How can airports use security investments to reduce operating costs?

Posted: 25 November 2020 | | No comments yet

Andreas Conrad, Head of Marketing at Qognify, discusses how Enterprise Incident Management (EIM) and next generation Video Management Systems (VMS+) can help to improve how airport incidents are managed as they unfold.


There is no other environment where the performance of the security function is more inextricably linked with operational performance than at an airport. Incidents related to safety and security are amongst the most common causes of disruption – and, consequently, cost – to airport operations. It is for this reason that these sites, which are often more akin to small cities, have historically been amongst the earliest adopters of the latest and greatest safety and security technology – from body scanners to advanced video analytics, the list goes on. By reducing the volume, frequency and severity of incidents, operational efficiency gains and cost reductions follow.

It would be remiss to say that cost is not a key consideration when an airport is looking to purchase a new technology, but, historically, it has not deterred them (certainly the larger international airports) from making major investments, as they are aware of its value and importance to the business. In the 19 years that have followed the horrendous events of 9/11, the aviation sector has been one of the pioneers in the implementation of security and safety-focused innovations. At the same time, flights and passenger numbers have increased as low-cost carriers have expanded and small regional airports have seen new runways and terminals added to accommodate capacity. As a result, and until recently, airports have never been busier with people and planes, which in turn has put a strain on operations.

20 years of strong investment in security technology

In the aftermath of 9/11, airports needed to adapt almost overnight, implementing new security protocols and practices to ensure the safety of passengers. Now, in the wake of COVID-19, airports are facing new challenges, with flight schedules running at a fraction of the capacity that they were this time in 2019. For example, Southampton Airport in the UK reported in October 2020 that passenger numbers had dropped by 89 per cent as a result of a low-cost carrier (Flybe) collapsing and compounded by the impact of COVID-19. With the eye-watering daily costs of keeping an airport operational, every airport operator is currently fixated on controlling and reducing unnecessary expenditure. However, it is a fine balancing act, as the industry will undoubtedly bounce back and passengers will return en masse when able.

It would be fair to assume that, with such a focus on cost control and greatly reduced revenues, the airport industry’s long-held reputation as a big investor and innovator in security-driven technology will inevitably diminish. However, this does not appear to be the case. What is actually happening is that airports are looking at their existing infrastructure and future investments and are asking how they can be utilised to reduce or avert the impact of incidents of all types, not only in relation to safety and security.

Complex times require capable solutions

One of the reasons that this question is being asked is the conscious efforts of the security sector, in recent years, to demonstrate value above and beyond safety and security. One of the areas that this conversation has gained significant traction in is the use of security management systems – most notably Enterprise Incident Management (EIM) and next generation Video Management Systems (VMS+), which are increasingly augmented with business intelligence capabilities. Both technologies are well proven in large and small airports around the world and are attracting a lot of attention.

In the case of EIM, it enables data feeds from systems and sensors in operation across the airport to be presented to the control room operator in a way that gives them a ‘common operating picture’. In doing so, it is also able to guide them in making the right decisions at the right time. The value here is to mitigate or negate the impact of an incident by co-ordinating a proportionate response.

By reducing the volume, frequency and severity of incidents, operational efficiency gains and cost reductions follow.

Going beyond major incident management
Robin Lomax is an IT Project Manager who was responsible for the CCTV Refresh Project at London Gatwick Airport (LGW), which involved the implementation of the EIM system, Qognify Situator. He observed the impact that such technology can have on operations: “It gives Gatwick Airport superior situational awareness and allows us to command, adapt and respond to any security event, before, during and after it occurs. It enables a quicker speed and more appropriate size of response, and it allows us to play back and learn lessons from the incident after the fact.”

When discussing EIM and VMS+, there can be a tendency to focus on the ‘big’ incidents that befall an airport, such as emergency landings, terror incidents and aircraft incursions at the gate, taxiway and runway. Whilst it is true that these systems can and do enable these thankfully rare critical situations to be well managed in accordance with best practice, the true return on such investments are to be found in the improved handling of more ‘routine’ daily incidents, which may or may not be security and/or safety related. When taken in isolation, these incidents may not appear to contribute a significant resource and financial cost, or negative impact on performance. But, when viewed in the round, the numbers can look very different.

To illustrate the scale of the impact of a single type of incident, one of the largest and busiest airports in the U.S. handles 400 door alarms each day, with as much as 10 per cent of them requiring the dispatch of security personnel. The resulting fines from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), where applicable, can range from $2,000 to $50,000 per violation.

In these instances, being able to present operators in the control room with the ‘situational awareness’ of what has happened and what is happening now, along with clear guidance as to how the incident must be managed in accordance with best practice and regulation, can reduce handle time and lessen the impact for airport operators, airlines, on-site auxiliary and interdependent organisations.

Another good example is baggage handling. According to SITA – an organisation that monitors global baggage handling – there were 24.8 million ‘mishandled’ bags in 2018. Each of these items was accompanied by a process with a cost attached to it, and that is before taking compensation into account. Using surveillance cameras that are already in place, it is possible to put a new automated process in place to visually track every item of luggage from the point of check-in to it being loaded on the aircraft. The location of a mislaid bag, or cause of a damaged bag, can be determined and resolved by a quick and simple search.

Security technology is an investment and not an insurance policy

Another area is turnaround services, which can be one of the biggest causes of flight delay, given the complexity and time involved in getting passenger and freight aircraft ready to depart. Having situational awareness can enable control rooms to oversee that a process where every second counts keeps to schedule. A Building Systems Manager involved in the implementation of an EIM solution at Miami International Airport (MIA) commented on the experience: “It’s a platform that is customisable, not just for security. We can use it for point-of-sale, concessions vendors, tracking vehicles, license plate recognition or runway-incursion. Everything is now automated for the security operators – just one click gives them access to live video, audio and the control alarm, as well as view capability for pre- and post-recording footage. We are also leveraging the system to offer security services to some of the airlines. This is helping us realise a breakeven costing model.”

The benefits of EIM and VMS+ in improving how incidents are managed as they unfold cannot be overestimated. However, the ability of such systems to greatly reduce the number of incidents that require management is just as significant. Having situational awareness in post-incident investigations can enable root cause analysis to identify commonality and pinpoint actions that can be taken – whether physical, process or procedural – that will, in turn, reduce the potential for incidents to occur.

Some investments in security are considered an insurance policy, ready to perform if and when required. This is a luxury that few organisations today can afford, and systems and solutions must be able to demonstrate a compelling return on investment. Right now, airports are having to make tough decisions as the global situation continues to fluctuate, but cost reduction does not equate to compromise. It is possible to reduce risk and improve safety and security whilst, at the same time, identifying opportunities across the airport to streamline operations, make efficiency gains and improve performance.

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