Airport security – CCTV takes off

Posted: 16 July 2009 | John Bates, Chief Executive, British Security Industry Association (BSIA) | No comments yet

Advances in technology and increasing risks are driving an unprecedented level of change in security and nowhere more so than in the application of closed-circuit television surveillance systems in the airport environment. John Bates, Chief Executive of the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), looks at the evolution of the security camera and what it means for the safety of air travel.

Advances in technology and increasing risks are driving an unprecedented level of change in security and nowhere more so than in the application of closed-circuit television surveillance systems in the airport environment. John Bates, Chief Executive of the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), looks at the evolution of the security camera and what it means for the safety of air travel.

Although the security camera now seems so commonplace that it is sometimes hard to remember life without it, the familiar sight of CCTV watching over airports and other public places only began on a significant scale in the late 1980s. Although a handful of successful pilot schemes received widespread publicity, its early growth was restrained by a combination of cost and technical limitations, which the security industry worked hard to overcome with a steady stream of improvements.

The original tube-based monochrome security cameras fell to the more reliable, compact, and relatively maintenance free solid-state colour systems. Then users who had been deterred by the prospect of digging up busy airports and freight terminals to install cable, found they could transmit video images through the air using microwave links between cameras and monitoring centres. Image transmission too, underwent a significant advance for the time with the arrival of fibre optic cable.

Such advances ensured a steady rate of growth, although price barriers continued to exert an influence, not least the recurrent high revenue costs associated with camera monitoring. The breakthrough finally came with the advent of networked video technology, delivering the power to extend the potential of CCTV over a limitless geographical area. In the context of major installations such as airports, the prospect had clear implications not just for safety and security, but for greater efficiencies and cost effectiveness over a wide range of services such as baggage handling. Most significantly, it promised to combine these attributes with economies of scale in both capital and revenue costs unlike anything seen previously – the very economies, in fact, that had already driven the explosion of mobile communications.

The security industry was quick to recognise this potential and the start of the 21st Century saw significant demonstrations of the new networked video technology. Systems comprising 1,000 remote cameras, monitoring live digital quality images via computer networks, changed CCTV from an essentially local resource to a versatile tool that can operate over existing corporate WAN, LAN and Internet links. Such demonstrations quickly began to stimulate demand. The UK security industry was at the forefront of these developments, winning major international contracts such as the design and installation of a new Ethernet CCTV system at Brussels International Airport. The completed system comprised 700 digital cameras, providing real-time monitoring and full motion recording across the entire 3,700 acre airport site, utilising much of the existing cabling infrastructure to keep installation costs down. It enables a range of applications by the police, fire services, baggage handling and customs and excise, each of which has simultaneous access from a variety of monitoring locations.

Such pioneering developments are driving a trend towards the mass production of digital camera networks, the full impact of which has yet to be seen. When mass production took off in that other well known home of digital technology – mobile communications – telephones quickly became cheap enough to give away to new subscribers and affordable by schoolchildren on pocket money resources. Some developers of networked video technology have predicted that CCTV cameras will ultimately become as prolific and easy to afford and install as ‘Post it’ notes, a prospect which has huge implications for airline security.

Let’s consider why the advent of digital technology is so important. Firstly, by digitising and compressing images at the camera it eliminates the problems associated with CCTV transmission over long distances. Full motion real-time colour video is transmitted worldwide instantaneously with digital quality and security. The operational implications for airport security may well be more significant than anything previously seen, since the necessary IT infrastructure is already in place. Networked video technology also exerts a downward influence on installation prices, which previously accounted for a large proportion of overall costs.

The key issue is that the technology utilises existing IP transmission infrastructures that are robust, universally adopted by airlines, cost little to set up and are cheap to operate. This enables secure access to an unlimited number of cameras from any monitoring site, regardless of its location or distance from the cameras. The addition of new cameras becomes as straightforward as adding a new e-mail address to the network. In short, it represents a leap in accessibility and operational capability that opens the door to real-time security surveillance on a regional and national scale.

The implications for the operation and revenue costs of CCTV systems are immense. By utilising existing resources such as LAN, WAN and Internet links, many of which are greatly under-utilised, the need for costly local infrastructures is eliminated. One monitoring centre, or networked centres working together, are able to control a limitless number of surveillance systems, regardless of their distance or location. Falling capital costs also create countless new uses. Applications include real-time visual security ‘patrols,’ alarm verification, inspection of the airport environment for a variety of purposes, from traffic management to cleaning and maintenance, and the supervision of contracted-out services – all from anywhere on the network. Digital recording and archiving also facilitate retrieval over indefinite time periods.

Some studies have already assessed the benefits involved, by calculating the difference between the costs of owning conventional analogue CCTV and digital networked video systems. The methodology took into account the costs of cameras, cabling, inter-site links, video switching, video display monitors, recording, staffing and systems maintenance in order to calculate the total cost of ownership figures. The headline findings suggest that live networked video is particularly cost-effective in meeting the requirements of multiple complex sites such as airports, where the requirement to accommodate growth is important. Case studies showed running costs as much as 72 percent lower than comparable analogue systems. Major savings were identified whenever more than 25 cameras are used on a site, on multiple sites, and where existing network infrastructures are present, all conditions that obtain widely throughout the aviation sector. The British Airports Authority (BAA), for example, has introduced an IP-based video platform that will support thousands of video device inputs, managed by users across several airports and link with existing subsystems such as baggage handling.

