As the evolution of technology accelerates, we have an increasing number of tools available to watch and respond to potential threats on our airfields. The importance of ground radar for airfield safety and security is increasing, including threats of perimeter intrusions, wildlife hazards, runway incursions, insider threats, theft, and vandalism. Traditional approaches to managing these threats are Patrols, CCTV, and PIDS (Perimeter Intrusion Detection Systems). While these approaches are reasonable for smaller airports with a moderate level of assets to protect, they do not scale up to protect large airports with thousands of acres and billions of dollars in critical assets on the ground, for the following reasons.
Traditional airport security methods fall short of maximum protection
Patrols will always be required at commercial airports, as a deterrent and a response force. What they are not effective at, however, is monitoring. One person in a vehicle can only monitor one or two acres at any time, and so if they don’t happen to be looking where the threat is, it will go undetected. At $300,000 per year for each 24/7 position, it’s just not feasible to add enough patrols to cover a large airport. What we need is a tool that tells the patrols where the threats are, and shows them a live view so they can respond effectively.
CCTV will continue to proliferate, and is an indispensable tool for high risk areas. But like patrols, a camera can only detect a threat if it happens to be pointing at it, and if someone happens to be watching the image. Color video analytics can automate some of the watching part, but is only effective in controlled lighting environments, such as inside exit lanes. Thermal analytics have proven to be more effective in outdoor environments, because light is not a factor and they are just comparing heat contrast. The main reason CCTV cannot scale up to protect a wide area, however, is the inherent trade off in cameras between range and field of view. A long range camera has a narrow field of view, and is like looking through a straw. So if it knows where to point, it can capture a threat, but like a patrol, a camera can only monitor about an acre of area, and it’s not feasible to put thousands of them on the airfield for full coverage.
PIDS systems typically use one or more sensor systems to detect a disturbance at the perimeter. When a disturbance is detected, an operator is notified, and with some systems a CCTV camera is directed to the threat. Some airports have been frustrated by false alarms from PIDS systems, but the software is improving, and with careful tuning they can be effective for their intended purpose. The main issues remaining with PIDS are that they are very expensive, and they only cover the perimeter itself, not the airfield. So if an intrusion does occur, you may know where it happened, but have no tracking or visibility of the intruder once on the airfield.
New technologies for airport security
New technologies gaining ground in airports include high resolution cameras with substantial digital zoom, and ground radar systems that monitor long range over 360 degrees, with advanced software to determine where a threat exists and follow it with a long range camera.
The high resolution cameras are quite impressive, with up to 30 megapixels to work with. They have a fairly wide field of view, and record enough data that you can manually use digital zoom to reach out to a longer range. The current limitations are that they require daylight or some other lighting source, they cannot effectively monitor for threats over a wide area, and the cost is still quite high. Even with these limitations, however, these new super cameras will likely see wider adoption as the prices come down.
Ground Radar systems for perimeter security
Ground Radar systems overcome the limitations of these other approaches because they can see long range and 360 degrees. They do not have the trade off of range and field of view that cameras have. The software has advanced to where moving objects can be classified and evaluated, so that normal operations and disturbances are ignored. This greatly reduces the probability of false alarms, and allows the system to operate in the background until a real threat occurs. Typical ground radar systems follow threats with long range color and thermal cameras, to allow a preemptive response, and record the images for later analysis. Some systems can be monitored remotely by mobile devices, acting as a force multiplier for existing personnel.
Ground Radar had been widely adopted in Europe for perimeter security, wildlife management, and operations management. In 2013, the FCC approved the most effective frequency for use in US airports. Security Radar Integrators, Inc. has leveraged its years of experience in this field to pre-integrate turn-key systems that use the best performing radars, cameras, and software, into its Airfield Radar System. US airports are now adopting this proven technology to increase the safety and security of our airports.