By Harold German
If trying to pinpoint the specific location of an individual in an airport is difficult, imagine trying to find the location of a deadly instrument, such as a bomb. Now imagine trying to detect someone releasing harmful substances into the air that cannot be seen with the naked eye. These are some of the many challenges confronting airport security personnel from all across the world. Historically speaking, both domestic and international terrorists have identified airports and planes as popular targets for their attacks. From this vantage, United Airlines¡¯ 1965 tag line, ¡°Flying the Friendly Skies¡± sounds bitterly ironic. A tragic example of this frightening reality is the devastating attack that was carried out in the United States, on September 11, 2001. In the aftermath of 9/11, every American airline company saw a dramatic reduction in domestic and international flights, which continued on for many months. During this period, the airline companies lost billions of dollars in revenue and laid off nearly 100,000 workers. Not to be excluded, airports observed a significant drop in traffic and sales. It is an unfortunate fact that it often takes industry-crippling events to create the conditions for industry-improving solutions. Taking proactive steps to prevent problems before they occur, airports have responded by beefing up their security staff and investing in the latest surveillance and detection technologies. Since then, ticket sales have returned back to pre-9/11 levels and U.S.airport security personnel have successfully thwarted all major disruptions. Without the use of innovative technologies, keeping up this level of airport safety would be simply impossible. Given its latest technical acquisitions, Orlando¡¯s Sanford International Airport (SFB) is intent on not being left behind.
SANFORD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Known as Central Florida¡¯s ¡°Gateway to the Sun¡±, SFB is one of the busiest airports in the U.S. With the daunting responsibility of accommodating approximately two million travelers each year, SFB had good reason to step up its interest in the latest security technologies. SFB¡¯s existing commercial-grade analog CCTV system was based on the antiquated VCR format, and used to monitor security issues without the functionality or the capacity to properly archive video recordings. This posed several problems for the SFB security staff, including inflexible options (they were limited to only using proprietary equipment for video playback) and inferior video quality (using tapes that were overwritten on a monthly basis). There was also a serious problem related to the real-time positioning, control and management of live video feeds coming in from the dispersed cameras, as well as an inability of quickly accessing archived video. The time had clearly come for a new security system and the man chosen to spearhead this effort was Bryant Garrett, SFB¡¯s Chief Financial Officer and Chief of the Sanford Airport Police Department. With years of experience in airport security and extensive knowledge of the existing system, Garrett was the perfect candidate for the overhaul.
Dispatch center at Sanford International Airport (Photo by Harold German)
Orlando, Florida Sanford International Airport monument (Photo by Harold German)
The essence of Garrett¡¯s plan centered on proactive planning: finding solutions for existing problems, and those that could potentially present themselves in the future. It¡¯s the approach any person charged with making an IT investment should take. Key factors for Garrett were integration capabilities (to utilize existing hardware), scalability (to grow the system as needed) and flexibility (having options on hardware choices). ¡°A non-proprietary system would allow us to get competitive bids from multiple hardware vendors,¡± said Garrett. Other important features for SFB were multiple-camera screen displays, manipulation of PTZ (Pan Tilt Zoom) cameras, the ability to quickly switch from live to archived video and facilitating the process of exporting selections of archived video in high-quality format for other authorities to review from remote monitoring stations. With any new technology solution, ease of use is of utmost importance, as studies show that one of the main reasons new technologies fail to take hold is low user adoption. Ultimately, technology cannot help if it hinders.
Diagram of Omnicast, an enterprise-class video surveillance solution that provides seamless management of digital video, audio and data across an IP network, making monitoring and managing security information a simple process (Source: Harold German)
Today¡¯s organizations are rethinking the way they approach IT investments. In the past it was normal to purchase several pieces of technology with varying functions (cameras, card readers, monitors, etc.) that would comprise the system. The incremental, or ¡°buy-as-you-need¡± approach was thought to be prudent, as it allowed the organization to solve specific problems while staying within the budget. However, when different pieces of technology cannot interact with each other in a way that makes management of data easy, problems of another kind can result, such as loss of time, lack of productivity and the need to hire additional staff. For this reason, organizations are adopting a different approach; ¡®The Solution Buy¡¯
Forward-thinking IT security vendors are releasing packages designed around this approach, which covers all security bases and provides integrative capabilities, as well as scalability for the future. One such solution is Omnicast from Genetec; an enterprise-class video surveillance solution that provides seamless management of digital video, audio and data across an IP network, making monitoring and managing security information a simple process. SFB went with this solution and decided to begin their analog-to-digital security conversion with the 50 cameras that were already in place and added another 80 cameras, which were positioned throughout the airport. Using existing fiber-optic cable, a dedicated IP video network was built for seamless management of all security content. This setup also enabled SFB to keep their existing hardware and servers, as well as manage all security content from a central location, using the Omnicast software. The intuitive drag-and-drop user interface proved popular with SFB. ¡°The user interface was one of my favorite features,¡± said Garrett. ¡°For example, changing the names of the cameras is as easy as changing the name of a Microsoft word document.¡± Another popular feature for SFB was the video bookmarking, which enables the security staff to select and save any portion of video with a simple click of the mouse. Users can refer to their video bookmarks at any time, and organize them in a simple and orderly format. Video archiving was a central requirement for the SFB staff, who are now able to archive and sort through extensive content very quickly, pull essential data, and if necessary, have it ready in high-quality format to send to others for review. In addition, the system¡¯s failover and redundancy features ensure that recorded videos are properly backed up, making the system completely fault-tolerant.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
The system¡¯s ability to offer viewings of live and recorded video, from basically anywhere in the airport, was a huge plus for SFB. Terminal managers monitor aircraft traffic at the gates, ground and airline activity, passenger congestion among the terminal and customs clearance, and all door access throughout the large premises. Additionally, a law enforcement team now supervises various sites from a remote dispatch center, which is manned 24/7. The system has already increased the efficiency of SFB¡¯s decision-making capabilities and has also contributed to the prevention of security breaches. On several occasions, SFB has avoided the need to evacuate passengers from the terminal for disruptive ¡®rescreens¡¯, when security officials had concerns that a breach may have occurred. Immediately following each instance, security staff members were ¡°able to quickly determine that a breach had not occurred,¡± said Garrett, and operations were allowed to continue as usual.
SFB¡¯s new security technology has significantly reduced response times and decision-making processes, which ultimately translates into monetary savings for the airport and a better and safer experience for travelers. Travelers that don¡¯t feel bogged down by repeated security checks fly happier and feel safer. Likewise, security staff members that don¡¯t feel intimidated by confusing technology are more productive and effective at improving airport security. ¡°The software makes it very easy to get what you need,¡± said Garrett.
Harold German is a renowned author and contributor, with appearances on CNN and in noted international publications, such as The Economist. Mr. German covers IP networks and the future of IT. He is a senior writer for Partner Service Sites (www.partnerservicesites.com).
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