Perimeter security – Part 3 of 6

Securing an airport’s perimeter – a complex task demanding a multi-tech solution

Large international airports can play host to over 100,000 travellers a day, combined with their expansive networks of car parks, duty-free shops and runways lying within perimeters that can be 20–30 km long.

Large international airports can play host to over 100,000 travellers a day, combined with their expansive networks of car parks, duty-free shops and runways lying within perimeters that can be 20–30 km long.

To secure an airport´s perimeter is a very important and certainly a complex task. There are so many considerations to take into account.

Genetec has supplied several airports with technological solutions for perimeter protection, both for indoor and outdoor areas.

Running an airport is a complex logistical challenge and the precision required to get passengers, staff and aircraft in the right place at the right time is an astounding feat of organisation.

“This means that seemingly innocuous incidents can tip the balance and have damaging knockon effects to these finely tuned machines,” states Simon Barnes, Business Development Manager – Airports EMEA, at Genetec.

The threat from drones

Perhaps the most publicised threat this year has been the growing hazard of drones. For example, in the wake of drone-related chaos during Christmas 2018, there’s been a slew of other incidents at major airports like Heathrow, Dublin and Gatwick (again)ever since. In response, the Police have even set up a new mobile counter drone unit to protect against the growing issue.

“These incidents highlight the need for strong security practices to ensure disruptions are kept to minimum and, where possible, avoided completely,” says Simon Barnes.

Complex environment

To support this aim, airports need to promote operational resilience by having effective security procedures, whilst ensuring security checks are as unobtrusive as possible – to keep customers happy and flights on their meticulously planned schedules. However, the evolution of threats, coupled with the intrinsic complexities of airport management means that administrators have a difficult task in maintaining security. Particularly as large international airports can play host to over 100,000 travellers a day, combined with their expansive networks of car parks, duty-free shops and runways lying within perimeters that can be 20–30 km long. This goes some way to illustrating just how large and diverse these security environments can be.

“My conversations with airport security personnel usually revolve around two main concerns”, explains Simon Barnes.

“How do we improve perimeter protection?” And how do we address the insider threat?”

“Though the investigation has now been closed by police, many theorise that the events of Christmas 2018 at Gatwick were carried out by a former or current employee, making the incident a convergence of these two issues,” adds Simon Barnes.

Incident cost – 50 million pounds

Over that fabled three-day period, more than 1,000 flights and 120,000 passengers were affected. Gatwick’s losses were originally reported to be around 20 million pounds, although it’s since been made clear it was closer to just 1.4 million – not including the 4 million pounds consequently spent on anti-drone measures. However, it was the airport’s associated businesses like retailers, hotels and taxis that took the brunt of the losses and reportedly cost the airlines a staggering 50 million pounds.

Drone protection of highest priority

Luckily, the damage was largely financial as the individual or individuals operating the drone seemed intent on causing disruption, rather than harm. Prior to the events of that December at Gatwick, drones had only entered the airport security conversation as a theoretical hazard – an accident waiting to happen as a result of negligent drone operators. Gatwick served as a wake-up call to the industry, and wasn’t an isolated incident either. In the subsequent weeks and months, we’ve seen near-misses or proximity alerts at major international airports with varying degrees of disruption. If airport security teams don’t take effective precautions against drones in the future, they could risk irreparably damaging their organisation’s reputation – and potentially put their passengers and staff in harm’s way.

Mapping of airport perimeter breaches

Of course, drones aren’t the only cause of airport perimeter breaches. In 2015, the Associated Press investigated perimeter breaches at 31 of the US’s busiest airports. The investigation covered the years from January 2004 to January 2015 and found 268 instances of people breaching the airport perimeters. While it is important to note that none of these breaches involved terrorist activity, any type of breach can be extremely problematic and cause cancellations and delays - costing airports and airlines substantial amounts of money. But what can airports do to mitigate the impact or prevent these events from occurring in the future?

Preventing accidental intrusions

Of course, preventing accidental intrusions from occurring is just one part of airside security. “Introducing new rules and regulations can help police drone operators and act as an effective deterrent. For instance, UK drone operators of certain models had until the end of November 2019 to register with the Civil Aviation Authority,” suggests Simon Barnes.

Furthermore, many airports have established no fly zones around their perimeters. However, as the AP investigation revealed, a fence is by no means a fool-proof way of restricting access and while new rules may lower the chance of accidents happening, an individual that is truly intent on breaking them will do so – unless appropriate tech is deployed as a counter measure.

Multi-tech solution – the way to go

“An intrusion detection system that can alert personnel if or when someone crosses the perimeter and, most importantly, where the intruder is at any given time, is a vital tool for security teams,” states Simon Barnes and adds.

“To be an effective countermeasure, security teams need to deploy a multi-tech solution that combines radar, laser and video analytics, to provide accurate data when tracking a breach. These systems geo-locate intruders or drones using collected data to help continuously track their livelocation once they have crossed the perimeter or entered a restricted airspace”.

Solving false alarm problems

Simon Barnes, Business Development Manager – Airports EMEA, at Genetec.
Simon Barnes, Business Development Manager – Airports EMEA, at Genetec.

Simon Barnes stresses also that these systems also can 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,” he says.

Track intruders

And, finally, when a breach does occur, systems need to be able to continually track intruders and provide operators with the up to date information they require to manage and coordinate the response.

“Auto-tracking that follows and displays intruders within the airfield can provide the intelligence necessary to ensure that the 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 knowledgably, they are better placed to minimise potential threats, reduce risks, keep aircraft moving on time and most importantly passengers and their staff safe,” comments Simon Barnes.

Centralised surveillance centres

By having a centralised surveillance centre, with live-feed mission-critical information from the entire airport to a central control room, airport workers can save valuable time in locating where an event is taking place. Such systems will also be able to track intruders and monitor situations as they unfold, enabling control room operators to provide ground-staff with the information they need to manage and coordinate their response in the best possible way.

Threats from drones demands a strategy

PwC estimates that by 2030, they’ll be 76,000 commercial drones operating within UK airspace, so this isn’t a problem that is likely to dissipate any time soon. Only when security personnel are appropriately equipped with the right technology will they have an effective counter measure to deal with the threat. Allowing them to be able to respond quickly and effectively, means they will be able to minimise potential threats, reduce risks, and keep the airport moving seamlessly.

“With drones seemingly becoming a permanent fixture, the value of having a clear strategy and defence in place to avoid disruption and financial loss cannot be underestimated” concludes Genetec’s Development Manager – Airports EMEA.

Note: This editorial article has primarily been produced for the security trade magazine Detektor in collaboration with SecurityUser.com.

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