By Andrew Elvish
I have mentioned in this space before that I have the opportunity to travel a lot and that this has afforded me an excellent view into how airports are run. But my perspective is not limited to their inner workings.
In fact, from my office here in Montreal, I can see the O6L and 24R runways at the P.E. Trudeau airport. This means that, every once in a while, I get to watch these feats of engineering and technology move through the air. And I am reminded of the incredible precision required to get so many planes safely through take-off and landing every day. At the same time, I also know that any disruption on the airfield —no matter how small— can delay flights or threaten security.
When it comes to airport security, most people think about it from a passenger’s perspective. You know that it takes time to ensure that every person and their baggage is thoroughly checked and screened.
There are two global bodies, the International Standard Atmosphere (ISA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), that are responsible for defining the rules and regulations on how passengers and their luggage are to be screened to ensure that airports around the world can operate safely.
And, while it might seem inconvenient at times, I know that you are grateful that airport security is so rigorous.
But passengers and their luggage are not the only types of possible intrusion at an airport.
Administrators and security directors are responsible for preventing unauthorized access for the whole of their environments: from the parking lot, through the terminal, and out to the airfield. Or, as they say in the airport business, from curbside to airside.
The high costs of a breached perimeter
In 2015, the Associated Press concluded an investigation into perimeter breaches at 31 of the United State’s busiest airports. The investigation covered the years from January 2004 to January 2015 and found 268 instances of people breaching the outer limits of these airports.
It is important to note that none of these breaches involved a terrorist plot. Instead, the majority of them consisted of jumped fences, cars crashing through gates, or individuals sneaking past guardhouses.
In one dramatic case, a man threw his bicycle over the fence at Chicago’s O’Hare and then proceeded to ride across a runway.
While these events may not get the global attention that other security concerns receive, they are no less problematic and can cost airports and airlines handsomely. Just consider what happened when an individual ran his car though the gate at Philadelphia International Airport on March 2012 and drove onto a runway. The air traffic controllers kept 75 aircraft from landing and held 80 more planes on the ground for an hour and a half.
Now ask yourself: how many extra gallons of fuel were burned as planes circled the airfield? How many airport and airline employees had to work overtime? How many passengers missed connecting flights or important engagements because of the delay? How many airlines suffered due to their passengers’ negative experiences?
What can airports do to mitigate the impact or prevent these events from occurring in the future?
Securing an airport’s airside
Given the size of most of today’s airports, there is a lot of area to protect against unwanted intrusions. And, since no two airports are alike, it is difficult to find a one-size-fits-all solution to perimeter protection. A good place to start, however, is with a fence.
Airport security directors have to first ensure that their perimeter is protected from a physical perspective. Generally speaking, this requires fencing all the way around the airfield. This can be challenging when a perimeter is 20-30km long. But, as we know, it is important to keep people, vehicles, or animals from accidentally entering the airfield —as this can cause flight delays— which are both a scheduling nightmare and expensive.
Preventing accidental intrusions from occurring is just one part of airside security. As the AP investigation revealed, a fence can be surmounted and can’t, on its own, keep individuals from accessing an airfield with the intent of stealing baggage, equipment, or tampering with aircraft.
The next element of airside security is an intrusion detection system that can alert personnel if —or when— a breach occurs and where the intruder is. Analytics tools, when combined with radar or laser-based solutions and video surveillance, can geo-locate intruders using the data collected to help pinpoint them after they have crossed the perimeter.
These systems can also help address the challenges of false positive alarms. By correlating data, they can act as a filter to help ensure that only confirmed intruders have breached the perimeter. Without this type of technology, security operators can become overwhelmed with false positive alarms, causing them to ignore alerts or turn off sensors.
This, of course, defeats the purpose of having perimeter protection and runs the risk of leaving the airport vulnerable to incident or attack.
And, finally, when a breach does occur, systems need to be able to track intruders and provide operators with the information they required to manage and coordinate the response with ground staff.
Auto-tracking that tracks and displays intruders within the airfield can provide the intelligence necessary to ensure that correct procedures are followed and the right teams are sent out to investigate. After all, when security personnel can respond to an intrusion quickly and knowledgeably, they are better able to minimize potential threats, reduce risks, and keep aircraft moving on time.
Airports are big businesses with a vast number of moving parts. They require coordinated planning that takes into account a wide variety of stakeholders. A physical security system that extends to the perimeter plays an important role in helping to ensure that planes run on time, passengers have a positive experience, and everyone is safe.
About The Author
Andrew Elvish is a columnist, explorer, and the Vice President of Marketing and Product Management at Genetec. Andrew has over 20 years’ experience in the software industry and will surprise you with his knowledge of great restaurants all over the world.