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Delivering Secure, Safe and Automated Airport Environments

Air travel remains one of the most popular modes of transport. However, in line with the growth in passenger numbers and greater threats to security, there are now increasing demands on airport operators to provide higher levels of protection for people, cargo and vital assets. Here, Gert Rohrmann explains in great detail that, as airports evolve into ‘mini cities’, operational teams will require intelligent and integrated tools to manage and process more passengers and cargo as well as administer a business environment that has grown in complexity.

A ‘smart airport’ concept can now be delivered with the introduction of enterprise-level Command and Control to create greater synergies between core sub-systems such as security and fire safety protection, power, communications and building energy management solutions. The outcome is an increase in cost savings, revenue opportunities and improvements in manpower resources, not only for new construction, but also for existing premises and facilities.

A typical project scope might encompass Command and Control solutions, wide-area surveillance, perimeter and site intrusion protection, access control for people, contractors and vehicles, alarm management, fire detection and extinguishing, phased evacuation systems, building energy management and energy performance monitoring. 

Perimeter security

Protecting an airport begins with the outlying area. Identifying what’s happening at the perimeter means being able to respond in a proactive manner before the risk escalates and poses a danger to people and critical assets.

The first stage of the planning process requires careful risk analysis to determine the types of possible security threats to the airport periphery. There are multiple possibilities including targeted criminal acts, sabotage, attack, hostage taking, espionage, intrusion and burglary. The level of expected damage and the likelihood of occurrence determine the risk potential, which can then be used to establish security objectives and vulnerability. Importantly, before considering the final security concept, the area to be protected needs to be precisely defined.

A site can be threatened from every direction. Therefore, dividing the perimeter into clearly structured sectors helps to determine various security measures that make it possible to prepare rapid and secure response to any scenario. Both mechanical and electronic measures may be employed depending on agreed security objectives.

One of the first steps in establishing a secure perimeter is deploying appropriate and lasting mechanical security devices. In addition to indicating the property lines, these prevent intrusion into the secured area or movement within it. Naturally occurring features such as ditches, embankments, shrubbery and lakes already provide good sources of perimeter protection that can be reinforced with bespoke fencing, bollards, gates, barriers, rising kerbs and pedestrian turnstiles.

Many perimeter-based systems focus on trip wires or beams to determine unauthorised intrusion. In contrast, a better approach is to adopt a zone-based methodology using complex criteria to monitor the path of the subject across a scene over a period of time, enabling the analysis of multiple factors such as speed, direction, size and shape to distinguish a potential intruder from a false alert.

Protecting the airport apron

Effective perimeter security detection will also protect the airport apron where aircraft are parked, loaded, unloaded and refuelled. Systems here will include long-range conventional video and thermal imaging surveillance cameras, motion detection sensors and ground-radar detection and tracking. Intelligent policy zones and virtual barriers will detect, track and classify activity, enabling operators to see what’s happening in real-time.

Sensitive areas can be protected by alarm zones, while virtual barriers may be created wherever it’s inappropriate to install physical fences. Alarms can be prompted by simple activities such as vehicles or individuals moving into restricted areas, or via complex parameters such as object speed or size. Secure zones are generated by creating area boundaries on digital site maps. They’re adjusted using pre-set shortcuts to respond to changing requirements.

Intelligent surveillance solutions can collect information from various sensor systems such as video cameras, radar and GPS and compare all activities in the area with the defined security zones. Whenever people or vehicles pass through defined security zones, live, real-time video can be automatically displayed on a single screen in front of security personnel for verification, and the necessary measures implemented either automatically or manually.

A question of intelligence

Command and Control platforms integrate protection and energy management devices across multiple airport locations, manage critical situations and enhance procedures, in turn creating significant efficiencies by delivering improved intelligence, information and advanced reporting.

Furthermore, these new generation software solutions will incorporate legacy equipment and adapt to specific airport corporate policies as well as Civil Aviation Authority guidelines.

Command and Control systems will automatically qualify and identify unauthorised attempted access well beyond the airport boundary and contain potential risks before they pose a threat to operations and assets. This enables airport security operators to be alerted and to react to extraordinary events and suspicious behaviour, aided by pre-defined and approved workflows.

