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Ray Davalos of Miami International Airport describes platinum award winning Runway Incursion Detection solution developed with NICE Systems and UNICOM

In GSN’s 2013 Homeland Security Awards Program, the Miami International Airport (MIA) received a platinum award in the category of “Most Notable Airport Security Program” for its new Runway Incursion Detection solution.

Leading the deployment for Miami International Airport was Ray Davalos, the airport’s building systems manager, who worked with NICE Systems and contractor UNICOM on the project as a continuation of security infrastructure upgrades initiated in 2012. The total cost of the upgrades on the UNICOM-led project was $10 million, $6.9 million of which was to upgrade the existing infrastructure, video recording system, and cameras requested by TSA. An additional $3.1 million was received from the TSA to finance the runway incursion detection solution and some general surveillance cameras.

As Mr. Davalos explained to GSN in a discussion about the project, MIA is a major gateway to the Caribbean and South America, processing over 40 million passengers per year. The objective of the incursion detection program was to come up with an innovative and cost-effective solution that would leverage best of breed technologies that the airport already had available for use, such as tower radar, video management and video cameras, combined with newly purchased ground radar, vehicle GPS tracking and various low light/fixed thermal/PTZ tracking cameras.

The unique part, said Davalos, was using the NICE Situator PSIM solution to tie everything together, allowing the systems to work in concert to make sure that MIA’s Airfield Operations Area was safe and secure. The system is able to detect unidentified people, vehicles, and aircraft on runways and taxiways that may pose a safety problem or a threat, and automatically send information to airport first responders in a fast, informed manner.

The FAA defines runway incursions as “any occurrence in the airport runway environment involving an aircraft, vehicle, person or object on the ground that creates a collision hazard or results in a loss of required separation with an aircraft taking off, intending to take off, landing, or intending to land.” As a number of recent airport incidents have shown, runway incursions have been a common occurrence in the U.S. Between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2012. One study determined that 126 runway incursions were blamed on air traffic controllers, 651 were blamed on pilot error, and 301 were blamed on pedestrians or vehicles.

The FAA monitored system at MIA detects incursions by known “friendly” targets to prevent incidents between aircraft. The new runway incursion detection system on the other hand focuses on unidentified targets that cannot be readily identified through transponders or other means.

“We’re mainly interested in identifying unknown targets with the ground radar, because aircraft  and known targets  are already picked up by the FAA radar,” said Davalos.

According to Davalos, the analytic and visualization capabilities provided by the NICE Situator solution help the airport more accurately identify, locate, and confirm unidentified targets that could pose a threat. The airport has two radar feeds, one in the tower that is owned by the FAA, and another ground radar system owned by the airport, with both systems used as primary and back-up. NICE Situator combines these radar feeds, along with video, real-time GPS tracking, and first responder communications, into a seamless solution for detecting and mitigating runway incursion threats.

Davalos explained that by leveraging these integrated best of breed technologies NICE Situator is able to analyze and correlate data, creating a layered solution with multiple modes of verification, resulting in fewer false positives and more accurate detection. If a legitimate unknown target is detected, he said, the target is automatically tracked by the PTZ (pan-tilt zoom) cameras, and a still shot of the target and incident location is immediately sent to operations and to the closest airport first responders, who can view the information on their tablets while en route to the scene.

Asked by GSN what skill-sets are needed to write the specs for a sophisticated runway incursion detection system, as he did back in 2012, Davalos indicated his short list would probably include engineering expertise and knowledge of video cameras, radar technology, and integration methods. But the most important thing according to Davalos is to be able to innovatively apply that expertise to solve the real problem at hand -- in this case, mitigating the risk of an incursion that could cause a safety or security incident.

So what’s next for Miami International Airport? There was no hesitation in the answer from Davalos. He envisions the next phase of the ongoing security infrastructure upgrades at MIA will be a layered perimeter protection solution along with a consolidated command and control center where all decisions can be made in one place.


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