Experts discuss convergence and progression of aviation operations at ISC West

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Monday, March 29, 2010

LAS VEGAS—The ability of airports to respond quickly and efficiently to an incident has become absolutely critical, not only from a security and safety perspective, but also from an operations standpoint. During a panel session held at the Public Safety & Security theater on the show floor of ISC West on March 24, five security experts discussed the current airport environment and the technologies being deployed to enhance its security and overall operations.

Any incident at an airport cannot only compromise the security of passengers, but can also prove very costly to operations. An incident that occurs in an airport is estimated to cost approximately $50,000 per minute, said Mark Denari, currently a consultant and the former director of aviation security and public safety at San Diego County Regional Airport. So, the faster an airport can respond, resolve and recover from an event, the less financial damage. Therefore it is imperative for all the technologies to work together to provide an airport with the best situational awareness possible.

“Airports can’t have eyes everywhere and there needs to be screening beyond the checkpoint,” said Kim Dickie, assistant deputy airport director at San Francisco International Airport. “Airports want to know what’s happening curbside before passengers get to the checkpoint and it’s imperative to have good ability to visually monitor what is going on holistically.”

The Christmas Day bomber incident, for example, has once again highlighted the threats facing airports. But these threats are nothing new, said Doug Laird, president of aviation consulting firm Laird & Associates and former security director for Northwest Airlines “Those threatening us are finding better ways to compromise the system and our goals are that we can achieve better use of security through technology,” he said.

But one of the biggest hurdles airports face is making sure all the technology works together to provide operators with that timely information. “The challenge is to create the best possible secure environment and the way to do that is to leverage existing technology and create a platform to use currently existing technology and then be able to build upon it,” Dickie said.

But integrating existing and new technology together is far from simple. “It’s important to bring in an objective point of view through an integrator or consultant to give independent verification of the system and its ability to support the technology,” said Christopher Payne, vice president and airport industry executive with integrator SDI. The addition of video surveillance can add an enormous amount of stress to a network, which in many cases wasn’t originally built to handle that much information.

Payne said that there has been a lot of progress made to get disparate systems to work together and often it’s not just the technology that causes problems, it’s the politics. “The most difficult part is breaking down the political hurdles and the second biggest challenge is physically being able to see all the cameras and sensors and in order to do that you have to be able to access all those sensors and all the information,” he said.

But easing the convergence process has come a long way in recent years. “Vendors have matured quite a bit and there’s a lot more SDKs out there and the key now is establishing a relationship with different vendors so you can make sure integration will work before hand,” said Larry Lien, vice president of product management for Proximex.

This integration is not only important for security purposes, but can also improve the operational efficiency. Being able to monitor and manage and understand passenger flow improves the way the airport does business. “Good security is largely about good customer service,” said Laird. “Whatever we can do to make the process of flying better, not worse [is the goal]. Sometimes we lose sight of that.”

Editor’s note: The author contributed to the organization of this panel discussion.