Changing technology is clearly transforming both the cost and potential scale of video surveillance, but increasing versatility and an ability to integrate with other technology is at least equally important. The development of facial recognition software, for example, enables cameras at specific locations, such as boarding gates, to visually check all passengers, as well as flight staff and support and maintenance personnel, against a database of known suspects. Similarly, enhanced recording capabilities make it possible to track back through the path taken by suspects prior to an event, showing where they went and who they met. Modern systems now allow all compression and digital video processing to be handled inside the camera, allowing hundreds of cameras to be recorded simultaneously with full frame rate video on standard desktop PCs. This technology is already deployed at Brussels Airport to record continuous live video from every camera.

Digital surveillance systems also integrate well with new ways to speed up airport processes and detect threats, including radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on boarding cards to track passengers, new thermal imaging scanning devices, intelligent CCTV programmes that identify unusual behaviour, and devices to detect chemical odours. Access control is another key area for visual integration. BAA has enhanced its IP video platform with an integrated system that comprises more than 3,500 card readers and over 240,000 active cardholders, networked across seven airports. The system is capable of sending broadcast data to the readers and monitor units, enabling specified doors to be unlocked in the event of an evacuation, whilst transaction recording facilities share information with an external payroll system for the calculation of staff working hours. Such dual uses typify the ability of modern security systems to deliver efficiencies and cost savings in other areas. The BAA system is configured to provide a series of such economies, including managing car park access, and controlling and monitoring loading bridges.

Similar developments include a comprehensive access control facility, linked to CCTV cameras with an automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) capability, at Doncaster’s Robin Hood International Airport. A series of alarm workstations link the access control system with 140 security cameras, covering indoor terminal and airside areas, as well as outdoor surveillance of the apron, goods yards and car parks. Security staff can view devices and alarms via graphical maps of the airport site. In the event of a violation, the access control system ‘instructs’ the CCTV system to display images from the nearest camera to a control room spot monitor. In addition to IP-based transmission and recording for the cameras, Ethernet-based access systems are employed throughout the site, linking the terminal, remote buildings, the fire station, ATC Tower and administrative buildings.

The system at Robin Hood Airport also allows staff to display and verify the identity of passengers prior to boarding aircraft, ensuring that the person who checked in is the same person who boards the plane and allowing passenger segregation within mixed arrival/departure lounges. Airport-specific door modes on the Ethernet readers enable the free flow of passengers through boarding and landing gates, without compromising security, and create security airlocks. Combined with CCTV, the system allows real-time tracking of everyone entering or leaving the airport. An integrated visual imaging and pass production system also allows security staff to capture images and personnel data for the creation of bespoke ID cards, colour-coded to DfT requirements, to assist visual verification of a person’s authorisation to be in any given area. The Brussels’ Airport CCTV system has also been integrated with access control technology based on RFID, in which access tags allow 30,000 authorised users to circulate simply by walking-up to the relevant door, hatch, portal or gate. A battery within the tag allows some 1,000 different access points to read at a distance of up to one metre, through handbags, pockets, or other non metallic materials, facilitating easy access by disabled users and people carrying equipment.

Further developments include the development of video analytics to increase the functionality and effectiveness of both CCTV and access control systems. These systems use software processing algorithms that enable a camera to scan a scene, detect a potential alarm event and notify a CCTV operator of a potential problem requiring investigation or remedial action. Within an airport terminal, for instance, applications for this technology include identifying abandoned baggage and congestion detection, using scene analysis to generate an alert if a large number of people begin arriving in a particular area. The system is being used at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam to prevent accidental or malicious intrusion onto runway and hangar areas. ‘Virtual tripwire’ applications are used to designate unauthorised areas in each camera’s field of view.

Digital surveillance is also making major inroads into the inherent difficulties caused by the sheer size of airports and their perimeters. Networked cameras now facilitate such wide area monitoring, for example by integrating with access control measures at the perimeter to validate a person’s identity and tracking their onward movements whilst within the airport complex. The increasing sophistication and reliability of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) software makes it possible not only to employ security cameras to support access control – such as links to barriers and rising bollards to physically restrict movement – but also to equip the overall security system with an intrinsically wider crime prevention and detection capability. Such systems are already being used successfully to monitor incoming traffic, by linking CCTV images to databases of suspect or stolen vehicles in order to signal alerts to security staff.

Integration with sensors and analysers also allows surveillance systems to recognise the kinds of vibration caused by intruders at the perimeter itself. The analyser will respond to events such as cutting, ramming or climbing, whilst ignoring the sort of movement caused by passing traffic or wind. Other technologies include volumetric detection, to monitor the physical space adjacent to fence lines for penetration, linked to cameras and sensor-activated lighting that switches on when movement is detected. Applications extend beyond crime prevention to include safety and loss prevention issues, such as equipping existing cameras with video smoke detection for use in areas such as hangers and warehouses.

All in all, the technology of CCTV surveillance has come a long way in the relatively short time since its inception and airports have been at the centre of its remarkable progress. If the evidence of its development teaches us anything, it is that its influence on our safety and security will continue to grow, probably at a faster rate than we can yet imagine.

The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) is the professional trade association of the UK security industry. Its members produce over 70 percent of the country’s security products and services to strict quality standards. For further information, visit The BSIA operates a local rate helpline on 0845 389 3889.

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