Why it’s difficult to ensure complete security at airports

Why it’s difficult to ensure complete security at airports
The sheer number of people that pass through an average international airport itself should be considered a major hurdle to providing effective security. According to official records, the U.K.’s Heathrow Airport had 75.7 million passengers in 2016 alone. Considering Heathrow is only the 7th busiest airport by some records, one can only imagine the difficulties that busier airports present.

“The most significant challenge that airports face is the overwhelming number of people that pass through each day on their travels,” said James Somerville-Smith, EMEA Channel Marketing Leader at Honeywell Security and Fire. “It is not good enough for airports to react to a major security incident after it has occurred, as potentially thousands of people could be at risk. To tackle this, airports have adopted a strategy that allows security managers to spot and prevent any potential incidents from happening in the first place.”

For example, one possible scenario is if someone within the airport leaves their bag in one of the terminals and walks off without it. In this case, video analytics are used to help the security team identify the incident, track the suspect in a busy crowd, and pre-empt any problems. It is far easier to spot a person behaving in a strange manner with the help of a video management system, as it can group several different locations together on a single screen. Once the individual has been identified and the situation has been evaluated, staff can deploy security personnel to the source of concern if necessary. 

“In addition, many airports have large retail facilities –sometimes outlets with a far higher footfall than the shopping malls in many cities,” Somerville-Smith continued. “Recovering stolen goods and convicting a perpetrator becomes almost impossible if they’ve boarded a flight. As a result, it needs to be possible to be able to search video footage quickly, tracking criminals through the airport, to ensure that they are caught before they board a flight.”

But these are only a few of the challenges. According to Kevin Gramer, VP of Digital Barriers, when providing security to airports a number of factors such as funding, accreditation and standardization come into play.

“Aviation is highly regulated. Therefore, funding, accreditation, standardization, and the time it takes to gain approval are all major challenges in today's environment,” Gramer said. “As suppliers to the industry it’s important we work with bodies such as the TSA to ensure the most effective technologies are highlighted and that best practices are quickly shared. After all, our aviation system is highly interconnected and we are only ever as secure as our least secure airport.”

Speaking of major factors that should be considered in this vertical Gramer added that flexibility of existing security technologies and processes to adapt to the new threats is key.

“Another factor to consider is where the security perimeter begins and how easy it is for existing measures to be rehearsed against,” Gramer said. “For example, ‘lone wolf’ attacks are a growing threat to domestic security and the ‘insider threat’ has proven to be one of the vulnerable areas of airport operations since most employees entering an airport are not screened the same way passengers are screened.”

Patrik Anderson, Director of Business Development for Transportation at Axis Communications gave similar comments.

“Airports are complex operations, involving multiple stakeholders, massive passenger flows and operational coordination to make flights land and depart on time,” Anderson said. “The major challenge area for security at airports lies in effective people verification. To look for terrorists, theft on the premises, wanted passengers to ensure secure access control between clean and unclean areas. To be able to identify potential threats or seek for individuals in the huge passenger volume and still be able to route passengers through this process in a quick and efficient manner is a challenge. The balance between effective operations, enabling non-aeronautical income (from retail concessions) and still be able to maintain security is of priority to any commercial passenger airport”
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