Fast action - modern techniques for handling airport emergencies

October 2006 Integrated Solutions

Emergency situations need to be handled quickly, professionally and, whenever possible, discreetly, especially when they happen in areas where large numbers of people congregate.

This need is particularly acute in airports, not just because of the volume of traffic, but because recent events have made the travelling public more sensitive than ever to the threat of terrorism. Even though modern security measures in place to combat this threat make the probability of a terrorist attack exceptionally small, it is the perception that counts. Heightened sensitivity to perceived dangers increases the chance of panic in an emergency and this, of course, is the one thing that must be avoided at all costs. So modern emergency alarm systems combine speed of reaction with silent alarm calls discreetly sent to appointed personnel within seconds. Or voice alarms that clearly tell people where to go to get out of harm's way. And in some instances, for example in cases of criminal activity, the alarm may be confined only to security personnel, transmitted via a personal paging system. This allows them to respond and handle the emergency, often without the travelling public even being aware that something has happened.

None of these concepts are necessarily new, but the latest generation of security, emergency-alarm and emergency-evacuation systems take them further than ever before. In particular, modern developments, especially the inclusion of a large dose of digital technology by companies such as Bosch Security Systems, have dramatically increased their effectiveness.

Surveillance goes digital

Surveillance using CCTV is at the front line of any security system but the problem of running perhaps hundreds of CCTV cameras inside and outside an airport is that somebody must continually keep an eye on the images they produce. Modern digital technology, however, has come to the rescue here and has led to many significant advances in CCTV surveillance system components.

In particular, it is now generally accepted by the surveillance world that digital CCTV based on the internationally recognised Internet Protocol (IP) is the way ahead. Even though for a time there will continue to be a need for some analog and hybrid (combined analog/digital) systems, within a decade we can expect a complete digital revolution. Anticipating this, many system providers have already invested in digital technology and IP-based products and systems. With these systems, CCTV cameras, information points, alarm and announcement systems are integrated into a LAN, each with its own IP address and all overseen and managed from a central control room.

Existing LAN or Internet cabling can be used to make the connections, and once the network is established, plug-and-play functionality means that IP-enabled units can easily be added or removed. What is more, IP allows easy implementation of 'intelligent' functionality in cameras, beginning with, for instance, motion detection, but extended nowadays also towards video content analysis.

Controlling these systems is also relatively easy with the development of sophisticated network control solutions that today are mostly pure software. An example is Bosch's VIDOS Video Management System, which provides an intelligent and customisable means of controlling all functions in the IP CCTV system and supports an unlimited number of cameras and monitors. Such a system integrates with existing peripheral equipment such as dome cameras and analog monitors, and combines comprehensive functionality with high performance to provide operators with complete control of all network issues at the click of a mouse.

Moreover, monitoring the cameras is no problem with modern digital video recorder/transmitter systems. The latest products on the market are capable of simultaneously processing eight independent dual video streams with MPEG-4 compression. The video is transmitted via LAN to a control room where it is monitored live on a bank of split-screen monitors, each displaying the video from several cameras. The screens continuously switch between scenes to allow for constant realtime monitoring. With integrated hard disk storage, each DVR can also make recordings of say up to 30 days, depending on the application and hard disk drive size.

A CCTV system including commercially available network cameras delivering digital data streams. For higher video quality and where the system needs movable cameras, these can also be integrated into the network via IP-enabled digital video transmitter/receiver units
A CCTV system including commercially available network cameras delivering digital data streams. For higher video quality and where the system needs movable cameras, these can also be integrated into the network via IP-enabled digital video transmitter/receiver units

For IP-based systems, another solution for recording images has recently become available in the network video recorder (NVR) - a pure software solution that operates on standard platforms with an 'intelligent' server PC and a large number of hard disks. The NVR can record from any camera, at any distance, play back video and audio to any monitor and support storage for up to 64 video channels.

Stop, look and listen

CCTV cameras too have undergone major evolutionary changes in recent years. New cameras are appearing that automatically detect anomalous or suspicious behaviour or automatically alert the control room if restricted areas are entered. Many advanced units feature on-board intelligence that makes the job of the control-room operators much easier. This includes an automatic tracking function that not only detects motion and activates an alarm, but also zooms in on the motion and tracks it. This leaves the operator free to concentrate on the required response, such as alerting the emergency services.

Offering very fast pan/tilt capabilities, current dome cameras are excellent for tracking and for providing a broad overview of airport lobbies and walkways. Potential problem areas such as baggage-handling areas are, however, best monitored with fixed cameras supported by one or more dome cameras for peripheral surveillance. Fixed cameras offer the benefits of very high resolution and a broad choice of lenses, enabling a system to be tailored to specific locations.

Emergency alarm and evacuation (EVAC) systems also are going digital.

Voice alarm systems play a crucial role in guaranteeing fast, safe evacuation in emergencies. For example, they can ensure phased evacuation to manage the flow of people, and instruct passengers to take their luggage with them during bomb alerts but to leave everything behind in the event of fire. To be truly effective, however, a PA and emergency sound system for an airport must deliver exceptional performance and reliability. Spoken messages must be intelligible even in zones with high background noise like baggage handling areas. It must also be fully supervised to ensure secure operation in emergency situations. The development of the latest digital EVAC systems meets all these requirements, including virtually limitless multizone and networking possibilities and the superior sound quality that only digital audio processing can guarantee.

While voice alarms go a long way toward limiting panic in emergencies, even more discreet alarm systems are now appearing with the introduction of new personal security devices (paging and personal-alarm systems) that can be integrated with CCTV, PA and fire-alarm systems. A panic button on the latest personal alarm devices carried by airport staff can be pressed in the event of an emergency to alert the security team and at the same time automatically switch on the nearest CCTV camera to zoom in on the scene. And in the event of fire, a new interface that connects the airport's fire panels with its personal security and DECT telephone systems also allows for a fast, controlled response to fire alarms and reduced likelihood of panic by sending a 'silent' alarm with information about the precise location of the fire to selected personnel via their pager or DECT handset.

Still the safest way to travel

The common claim is that air travel is much safer than travelling by road - a claim that is as true today, despite recent events, as it has ever been. Whilst this is primarily due to ongoing improvements in aircraft design, it is also due in large part to developments on the ground - through heightened airport security, and through security systems manufacturers utilising the latest technological developments to ensure the highest possible levels of safety for the travelling public.

For more information contact Brent Eustice, Bosch Security Systems, +27 (0) 11 651 9699,

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