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Best practices for securing airport perimeters

John Romanowich
of SightLogix

Perimeter security systems are the first line of defense for airports. Recent high-profile intrusions at airports around the country highlight the critical need for accurate, dependable security systems to protect aviation assets. Now that passenger access points have been secured, more attention is being paid to airport perimeters. 

Achieving security awareness for airport perimeters comes down to timely, credible alerts with detail to respond. Knowing the nature and location of an intrusion is the key to mounting an effective response. A number of automated detection technologies, including coax and fiber fence sensors, microwave, seismic sensors and radar, can provide some level of perimeter detection. However, thermal cameras with video analytics provide substantial advantages over these alternatives, increasing the probability of intruder detection while greatly reducing the nuisance alarms that have plagued automated perimeter systems in the past.

One advantage is speed, which is paramount when thwarting an intruder. Only thermal cameras with video analytics combine accurate detection with visual detail to determine the “what and where” of an alert, without additional verification systems. Knowing the size, location and nature of an event, as it unfolds, is the key to mobilizing an effective response. 

With the innovation of thermal cameras with substantially more on-board image processing, thermal systems are now available to accurately detect the presence of unauthorized persons over site perimeters and outdoor areas, regardless of difficult conditions. These smart thermal cameras are designed to filter the effects of environmental elements and provide detection over large areas, regardless of wind, weather or the movement of small animals, trees or blowing trash. When security operations receive accurate information, they can mount an appropriate response to the nature of the alert. Such a system yields the necessary “security awareness” around the perimeter to meet airport security objectives.  

When selecting a perimeter solution to protect airports, consider these best practices: 

Choose thermal cameras for outdoor perimeters -- Lighting is often poor or unavailable along extensive airport perimeters. Thermal cameras will ignore stray headlights and reflected light, while operating in total darkness and bright sun. They also eliminate the expense, power and difficulty of lighting large airport perimeters.

Developments in image processing related to thermal imaging boost the applicability of these systems from their traditional role as “night vision” cameras. Additional image processing works with thermal image sensors to adapt to dynamic outdoor conditions, such as those of airport perimeters, and provide good clear images that are closer in quality to black-and-white photographs. Image processing intelligently exaggerates small differences in temperatures detected by thermal sensors to make important scene details visible to the human eye. The availability of better thermal images can eliminate the need for visible cameras during daylight and provide clearer images regardless of conditions 24 hours a day. Also, the prices have come down significantly making them affordable for mainstream use. 

Use GPS analytics to increase detection accuracy -- Perimeter systems must ignore stray movement caused by foliage, blowing debris or small animals, while still detecting human and vehicle intrusions at all times. Cameras with GPS-based analytics know the location and actual size of all objects in the field of view. This is the basis for size filters that accurately detect what’s relevant and ignore objects that don’t meet size criteria, greatly reducing nuisance alerts that can plague other solutions.  

Electronic stabilization reduces nuisance alarms -- Smart cameras operate by sensing movement, but outdoors, everything moves. Cameras mounted on a pole will sway from wind, vibrations, aircraft taking off or other factors. In all cases, choose cameras with built-in electronic stabilization to maintain a high probability of detection without nuisance alerts from these vibrations.   

Choose a camera built to withstand the elements -- To ensure dependability and continuous coverage, outdoor cameras need to be protected from humidity, sand and extreme temperatures. Otherwise, normal expansion and contraction due to thermal changes throughout the day could allow grit, dust or humidity to enter a camera’s housing, impacting the electronics and clouding the camera lens. Sealed, nitrogen-purged cameras tested to meet NEMA 4X standards will withstand the outdoor environment best, even in harsh environments. 

Determine an analytics camera's true detection range -- The best measure is the distance at which a camera can detect an intruder walking “inbound” or directly toward the camera, and not the less accurate “crossfield” distance. In fact, crossfield detection is often twice the distance of inbound detection ranges. Sometimes, vendors only publish crossfield detection, resulting in designs that leave large security gaps. Ask your manufacturer to demonstrate their inbound detection range to avoid gaps.  

Use overlapping camera views to avoid blind spots -- All cameras have a “blind spot” under the pole. This area must be viewed by an adjacent camera to ensure no gaps in security. 

Choose a validated, proven solution -- A recent TSA test at Buffalo Airport confirmed the detection accuracy of a thermal system in the challenging environment typical of many airports. According to the TSA's final report, the “evaluation team performed over 900 scenarios in which every alarm instance was accurately reported.” The test showed that it is possible to ensure accuracy, even in an uncontrolled environment with constant changes in lighting, wind, clouds and other variables, and to provide effective outdoor security that isn't plagued by nuisance alarms and mis-detects.

Longer-range cameras reduce costs -- Airport perimeters often comprise large areas that can stretch several miles. A majority of a perimeter security solution’s costs relate to supporting infrastructure  -- poles, cabling, connectivity and power. Longer-range cameras cover more area with fewer devices, up to twice the detection distance and four times the detection area than previous solutions. Longer ranges reduce the number of poles, trenching and communications needed for an airport's deployment, lowering costs. In fact, thermal cameras with video analytics are now much more cost-competitive with other technologies, meeting and even beating traditional solutions for securing perimeters.

Successful security for airports comes down to detection accuracy and economics. New smart thermal camera systems deliver on both, even in the uncontrolled environment of airport perimeters, becoming the new standard for securing aviation assets.


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