How do airport operators continue to improve on their commitment to provide a safer, more secure and comfortable passenger experience? And just as importantly, how can they do this and still meet the challenges of today’s ever changing, complex threat environment?
With resources so limited these days, existing assets and technology must work smarter, harder and longer than ever before. For this reason, airport owners need to find new ways to extend the life of their security systems in order to maximise their value.
While operators concentrate on building more sophisticated security infrastructure, operations and maintenance is often under-served during planning and investment stages. Consider that infrastructure – once laid down – must be operational and upgradable for approximately 10-15 years to realise its capital benefit.
Security systems are always ‘on’ in an airport, and they are very complex. Airport security infrastructure consists of a plethora of technologies supplied by numerous domestic and international suppliers, installed at different points by different installers.
Threats change and so do responses, so how does an airport security infrastructure remain flexible yet effective and embrace latest technologies and applications without sacrificing fiscal prudence and make do with basic technical skills of the security operators without sacrificing benefits of complex technologies?
In essence, what is the secret to keeping everything running as it should? Well, the answer is simple – the introduction of a lifecycle management programme that covers the following:
Security equipment must be checked, tuned and calibrated regularly to ensure it meets performance specifications. Sensors may require calibration, cleaning and fine-tuning from time to time.
Meanwhile, software systems will require periodic backup, the installation of patches and the monitoring of applications. Maintaining a system will improve the availability of the equipment.
Systems are likely to fail due to age, electrical malfunctions, manufacturing faults, environmental faults, faulty operations or sabotage. Some failures can bring down a critical sub-system and compromise the security of an airport.
Therefore, service must be immediate, with faults identified and rectified before any events occur. Doing so will prevent a slowdown of passenger services – or, in worst case, the partial or full shutdown of the airport.
Spare parts management
Often, systems are supplied by vendors, which are not contracted by the operators during the procurement or installation stage. These manufacturers are not obliged to render any service to the airport beyond any replacements covered under the warranty, which could potentially create a situation where operators are scrambling to find the necessary parts.
Airport operators should have a robust inventory system to identify and store critical spares and refresh them to prevent costly purchases or full-scale system replacement. However, airport operators are burdened with this costly and burdensome non-core activity.
Service providers take up the spare parts management in their work scope. They would stock in airport premises critical spares, refresh the stock, check healthiness and make them available as required. They will manage the supply chain with product suppliers as well.
Technology in the security industry is ever evolving, making obsolescence a major concern. The availability of spare parts, the ability to upgrade to new standards and the use of integration provide unique challenges.
Obsolete products can be repaired or replaced with an alternative, or the function can be transferred to an alternative sub-system. Airport operators, with their limited technical resources, are often saddled with costly recommendations or replacing the product, or worse, replacing the whole sub-system.
As an example, one of Honeywell’s airport customers – which installed a surveillance system a few years back – would now like to upgrade to IP based technology while retaining the existing field sensors and as many other devices as possible. The upgrade must be achieved without bringing down the existing system, and it must be done cost effectively.
Guards and operators are not typically posted to one facility. Instead, they are rotated amongst many. Though they are trained in basic security functions, their knowledge of the layout of different facilities, standard operating procedures, architecture of the electronic security system, and operating knowledge of the system is limited.
Hands-on training can make them far more efficient and productive. Some regulations or standards recommend regular training of security guards and operators and their skills tested. Records of such training are often checked during audits by the regulator.
Once a system is installed, an airport will thereafter install subsystems – including explosive detection systems, video surveillance, access control, perimeter sensors and barriers – which are likely to be working independently. To realise the promise of integration, the systems must communicate with each other and present a holistic picture to the security manager.
Controls are linked amongst different sub-systems. Alarms in one system need to be communicated to a second system and a reaction carried out through a third system. Different standards and protocols, and unknown application packages often make integration difficult.
For example, tracing a suspicious package that has been discovered unattended in the terminal will require more than just video feed. That video should be linked to the airport’s access control system, external cameras and even the car park registration system. All of these systems should be presented together and intelligently to the crisis manager who is handling the evolving situation.
National and international authorities routinely carry out security audits of airports. Every inspection differs in its approach, recommendations and prescriptions. Systems must therefore be re-configured or upgraded to maintain full compliance to specified requirements and to ensure records are maintained and reported consistently. This is a time-consuming and costly process but is critical to the smooth functioning of an airport.
As the auditor leaves behind their recommendations for changes, CSO sets the ball rolling for review of his security automation. Does his system allow the changes required without breaking the bank? Can his service providers come up with cost effective applications supporting the audit recommendations? How will he inform and train his guard force and operators of the new changes and applications?
Security systems must regularly be tested and often undergo regular simulated application checks. As best practice, the system design or configuration is usually changed and updated after an audit or after an occurrence of a major threat. Conversely, a security system that is not continuously tested may risk not being able to deliver effective results when a threat or situation arises. As such, adversarial tests are carried out, and various scenarios are implemented in the security system with a variety of alarms, which otherwise would not be possible.
Forensic and investigation
Modern airports are armed with the latest security technologies. They are useful not only for protection and crisis management, but also for investigation.
For example, system data can be used to recreate the events preceding the incident, narrow down potential suspects, identify breach points and help understand modus operandi.
These records can be used as evidence in convicting the perpetrators. Routine information may not be sufficient for carrying out an investigation. It may be required to access, collate and report from number of data sources and subsystems. Often an expert technician under the guidance of a security specialist is best qualified to perform such a task.
It is not a regular activity of the airport operator, so dedicated resources don’t need be employed by it and such work can be outsourced to a specialist service provider when required.
Airport operators should choose lifecycle management partners that can provide services beyond just fixing the troubleshooting issues and repairing faulty equipment.
They need to work with a partner who can take responsibility in keeping the security automation infrastructure up-to-date and keep the systems on constant vigil to address any potential threats. They make available different security and technical experts as required.
Service providers guarantee response time, uptime, availability of system, and work closely with the airport operators to realise productivity benefits. This means that risk is transferred from the airport to the vendor so that airports can better focus their attentions on addressing their core business issues.