Measured response to airport security breaches

On January 16, 2010 when a passenger entered a restricted exit inside the American Airlines terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport the terminal was evacuated. After a high-security sweep all passengers went through security screening a second time. Arrivals were stuck on the tarmac; departures delayed for hours.

This is only one of a number of New York-area airport ‘false alarm’ breaches in just a matter of months.

How about other costly incidents? In 2004 a United Airlines 747 bound from Sydney, Australia, to Los Angeles dumped fuel over the Pacific so it could return to Australia because a discarded airsickness bag was discovered with the letters “BOB” scribbled across it – reportedly interpreted as ‘Bomb on Board.’ There was no bomb.

In 2008 a man carrying a backpack, thought to contain explosives, scaled a perimeter fence at Heathrow days before opening of the new Terminal 5. He managed to make his way into the active field before being arrested, closing a runway for two hours and causing numerous flight delays and cancellations. There were no explosives.

In addition, military aircraft are scrambled over and over again to intercept wayward, lost and ‘suspicious’ civilian aircraft in the skies above North America.

These are just a few examples of costly reactions to security breaches, both in terms of money and damage done to an industry still reeling from the 9/11 attacks.

But are the actions being taken always appropriate, ‘measured responses?’

It appears the terrorists are winning, not by multiple, devastating security breaches and attacks, but by exploiting hysteria and the current inability to react to security breaches with intelligent measured responses that minimise escalation of breaches and prevent unnecessary costs.

The key to solving this serious flaw in the world’s security infrastructure is to design security solutions that integrate ‘threat profiling’ with technology. These integrated solutions are designed to help characterise the severity of a security breach so that an effective and efficient response can be implemented.

Let’s start with the concept of threat profiling: Threats represent goals of an adversary; for example, to enter a restricted area, smuggle a bomb through security, tamper with and compromise security peripherals, etc. A threat profile is a set of all threats that characterise what an adversary is actually trying to accomplish, such as hijack and destroy an airliner.

Knowing your enemy is critical when architecting security solutions, but translating that knowledge into a spectrum of threat profiles is even more important. The intelligent use of technologies to integrate with the threat profile is the second key component of an effective and cost-efficient security solution.

These technologies are embedded in security peripherals, such as cameras, scanners, access control systems, trip wires, motion detectors, etc. Most important is a process of threat-profile verification through the use of integrated technologies offering what Oncam has called SATIV, which stands for:

Surveillance that is persistent and pervasive
Acquisition of multiple events associated with a threat profile
Tracking of multiple events with the ability to
Interrogate events using analytics, such as facial recognition, behaviour patterns, etc., resulting in
Verification, by correlating results of interrogation, with rule-based characteristics of a verifiable event.

Most deployed security solutions embrace at least one of the SATIV elements, but very few utilise all components. Even those solutions which incorporate surveillance, acquisition, tracking and interrogation lack the overall integration necessary to achieve verification of an event. We place great emphasis on verification because the solutions we’re offering are designed to be effective and cost-efficient – features that are not part of solutions that tolerate false alarms. Threat profiling integrated with SATIV is essential so that responders can assess the severity of a security breach and execute a true measured response.

These are dangerous times and we cannot afford to compromise the security of the world’s critical infrastructure, commercial assets and our homes. However, an ineffective, transparent and costly response to a security breach can be just as – if not more – damaging than the breach itself.

James Ionson, Ph.D., is CEO, Oncam Global Group. He was a member of the U.S. Department of Defense Senior Executive Service credited with the creation of the Innovative Science and Technology Directorate for President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”), now called the Missile Defense Agency. He has held top-secret and other national security clearances with the Defense Intelligence Agency and has advised the Pentagon and NASA on critical technology issues.

 

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