Guarding the exit lanes between arriving flights and baggage claim is a critical aspect of airport security, and a breach into a secure area can shut down airports, create safety risks for passengers, and cost millions.
After 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began staffing exit lanes at many US airports, but announced in April last year it would no longer do so due to budget constraints.
While TSA has since received government funding to staff exit lanes, US airports are evaluating other options, including automated exit lanes.
Exit lane breach control guidelines
In 2010, TSA developed guidelines for automated Exit Lane Breach Control (ELBC) saying that controls must match or exceed those provided by security personnel.
The agency outlined three threats: a person who tries to pass into the lane without first being screened, a person in a non-screened area passing an object to someone in the lane, and an object left in the lane by a person who has exited.
It made several recommendations. The first is that airports monitor exit lane areas and provide ways to identify and follow intruders. Second, they said that improper entry or movements within an exit lane must be identified, including passed or abandoned objects. The third recommendation is that intruders and authorities must be alerted via alarm systems or simple voice warnings.
Next, they recommend that physical impediments are in place to limit passage or confine and apprehend an intruder. And finally, they require that the system’s controls interface with the airport command center.
Types of exit lane breach control
So, airports are now working with TSA to test and implement exit lane technologies. Available options include systems that use motion sensors to monitor the before and after images of an exit lane and trigger an alert if a person or object moves in the wrong direction.
An advantage of motion sensors is that they can cover large open areas. A few hybrid systems use interlocking doors for containment; however when used alone, sensors can’t capture and isolate a threat and so are best used to assist security guards.
Systems are also available that combine motion sensors with video to recognise, capture and isolate passengers in the exit lanes. With this kind of system, a threat can be isolated. Other methods send exiting passengers through a revolving door or through portals that open and close.
In the first case, tracking, monitoring or interfacing with the airport command centre is limited, and in the second case, significant space is required to achieve a high throughput.
Also available are corridor systems, where a high volume of passengers exit through a one-way corridor installed with swing doors that open and close automatically based on a programmed flow or interlock mode.
A series of motion and video analytic sensors within the corridors provide secure detection and entry prevention without the need for guards. Such systems can monitor, detect, alert and isolate a threat and be configured differently for individual airports, and they have satisfied TSA requirements.
McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, which serves over 41 million passengers yearly, recently expanded a terminal and added new passenger processing technologies, including corridor exit lanes.
For airports studying available exit lane systems, the first consideration is building system needs. It is important to have enough space to accommodate an exit lane system, no matter how it is configured.
An airport’s passenger count determines how many lanes or doors are needed, and floors should be level and flat – no inclines – for proper installation and operation. Appropriately sized electrical circuitry should also be considered.
Equally important are technology needs. A good system includes motion sensors and video with analytics that convey size, mass and movement to a command control centre.
Having Ethernet capability allows cameras to network, and a system should also integrate with existing surveillance, fire and motion-detection systems.
One of the most critical considerations for installation is a well-planned pathway for data to travel from the exit lane system to the airport command centre. Success here can lower costs significantly, so it is important to understand data volume to determine the appropriate cabling system. Systems should also be equipped with alarm strobes and emergency telephones.
High lighting levels with even distribution are also necessary to assure that surveillance cameras offer clear images. And, using long-life lamps helps reduce outages.
Quality graphics and signage – that don’t impede camera views – add efficiency to the exit lane system. Signs such as ‘Keep Walking’ or ‘Proceed through’ assure smooth traffic flow and high throughput. ‘To Baggage Reclaim’ signs should also be visible at lane or door exits to avoid passenger traffic jams.
Finally, using a three-hour battery back-up keeps exit lane systems operating smoothly and safely, as do region-appropriate seismic safeguards.
And exit systems should be wide enough to allow access for wheelchairs, emergency technicians, and include provisions for cleaning staff to operate without setting off alarms.
Implementing automated ELBC systems
While automated ELBC systems offer advantages, there are challenges as well. Chief among them is identifying the space needed to install the system and configuring it to fit the airport’s existing exit lanes.
Airports with shallow exit lanes, unconventional ceilings or sloped floors may not conform to the building criteria required for a standardised system. In such cases, a customised solution might be needed.
Throughput is another consideration. For airports with high throughput, some systems will work better than others. Not every airport will need several exit lanes or doors; one or two lanes may be enough.
So airports should do a careful throughput analysis and take into account passenger flow during peak periods before deciding which system to implement.
Finally, too much automation can be a challenge. Too many sensors will create excessive nuisance alarms, desensitise security and operations personnel, and create inefficiencies. It can also lead to higher maintenance and cleaning costs.
While the discussion around TSA’s long-term capability of staffing airport exit lanes continues, all airports should be considering alternative solutions should the TSA change positions.
Airports that embrace technology and transition to automated exit lanes in the coming years will not only improve passenger security but also regain control of the exit lane and achieve cost and time savings in the long run. Automated exit lane systems are the likely solution for the future.