Airport security options

July 2010 Surveillance

11 September left in its wake not only death and destruction but also a heightened fear of terrorism that has changed the face of airport security throughout the world.

Though thousands of kilometres away from the blasts, South Africa was also hit by the fallout. Acutely aware of its status – and accordingly vulnerability – as the economic hub of Africa, it wasted no time reviewing its own airport security systems. Now, almost nine years since 9/11, its systems are among the world’s most sophisticated.

And nowhere in the country is its airport security more vital than at O.R. Tambo International in Gauteng, the busiest of its airports, transporting more than 17 million business and tourist passengers annually to destinations around the globe.

According to Zane Greeff, technical director for Elvey Security Technologies, this much-envied security status has been achieved largely through the use of cutting-edge surveillance technology.

Inside the airport

While it is unrealistic to expect any system to be fail-safe, Greeff says modern-day airport security technology makes it possible to bridge most if not all gaps. “With the ongoing growth of both air travel and terrorism, it is imperative that security loopholes are identified and closed post haste. Airports, comprising of large fenced-off areas and open public spaces, present a huge surveillance challenge. Thanks to the presence of video analytics, however, passengers, personnel and visitors can enjoy a level of peace of mind never before imagined.”

Surveillance, and specifically video analytics, is able to hone in on and identify a wide range of different threats. Video analytics makes it possible for airport security to accurately and quickly analyse video feeds for specific data such as irregular behaviour patterns, perimeter violations and unattended baggage (possibly explosives), licence plate recognition, movement tracking and people counting.

So, he continues, whereas in days gone by, the presence of a suspicious person or package would likely have led to the area being sealed off or evacuated, nowadays a suspect, after being identified by technology, would be singled out by the authorities with no panic or fuss.

Another of its benefits is its ability to enhance operator performance. “Research shows that the efficiency level of operators drops dramatically over a period of time,” he says. “After the first 20 minutes or so, the average operator’s processing ability is reduced to the point that he is only able to take in about 5% of the information presented. Obviously this creates an enormous margin for error, which but for the presence of video analytics, would play right into the hands of the criminally inclined.”

Airport hangers

Conventional static CCTV (closed circuit television) has its limitations when it comes to securing open areas such as hangars, maintains Greeff. Rather, he advocates the use of a specific detection application which has the ability to trigger video transmissions and PTZ (point, tilt, zoom) camera control. “This type of system is able to laser-scan large areas for intruders, the detection of which will activate a nearby camera. Alerted to the disturbance, control room personnel can view the imagery in real-time and accordingly decide on the appropriate action to take.”

Today’s top systems, he continues, come with 100 m-range sensors and video verification platforms boasting three outputs for far, near and creep detection. “Multiple outputs are useful for activating video transmission systems and controlling PTZ cameras. The detection angles of the main area of protection can be adjusted to match the camera’s field of view, which allows for the control room and security personnel to decide on how best to deal with incidents. Further, pyro-electric sensors and double-conductive shielding protect the unit from visible disturbances that could lead to false alarms, which is obviously an additional benefit.”

Another security solution which he advocates for large installations is dual beams: long-range sensors with internal ranges of up to 400 m. The beams offer four site-selectable frequencies that, when stacked one on top of another, create a wall of coverage,” he explains, impressed by the fact that beam interruption time can be adjusted to fit any application.

Need further security? Disguise beam height and direction by installing them inside beam towers, he recommends. “IP54-rated unit boasts an improved electro-magnetic interface surge absorber and high-surge resistive relay to protect the beams from lightning and electrical surges,” says Greeff, noting further that its D.Q. Circuitry will warn when beam strength drops below an acceptable level.

Airport boundaries

Stretching more than 2,1 million metres worldwide, today’s most sophisticated perimeter fencing security systems have proved ideal for the protection of large open tracts of land typical of airports. Poorly secured perimeters make aeroplanes vulnerable to sabotage or having explosives planted on them.

Fortunately, airports can now make use of volumetric, terrain-following sensors that can reliably detect and precisely locate walking, running or crawling intruders along the perimeter.

“The cable technology can detect any fence disturbance and narrow it down to within 3 m through the use of proprietary digital signal processing (DSP) algorithms. These algorithms are so advanced that they can separate an attempt to cut or climb the fence from wind, rain or heavy vehicle noise. What is more, it has a microwave cable which transmits alarm signals and operating power to all modules and auxiliary sensors along the perimeter, thereby eliminating the need for extra wiring.”

Again, the hardware requirements are minimal. All that is needed is a personal computer which, in interfacing directly with the software, becomes the alarm monitoring display and graphic map. “The result is a system that not only provides unparalleled performance but also eliminates the extremely irritating problem of false alarms which plagues most other fence sensors, and provides measurable cost savings.”

For more information, contact Kenny Chiu, Elvey, +27 (0)11 401 6700,


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