How Video Surveillance and Intelligent Analytics Are Transforming Airport Security
Living in a post 9/11 era, it has become the norm for American travelers to encounter extraordinary security measures before boarding a flight. New procedures and an array of futuristic-looking machinery have been popping up to ensure that dangerous weapons and destructive items don’t get past security. And yet, airport security involves so much more than preventing attacks on flights. Indeed, the growing number of passengers and increased airport foot traffic brings with it injuries, medical emergencies, lost children, lost property and, perhaps above all else, unhappy travelers.
Domestic air travel reached an all-time high of 741.6 million passengers in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and is continuing to grow year over year. As it does, so will the potential for all manner of security problems and the frequency with which they occur. Although the TSA is incorporating more checkpoint areas and adding more sophisticated threat detection technology, airports are responsible for managing operational efficiency and passenger satisfaction, not to mention security in and around airports. As threats to both inside and outside airports grow, security professionals must stay abreast of technologies that help them keep up and prepare for a multitude of threat scenarios. One of the most meaningful steps airport security professionals can take is to adopt enhanced video surveillance systems that leverage IP camera technology and intelligent analytics.
Updating Video Technology
Like a number of other major public facilities, many airports are still transitioning from analog to IP video surveillance. Among the most obvious limitations of the outdated camera hardware is low resolution, which presents two distinct problems. First, a surveillance team that relies on analog technology is less likely to be able to identify and react to problems, if only because of the lag time inherent in analog technology. Second, the poor image quality makes it much more difficult to investigate incidents after they occur, making it harder to identify causes of security breaches for the benefit of law enforcement and future security planning.
Grainy footage creates a lag in video feeds and places a heavy reliance on operators -- all are challenging issues that can be improved. If not resolved, with a switch to a modern surveillance technology stack built on IP video camera technology capable of recording and analyzing high-definition images in real time.
Intelligent Analytics: Life or Death Issues
The traditional airport surveillance team depends on a large number of video cameras as well as a large number of people to monitor the video feed. As already mentioned, these systems demand a great deal of human interaction and labor, which means they are extremely expensive to support. And yet, despite the operational cost, systems at many airports remain relatively antiquated. When video cameras do little more than capture footage, the onus is on the security operators monitoring the video to recognize anything troubling that is taking place on the screens in front of them. No matter how many people are monitoring videos, it is impractical to expect that all threats will be discovered before something bad happens.
Fortunately, an airport security solution is no longer limited to an array of video cameras monitored by a handful of bleary-eyed security operators huddled over screens trying to identify and respond to any threats. With IP cameras’ ability to record video in digital formats, modern surveillance solutions now take advantage of sophisticated video management systems (VMS) featuring an incredibly robust technology stack that harnesses the very latest innovations like machine learning and data analytics. Instead of running in a reactionary mode all of the time, security operators can now anticipate threats before they happen. This is made possible because modern VMS solutions can analyze live video against large stores of data comprised of predictive markers like physical attributes and behavior, making it far easier spot threats before they can happen.
Consider one of the perennial sources of anxiety for airport personnel: an unattended bag. Modern surveillance solutions with intelligent analytics automatically identify that item and alert surveillance personnel to the issue. The system can also identify people who are moving in the wrong direction through a hallway or door and notify the security team about it so they can either intercept an intruder or help a confused traveler get to their destination.
Managing Data From Multiple Sensors
The system’s value extends far beyond the perimeters of the terminal. Other sensitive locations include the airport apron and runways, which are ideally inaccessible to the public due to fencing and other security barriers. An intelligent surveillance solution is connected to an array of sensors that can detect contact with a fence, door, or security barrier and notify personnel of a potential attempt to break into a secure location. The key is for airports to implement a system that can combine various data inputs –– the fence perimeter system, the video cameras, LIDAR / RADAR –– into one intelligent system that can analyze the inputs and notify operators when something of concern is actually occurring. For example, surveillance solutions should be able to distinguish between what is potentially problematic contact and non-threat contact made with a fence by animals or wind-blown debris.
