Security built from ground up

Airports face two difficult security challenges: First, they must get the right people to destinations around the world, quickly and safely; second they must make it impossible for the wrong people to access either airport restricted zones or planes. And while both challenges are important, in the current climate the second is a matter of life and death.

Accordingly, airports are addressing the crucial issue of ground security and crew control with a broadbased mix of security solutions – ranging from high tech to common sense.

Restrict, Monitor, Track
Initial steps in keeping airports safe include simply making sure that access points are kept to a minimum and are all monitored and properly secured. Of course, most airports were already designed around these basic security principles, but as they continue to expand, providing high fencing for open areas and integrating all new doors and gates into existing access control systems are of course essential.

It’s therefore essential to create strong access controls for all airport workers. Pilots, flight attendants and workers at stores and restaurants near boarding gates are already taken care of: They go through the exact same security procedures as passengers. Accordingly, they must show ID, walk through metal detectors, and have their belongings X-rayed.

However, airports must also develop systems for other personnel such as mechanics, baggage handlers, airport administrators and more. At doors and gates designed for these workers, photo IDs are just the beginning. SmartCards combined with CCTV are one alternative adopted by Lufthansa’s cargo areas at Frankfurt, for example. SmartCard IDs include both a photo of the worker and key information such as the employee’s authorization level and the last time the card was used.

When workers enter, they simply insert their ID into a reader; guards monitoring CCTV compare the ID photo with the picture on the ID while the system checks to see if the worker is authorized to enter the area. If the worker tries to breach security by, for example, passing their ID back to someone else, the system will automatically detect this policy violation and will bar entry.

Instant recognition
Recognition software and biometrics are additional layers that airports can add to this formula. All of these systems compare recorded physical data about authorized staff, typically stored in a database onsite, against the person seeking to gain entrance, who must have either their face, hand or eye scanned at the door.

Although iris recognition is typically considered the most secure alternative, hand recognition, which includes detailed 3-D measurements of the user’s entire hand, is probably the most popular due to its convenience.

All of these systems offer greater advantages over more basic smartcards, since they provide a greater level of assurance that workers are who they say they are. And since worker information is stored onsite, not within the card itself, tampering is less of a risk. Various types of biometric and recognition systems are used at airports around the world, including London City Airport and JFK in New York amongst others.

You’re on CCTV
Of course, once workers enter the airport and restricted zones, security doesn’t stop. Most airports constantly monitor their facilities with an extensive network of CCTV cameras. The new 3 million dollar system at Long Beach Airport in California provides a good example of a next-generation video security solution.

Their fully digital network of approximately 100 cameras includes wireless cameras for more comprehensive coverage and is integrated with the alarm system. Accordingly, if an alarm goes off, live video of the scene is instantly displayed for guards. Because the system is completely centralized, any guard can view any camera on demand. And 30 days of all footage are stored for future investigation purposes.

The right background counts
Of course, none of these systems will be effective if the wrong people become authorized as airport workers or security guards, making proper background checks essential. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has been working on a nationwide system called TWIC (Transportation Worker Identity Credential), which will involve investigating the background of security works and taking a 10-fingerprint scan which will be stored on a smartcard ID. However, due to lack of funding the program has been repeatedly delayed, and initial rollout will be restricted to maritime port workers.

In the meantime, all airports are required to check employee rosters against a government “do not fly” list of suspected terrorists – not an easy task since the task must be repeated every time the list is changed. Airports like Palm Springs International in California have automated this task as well, creating a computer program that automatically compares all employee names in its database against every new list.

The important lesson from these advanced airport systems? Security begins from the ground up, with systems that address the basics such as worker clearance and entry yet also provide 360-degree coverage of all high-risk areas. Put it all together, and the result is a pretty comprehensive system for keeping airports – and the skies – safe from intruders.

Staff Access Control in Schiphol (Amsterdam)

– More than 70,000 Airport Workers working for more than 500 companies
– Over 150,000 access at 1100 access points at the airport
– Solution chosen is storage of iris and weight details on personal ID smart
– Compliancy with most strict security regulations
– Reduction of human mistakes for identification
– Automation of security (identification) functions

Courtesy of the Schiphol Group

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