Systems Help Peer Through the Fog at Boston's Logan Airport
Systems Help Peer Through the Fog at Boston's Logan Airport

Nov 1, 2003 12:00 PM
By Jacqueline Emigh

To tighten security in the waterways, highways and other byways around Boston's Logan International Airport, the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) is testing a perimeter security system that combines infrared surveillance cameras with real-time security analysis software.

"Cameras offer certain advantages. Unlike people, they don't sleep, and they can't come down with a cold," notes Massport's Jose Juves. "An infrared camera is different from other surveillance cameras. It can work at night, and in other low-light conditions. It can peek through fog and smog, to some degree."

The perimeter security system features cameras from FLIR Systems Inc., Boston, integrated with VistaScape Security Systems' PC-based Security Data Management System (SDMS) software.

Atlanta-based VistaScape's software augments security by instantly analyzing information gathered by the cameras ! enabling threats to be detected around the airport while there is still time for human security personnel to act. Massport will ultimately choose some sort of perimeter security system for full-scale deployment, Juves says. Several systems from other vendors have already been tested since Massport started beefing up perimeter security almost immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Logan faces somewhat unusual security challenges, since the airport is surrounded by water on three sides. "It's harder to set up physical security barriers in the water than almost anywhere else," VistaScape CEO Glenn McGonnigle says.

The day after the terrorist attacks, state officials took action to evacuate clam diggers from five miles of shell fishing territory surrounding Logan. Massport then set up a 500-foot "security zone" around the airport.

Under a bill passed in 2002, the Massachusetts State Legislature augmented the original 500-foot "security zone" with a 250-foot "arrest zone." Buoys were set up along Logan's coastline to delineate off-limits areas for recreational boaters and commercial fishermen.

Then, in June 2003, a crew of state troopers, outfitted with M-5 submachine guns, started patrolling the airline terminals. A week later, police and marine boats embarked on strict enforcement of the 250-foot arrest zone in surrounding waterways. Massport is also working on enforcement with the U.S. Coast Guard, and environmental, local and state police.

Testing of FLIR's cameras, integrated with VistaScape's software, began in March. FLIR's infrared thermography cameras are designed to produce images of invisible infrared or "heat" radiation, while supplying temperature measurement at the same time for greater precision.

FLIR's cameras include a zoom feature which can be presented as forensic evidence in court, McGonnigle says.

VistaScape's SDMS includes a modular software interface for easing integration with different types of surveillance devices, including infrared cameras, CCTV cameras, radar, sonar and satellite-based geographic positioning systems (GPS), for example.

The current test at Logan uses two FLIR infrared cameras ! each sitting on top of a control tower ! together with a nearby PC console and a PC "policy server" situated at a remote location. The PC and server are both running VistaScape's SDMS software and Microsoft Windows.

"We are creating a 'virtual fence' around the airport," McGonnigle says. VistaScape's SDMS software analyzes a continuous stream of video images transmitted by the cameras, using built-in algorithms to identify unusual objects and abnormal movements. Software settings in SDMS allow security rules that create individualized definitions of security threats. "What's acceptable security policy in one place may not be acceptable in another place," McGonnigle notes.

The system then uses object classification and pattern recognition algorithms to apply the customer-specified rules to the raw video. "The software is able to recognize object types, object locations and movement attributes," he adds.

The software can also be configured to send out alerts to security personnel about possible violations. "Maybe you want an audible alert to the console, so the operator can be directed to make a phone call for help. Maybe you'd prefer to send out an alert directly to a PDA or pager," McGonnigle says.

"It can tap you on the shoulder if something happens," Juves adds.

SDMS, though, can also be trained to ignore innocent "false positives" such as waves, birds or even "good guys" who have mistakenly wandered into the 250-foot arrest zone.

Late last year, the state legislature passed a law rescinding the previous ban on clam digging around Logan. Under the new law, 50 shell fishermen are now allowed to enter the 500-foot security zone, although only after submitting fingerprints, passing a criminal background check, and graduating from anti-terrorism classes.

VistaScape's SDMS software uses Microsoft .NET security technologies for password logon, user authentication, and encryption. VistaScape has added other security technology that locks down most communication ports when the software is installed.

For the pilot project at Logan, VistaScape performed systems integration work with the surveillance cameras on its own. For a larger deployment, though, the vendor would work with an outside contractor, McGonnigle says.

On the PC side, VistaScape recommends the use of a single-rack system. "This makes it easy to set up a distributed configuration, in which the policy server sits in one location and the console sits in another location."