The brilliance of intelligent surveillance solutions is that they centralize what were previously disparate security tools into one combined system. Video, alarms, sensors, and the facility’s access control system are all connected. For instance, when an employee swipes an ID card to enter a secure location, there is an archived video segment associated with that event that can easily be retrieved in a matter of seconds. An operator will also immediately see live video associated with a triggered alarm or sensor.
Reducing Demands on Resources
The value of intelligent surveillance systems extends beyond life-or-death security issues. They can also help airports more efficiently address the day-to-day challenges of overseeing a crowded airport.
One common issue in airports is the separation of children from their parents. People-tracking analytics can scan thousands of people in seconds, using predetermined search criteria— height, hair color, shirt color, and others— to search faster and more accurately than is possible by human eyes alone and locate an individual meeting that criteria. Security officers can then minimize time wasted on an on-the-ground search by notifying officers nearby and keeping them updated with the location of a missing child as they move through the airport. Analytics can also detect lost children entering hazardous areas before they’re even reported by their worried families.
Enhanced surveillance systems are also a key asset in helping airports reduce liability. An injury or other incident occurring on airport property –– from slip-and-falls to work accidents to lost persons –– can be costly and take up valuable resources. In addition, it may be difficult to determine exactly who is at fault without adequate forensic-quality evidence.
High-performance cameras constantly streaming HD video in every part of an airport translates to having consistent, auditable video evidence in case of an event. Enterprise-level VMS platforms provide real-time viewing and alerts and integrate with third-party analytics for improved monitoring and detection. VMS systems can provide searchable time and place information to pinpoint relevant video data among the large amount of stored data on the system, reducing investigation times.
For example, if a passenger were to walk into the terminal at 9 a.m., and a security event occurred involving that particular passenger, operators could quickly trim footage to include the specific incident at a specific time as that passenger continued walking through the terminal. Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FYIA) used to be forced to reference multiple interfaces to achieve the same result, and it took much more time and labor. When they implemented the Pelco VideoXpert VMS platform, that time and resource drain became negligible. “With VideoXpert, you can tailor the investigation and bring all of the cameras into the timeline simultaneously,” said David Lascano, owner of Angstom Technology Group, the systems integration partner of FYIA.
Intelligent analytics can also help reduce the frequency of lost baggage as well as the time travelers spend waiting for their luggage at baggage claim. Video management systems can help to ensure that baggage delays are dealt with quickly and do not cause further security issues by integrating video verification with baggage handling systems (BHS). By combining the systems, a VMS can automatically validate BHS alarms for baggage jams, allowing staff to more quickly move through the process of clearing a jam or dealing with foul play.
Long-Term Savings and Increased Flexibility
Integrating a VMS will require spending some budget upfront, but the long-term investment will save money and provide greater flexibility in deploying manpower.
For starters, a VMS that is able to automate key processes due to machine learning and predictive analytics does not require as many dedicated employees as a traditional video surveillance system. As the systems become even more intelligent and more fine-tuned, they will demand fewer overall resources even as they deliver greater accuracy and efficiency compared to traditional surveillance technology.
Not that all older technology is a total write-off. One way airports can leverage existing equipment is to use a VMS that is able to integrate with any type of existing video surveillance cameras in use. This type of feature enables airports and other facilities a gradual roll-out to slowly bring in high-definition IP cameras if the resources are not immediately available. These types of systems can connect to both analog and IP cameras with greater capabilities, allowing the customer to gradually upgrade their video cameras in accordance with available budget.
Fortunately, an investment in new equipment does not mean having to make a major investment of time to train a surveillance team to use the new technology. The best VMS products are designed with simplicity in mind, so that the increasing number of IT employees who are being shifted into surveillance roles can learn how to navigate the VMS in a matter of hours, as opposed to days or weeks. The investment will be more than recouped in terms of increased efficiencies in both budget and staff. However, the most significant return on the investment will be the increased safety for airports and travelers.