Modern international airports are complex entities, similar in character to small cities, and with diverse stakeholder needs. They are retail zones, workplaces and busy transportation hubs channelling millions of passengers every year to destinations across the globe. Keeping them safe, secure and operationally efficient is an ever-evolving challenge.
Passengers need to pass smoothly from door to plane, which means airport pinch points, such as check-in, passport control, baggage security, and the gates have to be as efficient as possible without compromising on security. It’s a tricky balancing act. Additionally, airport operators know that supporting profitable retail operations is as important commercially as attracting airlines and passengers. Employees and infrastructure must be protected too. All these requirements make airports, perhaps more than any other type of security environment, dependent on systems that can maintain and guarantee constant situational awareness. And this is where, as Chris Bishop explains, surveillance solutions can, and indeed do, play a hugely important role.
Airports need to intelligently monitor what is happening at any one time in any given area (whether it be passenger-side or relating to ‘back-office’ operations) by taking a holistic view of all systems and the data they generate.
Capturing this kind of situational awareness is achievable if managed centrally through a surveillance command and control platform that is fully integrated with devices, including cameras, access control devices, smoke and fire detection systems, as well as devices specific to the airport environment.
Such a solution enables data from the multiple sources to be viewed, managed and, more importantly, interpreted in a single monitoring and control environment. From there it can be programmed to understand threat scenarios, be used for security or operations, flagging anomalies and guiding operators through appropriate response protocols.
Safety and Security
Airports already have some of the most advanced security and safety systems available, from baggage X-ray technology, access control, and facial recognition at passport control points to state-of-the art fire, smoke and chemical detection systems.
Independently, each system is crucial, but when viewed and managed together they become even more powerful because connections between isolated events can be made that may not otherwise be detected.
For example, a ‘person of interest’ identified at passport control may normally trigger one level of response – an alert to surveillance operators who can then visually track movement through the airport on their screens.
But what if a staff member with access to sensitive areas, not meant to be on shift, logs in at the same time as an item of luggage has been left for a prolonged period in a specific area? If taken into account as cumulative events (rather than separate), heightened levels of action could be required.
Importantly, the surveillance solutions that enable this over-arching, intelligent view of security systems also offer the resilience airports require. Because they typically serve as the gateways to national security, airports cannot experience downtime where actions like video recording experience interruption. Ensuring the highest level of resilience and redundancy is, therefore, essential and leading systems suppliers will always design it into enterprise class solutions offered for this demanding sector.
In an airport setting it’s not simply security threats that are problematic. Operational concerns may also arise and, once again, integrated surveillance solutions can help.
For example, staff can be alerted that passenger or baggage handling bottlenecks are happening and can then quickly respond by issuing workflow prompts to relevant teams in order to resolve the situation.
Ensuring staff are well-trained is another area where airports are increasingly turning to surveillance. For instance, video surveillance around airport aprons can ensure correct safety and security protocols are being followed. It can also monitor pilot ‘parking’ performance and how ground staff approach arriving planes.
Any immediate dangers can be identified and dealt with in real-time, while recorded footage is automatically categorised and logged for post-event training.
Smart Airports – Future Focus
Of course it isn’t just airport surveillance technology that has undergone a period of rapid and exciting capability development. Airports are getting ‘smarter’.
For example, the use of tracking beacons is becoming much more widespread – transmitters that issue push notifications to passengers’ smart devices. These notifications (for example advising passengers to have certain documentation ready for security checks, when to go to their gate, or of gate changes) aid foot flow through an airport’s most significant pinch points, improving customer experience and streamlining operations.
Electronic self-check-ins and smartphone boarding pass systems have also become a common sight – their purpose is to aid efficiency while boosting passenger satisfaction.
Furthermore, these technologies share another common thread: they are all collection points for data that, if integrated with other sub-systems through a central command and control platform, provide valuable insight that can further improve safety, security and airport operations.
Not only does merging data sources enable a truly holistic view, it also implies that in the future, abuse of ‘smart tech’ will be difficult to achieve.