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Security on the Edge

Posted 7 February 2011 · Add Comment

As airports across the region grow, so must the security. Keith Mwanalushi reports.

With the current airport construction taking shape across the Middle East, the need to boost and modernise airport security in the region will increase. Spending in this sector is driving demand for the latest in fool-proof security systems, perimeter security and surveillance gadgets.

Airport security was the major focus at this year’s 2011 Intersec trade fair, held from January 16-18 in Dubai. Some 22,000 trade visitors and 800 exhibitors gathered to showcase the latest technology and apparatus in commercial security and information security.

“With the aviation industry in the Middle East on the high growth path and new terminals and airports being planned or under construction across the region, airport security and surveillance systems made for an interesting topic at Intersec 2011,” said Ahmed Pauwels, chief executive officer of Epoc Messe Frankfurt, organiser of the event.

The increase in the levels of international terrorism has also necessitated a hard look into the current state of affairs in this sector by governments and security agencies as well as the private sector.

The airport security market is giving indications of another boom period similar to that experienced after 9/11. However, it is only relatively recently that more attention is being focused on perimeter security – this sector has for some time been the most vulnerable area of airport security.

“A lot of airports were built 20 years ago. In those days, it was more about people stealing things or someone straying on to the runway. Today it is a completely different environment,” said Jerry Tobey, vice president international business development for Raytheon’s Network Centric Systems division.

“There are also cities which have grown up against the perimeter, and airports which have expanded, pushing a lot of services which used to be within a secure environment, like catering, outside.”

In 2009 Raytheon won a $100 million contract to supply and install a new state-of-the-art perimeter and anti-terrorist surveillance system at airports in the New York area. Without mentioning specific locations, the company is looking at having the same system installed at various MENA airport sites.

The technology deploys a mix of radar, sensors, video motion detectors, closed-circuit TV monitors and electronic fences. Tobey said Raytheon’s approach is to assess all the threats and vulnerabilities and come up with integrated solutions.

Raytheon was chosen by the Kurdistan regional government in northern Iraq to provide security solutions at the new Erbil International Airport. Under the multi-phased contract, the company has installed systems for point-of-entry security including monitoring and access control, vehicle screening, as well as passenger and baggage screening. Follow-on phases include multiple integrated sensors and equipment to secure the entire airport perimeter and beyond.

Within the airport security market, perimeter solutions is a growing business and understanding the unique challenges facing those responsible for security in the region can prove lucrative. That is according to Adam Wilding-Webb, regional manager for Middle East and North Africa at Future Fibre Technologies (FFT).

“Organisations in the Middle East are starting to understand the benefits of having a fibre optic-based intrusion detection system to protect their perimeters both from an operational and cost perspective,” said Webb.

He added that FFTs technology called ‘Secure Fence’ does not require any power or electronics to be installed on the fence line, making it ideally suited to the critical infrastructures in the region.

“Our technology uses unique signature recognition and advanced learning algorithms to know the difference between a branch blowing against a fence in a storm and an attempted intrusion, ensuring optimum reliability and overcoming problematic nuisance alarms,” he explained.

The last few years have seen significant advances in perimeter intrusion detection technologies, with improved reliability and accuracy. However, Webb argues that from a security perspective, the perimeter protection of the airport has been the ‘poor cousin’ to the more obvious security measures associated with passenger and baggage screening. He said that with landing charges generating such a small proportion of total airport revenue, the amount invested in protecting and securing the perimeter is also correspondingly small.

“While some airports may have CCTV cameras in the airside ramp and apron area, that is about the extent of it,” Webb said. “Beyond the apron, there is often nothing but random patrols and a fence standing between intruders and the aircraft. It’s a difficult situation for airport operators as there is comparatively less income earned on the tarmacs than there is within the terminal, where retailers’ rents help cover the cost of improved security measures.”

In June 2009, the consortium ARINC-Thales was awarded a €40 million change order for an extension to its existing contract at the New Doha International Airport (NDIA). For this extension, the consortium will jointly continue to provide secured systems at one of the world’s most ambitious airport projects in the Gulf region, planned to rise to 50 million passengers per annum for its final phase.

“Thales is responsible for the complete design and delivery of the integrated security and safety systems, providing the NDIA with the most efficient and trusted solutions implemented for critical areas such as modern airports,” said Olivier Badard, Thales regional president MENA.

  “Thales will provide systems that include closed-circuit television, IP TV, access control, airport-wide IT communication, airport-wide structured cabling, telephony transport system-SDH, IT network management and fire detection and building management systems integration,” he added.

Thales has a long-term presence in the region in all four of the group’s business segments – aerospace, space, defence and security. Recently, the company consolidated its regional presence by bringing together its Middle East and UAE headquarters under one roof at Dubai Airport Free Zone.

Thales was also awarded another vital contract by Dubai’s civil aviation authority. “The DCA has named Thales as nominated sub-contractor for the implementation of the security and communication solutions for the expansion of Dubai International Airport (DXB) terminal three concourse three. Thales describes a complex network of technologies that are intertwined in order to provide a fully integrated system. The extent of this integration is illustrated in the Dubai project. The company is providing the engineering, supply, insta llation and commissioning of a special airport system package, which includes 12 systems such as: video-surveillance incorporating CCTV cameras, access control, tetra network, public announcement, flight information displays, computer network equipment and structuring cabling network.

Thales also specialises in the provision of a comprehensive range of surface radars, ground surveillance, civil and 3D multi-function radars. In the MENA region, the company has installed such radars at various sites including international airports in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait City, Cairo and Basra in Iraq.

