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BLOGS Last modified on December 18, 2013

Blog: Exit lane security changes – what US airports need to know

Come January, the TSA says it will transfer over responsibility for airport exit lane security to the airports. Because of the obvious operational and budgetary impacts, this is a deeply contentious issue and many airports are petitioning the change.

Responsibility for exit lane security may be up for debate, but one thing is certain – in airports, where breaches can cause shutdowns, ground flights, and put the safety of thousands of passengers at risk, this type of security is essential.

So how are airports dealing with the looming change?

Some are taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude, while others are mobilising to implement new technology.

Of course, technology isn’t a panacea and can’t always replace live guards, but when deployed in a layered fashion, it can significantly reduce the risk of exit lane breaches, and provide airports with the tools they need to respond rapidly and effectively if a breach does occur.

What types of technologies are effective for exit lane security?

Unlike other environments (subways, attractions, etc), which rely on turnstiles to control the direction of passenger flow, airports must take other factors into account, such as the extremely high security risk and the fact that nearly everyone exiting the sterile side of the airport has some baggage.

Consequently airports are considering 'no-touch' approaches such as video analytics that employ counter flow detection.

Analytics are far more reliable than they were a few years back, and it can raise an alarm nearly instantaneously. It can also be deployed in a layered fashion, triggering an initial alert when a person crosses one threshold, then triggering a higher level alert when a second line is breached.

However, one thing it can’t do is physically obstruct an offender – the analytics simply triggers the alarm; airport security officials must then react.

Of course, other effective exit lane security solutions include physical barriers (for example automated exit lane control systems), which can be deployed alongside physical security systems (video surveillance,video analytics and physical security information management [PSIM]) or in a standalone manner.

What’s the right approach for airports?  

In the absence of a guarded exit lane (some would even argue in addition to one), an effective approach might be to deploy a combination of highly reliable video analytics along with a physical design that limits the speed with which an offender could get through and disappear into a crowd.

This could include doors that only open when someone is trying to exit, narrow and long lanes, chokers, chicanes, etc. 

How can airports leverage technology if a breach occurs?

Even with the best technology, exit lane breaches are not 100% preventable. Therefore, guards must be able to react quickly in order to detain an offender. If not, he or she could easily disappear into a crowd, prompting a costly, inconvenient and embarrassing terminal shutdown.

Smart video systems can help here by instantly rewinding to the moment of the breach and displaying an image of the offender (from the front and back), which can then be sent to guards and even pushed to various airport signage for the public to see.

Traditionally, exit lane cameras are placed high up (capturing behavior rather than identity). The former approach requires one or more cameras to be placed closer to eye level so as to get a better view of the offender’s face and characteristics. Also the camera needs be able to reproduce a sharp, non-grainy image, so a megapixel camera with good lighting is essential.

When a breach occurs, response time is critical.

In this respect a PSIM solution can also be helpful. PSIM enables different security systems to work together to provide real-time situational awareness and streamline responses.

For example, the PSIM system can ‘listen’ for alerts from the VMS’s video analytics (and/or other sensors), and once it’s aware of a breach automatically raise an alarm and set other processes in motion.

This could include notifying guards, rewinding video to the moment of the breach, capturing an image of the offender and broadcasting it to the guard’s handheld devices, pushing information to public signage, notifying law enforcement agencies, initiating an evacuation plan, and even helping to coordinate resources during the recovery phase.

Most importantly, since an exit lane breach is a rare event, the PSIM system’s embedded response plans can ensure the situation is handled according to predefined standard operating procedures regardless of the tenure or expertise of operators, guards, and other first responders.

What’s the role of technology after an event?

Following a high profile incident, emotions run high and rumors and 'blamestorming' often begins. It’s critically important to know exactly what happened where and when, and how airport officials and local law enforcement responded; and to be able to prove it.

The PSIM solution thoroughly documents the incident as it’s happening so it can be meticulously reviewed after the fact. When did the breach occur, what specific actions were taken and by whom, and how and when was it resolved?

This incident chronology can be associated with other time-stamped multimedia incident information, such as radio and telephone recordings, surveillance and cell phone video, and other data, which can all be combined in a seamless, incident timeline.

While it’s true that the impending exit lane security changes are highly contentious, they have at least prompted a fresh discussion about new solutions to an age-old problem.

• Bob Banerjee, senior director, training and development, NICE

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