Richmond Airport uses buried cable for enhanced security
Richmond Airport uses buried cable for enhanced security

May 1, 2000 12:00 PM
Randy Southerland

Located seven miles east of Virginia's state capitol, Richmond International Airport is one of the nation's principal air cargo facilities. The airport is situated on 2,500 acres and boasts three runways that service a continuous stream of domestic and international passengers. Air traffic controllers track more than 80 planes an hour using some of the most advanced air guidance technology available.

Centrally located on the East Coast with ready access to road and rail, the facility has experienced surging growth in recent years. Boxes, packages and containers from all over the world pour into its more than one million square feet of cargo apron and 176,000 square feet of warehouse space.

Thousands of passengers, visitors and employees move in and out of the airport each day. Keeping people as well as planes and facilities safe can be a daunting task. As a rapidly growing air service facility with a commitment to modernization, Richmond International has adopted high-tech means of providing security to meet those demands.

Buried cable "According to FAA Regulations, our commercial terminal has a higher security requirement than the remaining airfield, so we haveinstalled a buried cable on the apron prior to the commercial terminal," says Toni Vanderspiegel, communications and security system manager of Richmond International. "It identifies an intruder crossing the invisible barrier and still gives full access to aircraft entering the commercial ramp."

The cable, a product of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Senstar Stellar, is a covert perimeter intrusion detection sensor that generates an invisible electromagnetic field around buried cables. If an intruder moving from the airfield to the commercial terminal crosses the invisible field, an alarm is set off that travels across sensor cables to a PC-based central control system.

"The two systems, the cable system and the microwave system, verify if a person or an aircraft goes into the FAA regulated area," says Vanderspiegel. "It will sound a local and computer alarm, which is accessed by the Communication center and dispatched. The system does not sound an alarm when someone exits the commercial ramp. FAA does not require egress/exit alarms from a security area. The system can be configured to decrease false alarms based on rain shear or birds, without compromising the security of the airport. In these cases, a simple computer selection will change the mode of operation."

Unlike many sensors, the Senstar Stellar system uses a large volumetric field to detect moving targets based on their electrical conductivity, size, and pattern of movement. Unless the object crossing the field has the minimum alarm characteristics, it will not set off the alarm.

"When it rains heavily, there is a massive amount of rain going through the microwave and the buried cable," explains Vanderspiegel. "We have to switch it to a less sensitive setting. The rain has to cross both barriers to cause an alarm. If it only crosses one of the barriers, it won't go off. It distinguishes between random birds, rain, or even a piece of paper flying across the area."

"If you go into a higher security level, say because we know of a possible terrorist activity or other threats to this airport or any other airport, then we increase the security level. At times, we may be chasing ghosts, because of the microwave system in conjunction with the buried cable system, but perhaps not - safety is our main concern."

The system, which was installed in 1993, uses ported, or "leaky," coaxial sensor cables to create an invisible electromagnetic detection field. A gap in the transmit cable outer conductor allows electromagnetic energy to escape and be detected by a nearby parallel receiver cable.

"Based on our airfield layout, someone could attempt to walk to our main commercial ramp from another airfield business and possibly get access to the aircraft," says Vanderspiegel. "We have to prevent unauthorized personnel from wandering onto the airfield from some distant location - jumping a fence or going through another operator or business. Airport property is massive, so people could potentially cross over a fence, unless airports installed other fencing alarm systems. Based on the amount of fencing airports have installed, the cost of fencing alarm systems can be expensive. However, like other airports, we concentrate on the higher security threat area - the commercial aircraft ramp."

Cable mirrors fencing The cable is able to perform the same function as constructing a fence without limiting necessary access.

The only time the system has failed was when the cable was accidentally cut during construction digging, says Vanderspiegel.

Enhancing the security of the terminal and airfield is a critical task. The FAA has issued clear regulations to ensure that unauthorized personnel do not breach the security of critical areas in the airport. Although there has not been an attempt to penetrate Richmond's security in that way, incidents have occurred at other airports.

"There are teams sent out by the FAA to see how far they can penetrate the airport before getting caught," she says. "The idea is to limit the capability of any intruder to infiltrate. Bringing the cable in the ground accomplishes this task. Anyone walking across that invisible wall sets off an alarm and they're accessed by a camera and then the police are dispatched."

The system is tied into the airport's security system, which is monitored from one of two control rooms. One of the control rooms is redundant, in case a problem or emergency shuts down the main facility. An alarm activates the airport's interior and exterior surveillance cameras. The CCTV units are manufactured by Vicon Industries of Hauppauge, N.Y. Information is fed into access control software system provided by InfoGraphic Systems of Garden Grove, Calif.

Badging enhances airport security An InfoGraphic PC-based system monitors all alarms in addition to creating the security badges worn by airport personnel.

"The system works off a Windows application although the software for the security application is proprietary," she explains. "We have a combined security and badging system. It avoids having to download a badging system to the security system. The system has a graphics program attached to it so that you have wide latitude in designing the badges. They can be modified at will if the FAA regulations change."

Last year, for example, the FAA issued a regulation mandating that lettering on badges be a minimum of one quarter of an inch in height. While the larger lettering was designed to make badges more identifiable, the requirement increased the cost to some airports in redesigning and programming their badges into their existing system.

"Some airports had to hire someone to redesign their video badging, because they didn't have that availability or graphics in their system to accomplish this FAA requirement," Vanderspiegel says. "We were able to make that required change at no additional expense."

Coordinating the magnetic stripe badges that regulate each person's access to a particular portion of the airport is a massive task. Although airport employees number fewer than 200 people, more than 3,000 others work at related enterprises that are based at Richmond International and require admittance to the airfield area.

"It includes cargo operations, fixed base operations, corporations, and airlines," says Vanderspiegel. "Pilots don't need badging since FAA regulations allow them to remain within the "footprint" of their aircraft (a certain distance around the aircraft) with their airline badge and their pilot's license. If they go outside that footprint, they're subject to questioning by FAA or our police department."

The badges require swiping across a magnetic plate and then keying in an access code to gain admittance. The PIN number ensures that if a card is lost or stolen, unauthorized personnel cannot enter the area.

The cards can be programmed to allow access to specific areas. The software system allows Vanderspiegel's department to modify the areas to which an employee is granted access or to terminate the card altogether.

Maintaining a current inventory of cards can be a difficult task. Businesses may not always report whether an employee has been terminated or is taking time off for maternity leave or disability. Regulations require an annual audit of cards, and the security department distributes a list of employees to whom cards have been issued. Companies at the airport who do not provide timely reports run the risk of having all their cards deactivated, although that kind of action has never been required.

"I can deactivate a badge," she says. "If for example, an employee of an airport business hasn't used his card in 30 days, I can assess whether he is violating security or is simply not working. Maybe he was terminated and someone forgot to tell us. So I can deactivate the card. There are a lot of things this system can do. The report formats are outstanding."

Keypads are also spread throughout the airport to provide another measure of security. In case of an emergency, an employee can go to one of the panels and press in a certain code and get police and fire to respond.

"If there's a medical emergency - perhaps someone is having a heart attack in the terminal - another person can quickly punch in the code without going to a phone," Vanderspiegel explains. "The camera comes up, looks at and is accessed by our Communications Center and dispatches to the situation. That's a nice added bonus to the system."

Access control and security are playing a vital role in keeping passengers and cargo moving safely and efficiently through America's airports. At airports like Richmond International, technology is critical to making sure it is business as usual.

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