Hats Off to US Airports and TSA on Airport Perimeter Security

Even before the suspected ISIS bombing of Metrojet Flight 9268, US airports have been increasing the priority of airport perimeter security, above and beyond the current regulations. This is because of the increase in perimeter intrusions in the past year, from vandals to wheel-well hitchhikers. These relatively harmless incidents highlight the fact that someone with more harmful intent could easily gain access to our aircraft.

After conversations with many US airports at three airport conferences in October, before Flight 9268, it was estimated that a total of 14 airports with passenger counts of over 1 million per year were evaluating ground radar for use in airport perimeter security systems. This does not count the many other projects using CCTV, thermal analytics, fence sensors, and other technologies.

Ground radar is finally reaching widespread adoption in the US, after a 7 year head start in Europe. This is because the software in the newer ground radar systems, like SRI’s Airfield Radar System, has reached a level of sophistication that allows it to filter out normal activity and only alarm on real threats. The result is fewer false alarms, which means these systems actually reduce manpower requirements rather than increase them. Other innovations, such as the wide beam 360 degree radar available in ARS, provide more flexibility in locating the radars, so that perimeters crowded with buildings can still be covered by mounting radars on the nearby buildings themselves.

In general, the benefits of ground radar over CCTV or perimeter sensors is that it covers long range up to 360 degrees, and rather than just sensing a disturbance at the perimeter, it detects, tracks, and follows threats for as long as they are on the airfield. This makes automating wide area surveillance practical, and much more cost effective than the partial solutions using traditional technologies.

And it’s not just airports that are increasing the priority of airport perimeter security. On September 2, the TSA’s Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC) members voted 23-0 in favor of new security measures, including the establishment of a dedicated Airport Security-Focused Grants Program. New TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger was at the meeting, and discussed some initial ideas on the implementation of the recommendations.

In the wake of the tragedy of Flight 9268, it is comforting to know that our airports and the TSA were already on track to improve our nation’s airport perimeter security. We didn’t wait for an incident to occur in the US to take action, and we will continue to stay ahead of these threats as best we can. One important point made by aviation experts since Flight 9268 is that in addition to passenger screening, employee screening and airport perimeter security are important legs in the triad of airport security.

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SRI automates surveillance with radar and other sensors for perimeter security, UAS detection, airfield management, coastal monitoring, and traffic management.

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