Juves says that, by the end of this year, Massport will issue a request for proposal (RFP), outlining the requirements for a perimeter security system at Logan. In testing so far, Massport has encountered no technical glitches with either VistaScape's software or FLIR's cameras, Juves adds.

TSA Security Enhancements in the Last Two Years

In late September, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) released its "State of Airport Security" report, detailing significant pilot projects and other security measures put into place at airports since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The TSA has leaned heavily on screening technology, but has also taken steps in the arena of human intervention. Here is a summary.
New Equipment at Checkpoints

The TSA has been replacing screening and other security equipment at airport security checkpoints since Sept. 11.

In all 429 commercial airports in the U.S., metal detectors have been replaced with newer and more advanced equipment ! it was completed in April.

In addition, the TSA has replaced 1,300 X-ray machines ! including all X-ray machines at the nation's 80 largest airports ! and will complete the process of replacing X-ray machines in all commercial airports by June 2004.
Electronic Screening

More than 1,060 electronic detection systems (EDS) and 5,300 electronic trace detectors (ETD) are now in use at U.S. airports. On Sept. 11, the TSA says that 5 percent of all checked luggage was screened for explosives. Today, that number is 100 percent.

The TSA has continued purchasing EDS machines from various vendors, and it is providing grants to private industry for development of a new generation of EDS machines.
Reinforced Cockpit Doors

As mandated by the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) required U.S.-based passenger airplanes to install reinforced cockpit doors to prevent intruders from gaining access to the flight deck.

New, reinforced and ballistic-resistant doors meet more stringent security standards. The mandate covered some 5,800 domestic aircraft.

The TSA announced in late September that it was reimbursing 58 domestic air carriers for the cost of reinforcing their cockpit doors.
Confiscated Items

Through August 2003, TSA had intercepted more than 7.5 million prohibited items at checkpoints since assuming responsibility for airport security in February of 2002. This includes nearly 2.3 million knives, 1,437 firearms and 49,331 box cutters. In last August alone, 597,512 prohibited items were intercepted.
Federal Air Marshals

The Federal Air Marshal program consisted of 33 officers flying mostly international flights on Sept. 11, 2001. Today, thousands of air marshals fly on tens of thousands of flights each month.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced the transfer of the Federal Air Marshal Service to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in early September.
Arming Pilots

The week of Sept. 8, the TSA trained its first class of Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDO) at its training facility in Artesia, N.M.

Following April's prototype class, the TSA launched full-scale training for commercial pilots.
Reimbursing Airports

The TSA has reached agreements with seven airports to help defray the costs of installing permanent explosive detection systems that are integrated with the airport's checked baggage conveyor systems.

The total amount of authorized reimbursement funds is more than $775 million.

The airports are Denver Intl., Las Vegas McCarran Intl., Los Angeles Intl., Ontario Intl., Seattle/Tacoma Intl., Dallas/Fort Worth Intl., and Boston Logan Intl.

The TSA expects to agree to similar financial arrangements with more airports soon.

The Next Generation Of Air Cargo Screening

The Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) reports it is testing electronic screening of air cargo stowed on commercial flights departing from Boston Logan International Airport.

With the initiative, Massport officials say Logan will become the first major U.S. airport to electronically scan bulk air cargo to evaluate and assess the feasibility of such a program and develop the required operational protocols.

"Testing air cargo screening is a natural next step for Massport," says Massport CEO Craig Coy. "By being a national test site for new systems and technologies, we ensure that Logan passengers get the very best in security."

The initial test period will run for 30 days and be staffed by employees of L-3 Communications Security and Detection Systems, New York. Testing will include the company's X-ray cargo screening equipment. Additional tests of similar duration are also planned with different versions and configurations of L-3 hardware devices.

The current testing phase involves the scanning of entire trucks loaded with passenger aircraft-bound cargo.

This pilot program is intended only to determine the feasibility of air cargo security scanning and is not intended as a security procedure at this time, Coy says.

The TSA is also working on its first air cargo strategic plan and comprehensive rulemaking based on consensus recommendations from its Aviation Security Advisory Committee.

The TSA also has plans to test explosive detection equipment for use on small packages at airports where cargo and baggage systems are co-located. Nationally, the TSA continues to implement a threat-based risk management approach to screening air cargo by strengthening the requirements of its Known Shipper Program.

Massport officials will share results and data with TSA as they develop and assess strategies, protocols and technologies for air cargo screening.

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