Lucrative prospects in the region have attracted other players. Northrop Grumman used the Dubai Airport Expo as a platform to demonstrate its integrated airport security solution – Airtight.

The company indicates that the Airtight solution offers airports a cost-efficient path to strengthening security awareness throughout restricted and controlled zones, with minimum additional burden on existing resources.

A spokesman said: “ Airtight uses data from existing airport sensors and infrastructure to create a common operating picture, which can then be shared with the emergency services and first responders, resulting in a significantly enhanced security operating environment.”

He added that the sensor fusion capabilities of Airtight include integrating, not only traditional motion sensors and cameras, but also the installed base of field-proven Northrop Grumman technologies, such as surveillance radar and surface movement guidance and control systems (SMGCS) to offer a complete operational picture. 

“Airport operations are increasingly subject to disruption and may be affected by a range of possible security threats from criminal activity to breaches of external perimeter security, which can impose a substantial burden on airport resources,” said the company.

Security breaches are not uncommon – having the wrong person in the right place poses a significant security risk.

Apart from the travelling public, hundreds of other people, including staff members, visitors, suppliers and service providers, use airport facilities on a daily basis. Access control is necessary to control who goes where and when.

Cairo’s new terminal three is already running an advanced context-aware technology that controls all employee access to critical ramp areas. The breakthrough technology is developed by ARINC. Employees at the new terminal are linked only to those IT applications they actually require, according to the profile, work assignment, type of electronic access and location.

Following the deployment of biometric identification technology at Cairo Airport (CAI), the region is gradually rolling-out biometric authentication as a more secure identity solution.

Systems integrator ARINC supplied CAI with Egypt’s first custom biometric immigration gate system to streamline border processing and reduce long security queues.

Paul Hickox, director of Middle East airport systems at ARINC, said that when qualified passengers use the automated biometric gates, Cairo airport police could then focus more attention on the manual screening of sensitive passengers. He said this is a major benefit to frequent travellers and a competitive advantage for airlines.

The ability to prove who you are has major social and economic implications. For governments, biometric authentication is emerging as the cornerstone of secure border controls. For businesses such as airports, it offers unprecedented control over access to sites and data.

A case study by Thales details a threat assessment at a Middle Eastern airport that faced multiple risks and required a mitigation plan. Olivier Badard explained: “The study has clearly demonstrated the need for integrated security systems in a complex airport environment, and the lack of overarching security command-and-control framework.

“When an incident occurs, the issue is to be able to understand what happens, to communicate and work amongst security stakeholders to resolve the incident. What is needed is shared situation awareness and the ability to co-ordinate actions . This is why Thales is proposing new control centre architecture that we are calling the Thales Hyperviso r .”

This is based on an open architecture that makes it possible to transform security management into information superiority for airport operators and security. The system makes it possible to harness existing systems, such as video surveillance, access control, passenger information, intrusion and fire detection, which Thales integrates in a network cen tric environment, and synchronize this data to monitor and manage situations.

After the failed attempt to blow up flight 253 – a Detroit-bound aircraft – on Christmas Day in 2009, passenger screening came under intense scrutiny. While fingers where being pointed as to who was to blame, the industry hastily responded with the introduction of new body scanners.

Controversy surrounding the use this technology has been observed around the world – not just for their intrusive nature but because some experts say that the expensive devices may not detect the nature of explosives that was carried in the underpants of flight 253’s terrorist.

The scanners have raised concerns with various religious and cultural groups and nowhere has this been more evident than in the Middle East. Last year authorities in Dubai ruled out the use of full body scanners.

Dubai police’s director of airport security, Brigadier Ahmed bin Thani, said that the devices do not correspond with national customs and ethics. “The use of such a device violates personal privacy and it raises a very sensitive issue for passengers, in addition to the fact that it does not comply with our national ethics,” he said.

“Some 3,700 people have been trained to deal with security threats and public order at Dubai’s airports.” 

In the wake of last year’s discovery of two suspected Al-Qaeda bombs posted from Yemen, the air cargo sector is witnessing a major shake-up. Regulations surrounding air cargo security is arguably still governed by out-dated legislation and policies in relation to modern security threats.

As per the Chicago Convention, it is not the responsibility of the country in which the cargo transits to X-ray or inspect the cargo. This responsibility resides with the country from which the consignment originates.

One of the bombs (hidden in a printer cartridge), left Sana’a, for Doha, in the hold of a passenger aircraft. Authorities in Qatar were unable to detect the device. It was then transferred on to a Dubai flight, where it was intercepted on arrival. The second bomb device was placed on a UPS freighter from Yemen destined to Chicago but was only discovered after a tip-off from Saudi intelligence, and the aircraft was subsequently searched at East Midlands airport in the UK.

These attempted attacks have brought to light the vulnerability of air cargo to terrorism and other security breaches. As a result, the ICAO has recently announced strengthened air cargo security measures.

The new measures emphasise more extensive screening of cargo, mail and other goods prior to placing them on board aircraft, and better protection from unauthorised interference from the point where security controls are applied until departure of the aircraft. Also included is the strengthening of provisions related to the deployment of security equipment, the security of air traffic service providers, training programmes and instructor certification systems, and cyber threats.

Soon after the bomb devices were discovered on the UPS aircraft and in Dubai, the US government sent a technical team to Yemen to train Yemenis in the use of new more sophisticated airport screening equipment.

“I am pleased with the work of our inspectors and the co-operation of Yemeni officials to improve cargo security practices,” said John Pistole, administrator at the US Transport Security Administration (TSA) during a visit to Sana’a in November. “We face a determined enemy, one who modifies his actions looking for any opportunity to exploit security.”


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