Adaptable security which won’t take flight 


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As the aviation industry continues its ascent, it’s paramount that airports remain safe and efficient havens for passengers, staff and cargo alike, reports OPTEX Security EMEA.

As airports return to their bustling pre-COVID-19 activity levels, they continue to play a crucial role in driving economies and the profitability of airlines.

Nevertheless, the challenges surrounding airport security have grown in complexity.

Preserving fundamental standards and accurately detecting threats is therefore massively reliant on the deployment of advanced technologies.  

Any disruption that halts operations and disrupts air traffic flow can significantly affect the industry’s reputation and financial performance.

The smooth running of any airport can be interrupted by people or vehicles gaining unauthorised access to runways or any airside area as they attempt to enter the country illegally, smuggle or steal goods and commit acts of vandalism or terrorism to the planes or the on-site infrastructure.

Whilst not everyday events, they certainly do happen.  

Several notable incidents have made the headlines recently, including a breach at London Gatwick Airport, which had to be evacuated when passengers bypassed internal security and boarded a plane.

There have also been breaches involving high profile figures such as German Chancellor Scholz, who was hugged by a man who drove past perimeter security undetected. 

Safeguarding perimeters 

Effective security starts at the airport perimeter.

Safeguarding runways, public areas and controlled access areas from incidents like these requires many different technologies combined to meet each airport’s specific needs.

Different environments, from snowy Estonia to sunny Italy, demand adaptable security solutions. 

In some instances, perimeter fences can be hundreds of kilometres long. Building a reliable system requires detection technologies that can distinguish genuine alarms and accurately identify the location of the intrusion.

Fibre optic perimeter intrusion detection systems (PIDS) can be buried or mounted directly onto the fence line to precisely detect the location of somebody who tries to jump over, peel or cut the fence or spot if a vehicle is trespassing to gain unauthorised access.  

LiDAR detection can also provide a virtual wall up to 100m and the control centre can be notified about what is happening.

This enables staff to decide on the most appropriate action, which could avoid the lockdown of an entire airport whilst the incident is investigated or, in the case of military airports or those with armed guards, could reduce incidents where weapons are deployed.

OPTEX has found that the need for a stable, reliable system at these higher security sites is absolute.   

Some airports need to monitor public areas outside the perimeter to identify suspicious behaviour, such as people loitering at or near the fence line.

This is particularly true for airports in remote locations, such as Arlanda airport in Sweden, which is situated miles outside Stockholm.

Whilst remote airports may benefit from close monitoring of their perimeters, busier airports, especially those integrated with public transport networks, require different strategies.  

Monitoring traffic 

Different systems are also required to monitor public areas on the perimeter, such as extended and short stay terminal parking and vehicle security barriers.

Car parking is a massive source of airport revenue and needs reliable and efficient security. Traditional technology is a ground loop, a cable buried in the floor, which the car drives over to trigger the barriers. If the system fails, it is labour intensive and costly to repair.  

Newer microwave technologies, like OPTEX’s ViiK vehicle sensors, are easy to install or replace without any civil ground works.

They also distinguish between a person walking up to a barrier holding their number plate up to the camera from an actual car exiting the car park and detects drivers piggybacking out of parking facilities or into secure areas.  

The expanse between the outer fences and the main buildings is a hub of activity. Between aircraft hangers, warehouses, control towers and data centres, a constant stream of vehicles, luggage and people flow around them.

Here, technologies like REDSCAN monitor all the traffic and provide security by detecting unauthorised access. 

Near buildings, LiDAR systems are the perfect solution for detecting people or vehicles as they approach. Thanks to enhanced accuracy capabilities, they pinpoint intruders whilst ignoring the surrounding area and regular traffic across the site.

Rooftops are quieter areas yet are critical to protect. They are more vulnerable to intruders tampering with solar panels or trying to steal lead flashing or copper cabling.   

Tracking passengers 

Passenger flow within the terminal must be controlled and monitored to ensure that nobody enters a country illegally.

Until passengers pass through passport control and security, they are kept airside and only cross into the landside when they have been cleared to enter the country.

Escalators commonly move passengers between airside and landside. Here, if people try to jump off, LiDAR tech creates an invisible barrier between escalators to prevent people from gaining unauthorised access.  

Sometimes, it isn’t about people jumping through, but instead, objects being thrown. One European airport discovered passengers discarding passports into the dividing space as they approached passport control, so they arrived undocumented.

OPTEX’s LiDAR technology was installed, generating an invisible ceiling over the security checks and detecting any passports thrown or discarded.  

Other times, personal documentation is thrown between passengers to enable illegal entry into a country.

The technology can be programmed to detect any object, with extremely precise sensing analytics to provide security with an accurate incident location.    

As passengers exit passport control through the security gates, LiDAR technology can monitor the whole area and alert security if anyone turns around and walks the wrong way. Personnel can then prevent them from accessing secure areas.

Also, OPTEX’s anti-tailgating technology alerts security when an unauthorised person follows a staff member as they swipe a security pass to enter a restricted area.

Finally, LiDAR technologies can also prevent people from gaining unlawful access by protecting empty check-in counters and security belts.  

Once passengers legally pass through security gates, airport operators are keen they enter an open, relaxing spaces to calm nervous fliers.

Hence, any detection system has to be discrete and not disrupt operations.

Invisible to passengers, LiDAR creates virtual internal barriers, which, when crossed, alert security and provide the perpetrator’s exact location.

It can be installed for each shop and programmed to match the opening and closing times.  

Protecting precious cargo  

The rise of online shopping during the pandemic heightened the importance of airfreight hubs and the bonded warehouses that store precious cargo waiting to be transferred cross country or overseas.

Here, a combination of differing technologies will keep the load secure.  

Whilst LiDAR technology can protect the outside of these zones, infrared and microwave technologies can detect body heat, movement or an intruder’s presence inside the buildings, keeping storage rooms or areas within the warehouse secure.

This level of security prevents goods such as mobile phones from being stolen or even major heists, such as the recent gold bullion incident at Toronto Airport.

It also ensures compliance with tax regulations for goods in transit.  

Each airport has its own security challenges.

International airports can be remote; regional airports are often smaller and more vulnerable; hundreds of local airports and flying clubs are frequently broken into by people wanting to steal expensive parts for private planes or copper cabling and lead from roofs.

They don’t need all the sophistication of large or military airport security, but they could benefit from the more adaptable technology that has developed. 

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