A Security System for Remote Airports

 - September 19, 2006, 8:29 AM

One of the flaws of the Airport Watch program, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), is that it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between suspicious behavior and normal behavior. Observers’ trying to account for terrorists’ attempt to blend in could result in high false-alarm rates and racial and ethnic profiling, the CRS cautioned. Enter Vidient Systems, a developer of behavior-recognition software that the Silicon Valley company claims makes video surveillance cameras more accurate and cost effective.

Vidient’s flagship product, SmartCatch 2.5, is currently being installed at Florida’s Tallahassee Regional Airport. Other airports using Vidient’s technology are San Francisco International, San Diego International and Salt Lake City International. Two of the security projects were funded in part by the TSA.

At Tallahassee Regional Airport “Vidient is one part of the bigger solution,” said Skip Cusack, Vidient’s chief technology officer. “Basically, a number of cameras are talking wirelessly back to a computer that then sends the video to the security center.”

The cameras look at the perimeter of the airport, which has a long fence that runs along the Apalachicola National Forest. There are more cameras on vehicle gates and other areas. Vidient automates the surveillance for those cameras so the images do not have to be monitored constantly.

“The software has algorithms that look for specific behaviors,” Cusack told AIN. “If a truck or person goes along the perimeter where they shouldn’t be, then the alarm goes back to the security guard.” That can be done in a number of ways, including a closed-circuit tv screen, cellphone, computer or a PDA. It can also issue an alert if a vehicle is tailgating another onto the airport property.

“We have about a dozen different behaviors that can be modified or customized for the customer for their specific policy,” said Cusack, “but it’s just as important not to put an alarm on some things as it is to put an alarm on what you care about. The policy is that people can walk up to the perimeter fence and we don’t want to know about that. But if they touch or go over the fence, we want an alarm.”

There is also a geospatial bird’s-eye view of the airport that superimposes all of the gates and cameras where the Vidient software is active. “If there is an alert, a little starburst will blink on the geospatial map,” he said. “Then the guard can know not only that there is a problem, but where the problem is.” The guard can double click on that and find more detail about what caused the alarm.

Cusack said his company is “excited” about the implication for general aviation because Florida alone has 91 GA airports. Some of them are remote and many are without a full-time security person. He said the airport operator can elect to have the alarm sent to local law enforcement or other responders.

With respect to general aviation, Vidient is exploring the possibility of having a central monitoring facility. That way, all of the intelligent video from each individual GA airport can be routed to a central location where one guard could manage the alarms from dozens of airports. The guard would have the video and know exactly what is going on, and he would have a recommended response procedure to follow.