to manage and act upon the intelligence gathered through CCTV and access control systems. The presence of uniformed security guards at access points, as well as regular security patrols of buildings and the perimeter area can help to enhance the feeling of security for passengers.
Airports combining CCTV with access control and physical security measures such as fencing, bollards, doors and locks, backed up with security patrols can be confident that their overall security solution is robust, effective and intimidating to would-be criminals.
The British Security Industry Association is the trade association covering all aspects of the professional security industry in the UK. Its members provide over 70 per cent of UK security products and services and adhere to strict quality standards.