Airports are complex entities and critical gateways for cities, regions and nations, channelling millions of passengers to destinations across the globe every year.
They also arguably face more daily logistical, operational and security challenges than most other businesses, which is why it is not surprising to learn that they are also some of the largest employers in the world.
Hubs like London Heathrow and Dubai International Airport, for example, employ over 160,000 people between them. But your biggest asset – your workforce – is also one of the biggest risks to your business. With high-security zones, dangerous operating areas and complex shift patterns to be considered, ensuring that thousands of staff remain safe, well, and where they should be while working to exacting protocols, is a mammoth task.
It is also a challenge ideally suited to intelligently integrated surveillance command and control solutions.
The power of connected real-time oversight
While airports commonly use surveillance, a practice that has yet to be widely adopted is the pairing of visual data with information from the vast array of devices at their disposal to achieve a clear, real-time view of operations.
By monitoring surveillance footage alongside data from security, safety, management systems and edge devices – operators are able to view, manage, and, more importantly, understand the significance of all this data from a single unified interface.
It is exactly this opportunity that intelligently integrated surveillance command and control solutions present. And while this naturally has significance for improving passenger-side operations, it also has the power to transform the way airports implement and enforce processes vital to staff security, safety and wellbeing.
People-mapping for clarity on clearance
For the protection of staff and passengers alike, ensuring that access to specific airport zones is restricted – in accordance with accurate identification and clearance levels – is a major priority. With literally a small town of personnel to ID, authenticate, and process through a wide range of back office and airside work areas – from cleaners, administrators, retail workers, check-in teams, maintenance staff and baggage handlers to airline crews – this is no small feat.
But the process is significantly simpler when systems are integrated to deliver airport-wide situational awareness.
Consider a simple example. A member of staff’s badge with integral RFID is swiped to enter a restricted area. With an intelligently integrated solution, this one action can trigger any number of automated responses: surveillance footage prioritisation to automatically or manually match against ID photos held on system; cross-referencing with staffing schedules to check whether that individual should be on shift; or people-counting verification to confirm only one individual (the badge holder) passes through the door to prevent ‘tailgating’.
If any anomalies are detected, these can be alarmed to prompt appropriate investigative workflows for operators to follow in order to determine risk or the issue at hand. Through interoperability with connected systems, control centre teams then have the power to initiate protocol-driven actions such as access door lockdowns.
These capabilities, combined with real-time GIS mapping, mean that control centre operators can view a live map of airport activity and personnel, with the ability to action an appropriate response.
Supporting wellbeing with strict adherence to safety
Crucially, while achieving such a comprehensive understanding of personnel movements supports security objectives, it also has major implications for guaranteeing the safety of staff.
A prime example of this is airport aprons. Personnel operating in these areas have potential access to passengers, fuel, baggage, plane embarking/disembarking infrastructure etc. As such, verifying IDs and closely monitoring activity in real-time is clearly a security priority. But these areas are also hazardous. Failure to follow the right safety protocols – from wearing high-visibility and specialist clothing and keeping within ground-marked safe walkways to always working in pairs to complete specific tasks – can result in serious injury or even death.
The intelligent integration of surveillance, access control, sensors and video analytics make working in these areas much safer with anomalies flagged based on data parameters. This allows control room teams to immediately respond if, for example, a worker strays over a virtual perimeter line, isn’t clearly displaying their ID badge, or removes their high-visibility jacket.
Aprons are just one example where leveraging sub-system data through the surveillance platform can produce actionable intelligence. The same principles can be applied across the entire airport estate, with GIS data and rules based on Standard Operating Procedures allowing airports to apply alarm parameters based on the workers’ exact on-site location.
Any immediate dangers can be identified and dealt with in real time, while recorded footage is automatically categorised and can be logged for post-event safety training and/or review for long-term solution planning, such as infrastructure changes that may boost worker safety.
Lone-worker systems, PMRs (professional mobile radios) etc can all be integrated and monitored to ensure workers are safe. With body-worn cameras also being used in a number of global airports from Missouri to Mumbai, the integration possibilities supporting real-time safety monitoring are virtually endless.
And of course, monitoring is not restricted to physical safety. The 24/7 nature of airports means another risk factor lies in staff who are tired or overworked, which can result in operational inefficiencies or, worse still, put the lives of both workers and passengers in jeopardy.
In this context the integration of access control, shift roster databases, and clocking-out systems can, for example, alert managers to a person working too many shifts in a row.
A guiding hand in emergency scenarios
A unified, centralised command and control solution also supports optimal deployment and co-ordination of emergency response teams in the event that workers need support.
Combining GIS mapping data, IDs, training information from personnel files and video data, operators can quickly locate incidents and the nearest members of staff with the right skills to help.
Respondents can then be guided to incident locations quickly and effectively, and if necessary, access systems can be overridden to enable teams to take the most direct route possible through the complex airport environment.
As an example, in Texas, San Antonio International Airport has 4,000 doors posing a huge challenge when also confronted with negotiating significant crowds of passengers. This logistical capability, made possible by the smart use of data, can make a huge difference to response times.
Once on location, information can be shared with responders, including any images that may be pertinent to assess danger or risk levels, and they can be talked through procedures via integrated communications, with operators following on-screen workflows based on real-time data received regarding the incident in question.
What does the future hold?
Using technology to provide more in-depth, immediate on-the-ground help to workers is a crucial area of development in the industry right now. Many solutions currently being trialled offer enormous potential when added to the integrated command and control mix.
An interesting example is Singapore Changi Airport’s recent trial of augmented reality (AR) smart glasses that superimpose project instructions and information, enabling workers to carry out real-time ground and ramp handling tasks more efficiently and effectively.
In the future, monitoring data from AR glasses could be integrated alongside flight information and staff rotas to optimise the deployment of staff. During emerging events such as flight delays or teams in other terminals being shorthanded due to worker absence, the glasses could convey real-time instructions and redirect individuals as appropriate.
They could also detect, for example, if certain workers are bearing an undue strain of handling heavy equipment, so managers can intervene and spread the load more fairly to improve safety and wellbeing.
Another exciting development that will be made possible as analytics software improves – from facial recognition to behaviour analysis – is increased automated deployment of staff.
For instance, the software could analyse camera footage, detect that a spillage has occurred, and automatically initiate a workflow prompting the appropriate staff to clean up the mess, avoiding a potential slip and fall incident.
An alternative scenario could be that the combined surveillance footage and system data identifies passengers waiting for a delayed flight at a gate with an air conditioning system that needs maintenance attention, prompting it to send out a workflow to distribute bottles of water – a nice customer service touch.
Supported staff means better business
Perhaps the biggest advantage of using system integration to support staff safety and wellbeing is that, for many airports, technology and capability are already in place.
Individually, the systems needed to obtain useful data are active – they are just disparately managed. The right command and control platform capitalise on that potential; and by adopting an open architecture solution, airports can seamlessly integrate legacy hardware alongside newer devices and trial-proven tech at a pace that suits both budget and evolving needs.
Air travel is set to increase exponentially, with IATA predicting air passenger numbers will nearly double to 7.8 billion by 2036. This kind of increase is not sustainable without an effective, supported, and well-managed workforce. However, with such a powerful HR and organisational tool at their disposal, the opportunity is there to seize.