Today’s large-scale surveillance solutions filter critical events from cameras and security devices, displaying results via a comprehensive digital map. Integrated three-dimensional analytics determine particular object attributes, supporting operators in pre-qualified classification of all activity and incidents.

Video analytics

Video analytics ensure that conspicuous or suspicious behaviour, or left luggage in corridors, lounges or at gates, check-in and duty-free areas can be identified immediately and any necessary measures against potential drug smuggling, theft, manipulation and terrorist attacks taken at the earliest possible opportunity.

Intelligent car park video solutions recognise vehicle number plates and can track vehicle movement, access authorisation and identify number plates at any speed, day and night. The dates and times of all entries and exits are recorded in a single image and this data can be made available for parking management or access control systems and ensure controlled, structured and organised entry and exit for all vehicles in airport car parks.

Access control systems not only control the times at which the entire ground staff have access to buildings, specific floors, zones and areas, but they can also be networked with the time and attendance recording system and connected to the payroll system through a corporate smart card. These smart cards can also operate as cash-free payment cards in restaurants, car parks and petrol stations to improve the efficiency of personnel administration.

In a bid to make travel even safer in the future and counter the activities of would-be terrorists, biometric systems can make identification procedures safer and reduce the workload on security personnel. Intelligent video systems can also be deployed on site to detect bottlenecks at check-ins, improving both the throughput and security of passengers and personnel.

Greater degrees of safety

A key element in the provision of safe air travel for passengers and safeguarding staff is the standard and capability of fire safety systems. It’s paramount to prevent fire in an airport from spreading and jeopardising life, equipment and cargo, while secure exit must also be carefully considered.

Key considerations are very early warning of a fire event, immediate detection in vast, open areas where smoke is easily diluted and high airflow may disperse smoke, automatic response options, incident management tools and timely evacuation.

Deep integration across security technologies will create a fully-automated approach to task handling and incident management by extending cause and effect to include security within life safety systems. By combining a wide variety of systems and creating a logical sequence, it’s possible to limit potential damage. For example. in the event of fire, a workflow-oriented approach driven by security and safety devices would maximise protection across the site, as video surveillance cameras would verify an alarm situation, ventilation systems would adjust to prevent smoke from spreading, escape routes would be activated and live messaging would alert relevant personnel and facilitate safe, orderly evacuation. The integration of these multiple technologies enables a complete incident record to be collated and communication with the access control system would create an instant roll call of people on site.

Advanced fire detectors will deliver full protection across airport terminals and buildings and should eliminate the potential for false alarms and the subsequent disruption this would cause by dint of having the capability to differentiate between false fire phenomena and a real indicator of fire.

Rapid and orderly evacuation

In the event of a fire or a major alert, rapid and orderly evacuation is the highest priority. Studies reveal that many people don’t know how to react to conventional alarms such as bells or sirens. Many can assume that it’s a test or false alarm and ignore the alert, while others remain confused and unsure of what to do.

Particularly so for airports where there’s a high volume passenger count of varying nationalities, people need to be immediately notified about the nature of the incident and the appropriate action they should take. A high performance voice alarm system using live or recorded messages will reduce the potential for confusion, panic and risk of injury, as all personnel on site will receive clear, informative and controlled instructions.

Gert Rohrmann

Gert Rohrmann

Consideration should be given to suitable muster points for disabled visitors, as well as the use of foreign languages for evacuation announcements, warnings and instructions for overseas passengers.

Airport operators can improve the protection of people, communities and assets by employing technologies that provide complete situational awareness, an effective response to emergency incidents, instant mobilisation and deployment of resources. This requires a systematic approach. One that includes the development of a clear technological roadmap to drive a coherent, joined-up and long-term investment strategy with safety and security very much at its core.

Deep integration of security, fire safety and building systems means that all disciplines are fully co-ordinated to ensure airports are safer, more efficient, sustainable and economic in operation. 

Gert Rohrmann is Technical Manager for the Solutions Division of Siemens Building Technologies UK

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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