Atlanta, TSA Co-op to Increase Security, Decrease Claims with CCTV

Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

As the nation's busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) also ranks among the top 10 airports in the nation for claims filed with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). But ATL and TSA have joined forces to curb this unwanted status.

Facts & Figures

Project: Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Expansion

Airport: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Governmental Entity: Transportation Security Administration

TSA Contract Grant: $2 million for the reimbursement of CCTV cameras, media storage and installation

System Implementation: $3.3 million

Prime Construction Contractor: New South

CCTV Contractor: ADT Federal Systems Division

CCTV Subcontractors: Uptime Electric & Intellispring

Camera Manufacturer: Bosch

Platform Manufacturer: Genetec

Software: Omnicast

Objective: Expand CCTV coverage to include views of the passenger checkpoints and baggage screening areas

Benefits: Increased security situation awareness, theft deterrence, aid resolution of claims, and assistance in resolution of law enforcement issues

Contract Execution/Installation: 2007

Nationwide, TSA has reduced payments for claims regarding damage and missing items from $3.2 million in fiscal year 2005 to $2.2 million in 2006, $1.1 million in 2007 and $812,759 in 2008.

TSA spokesperson Jon Allen attributes the marked improvement to standardized procedures and increasing numbers of operational in-line baggage handling systems, as well as the prevalence of camera systems in place at airports such as ATL.

Following the successful debut of ATL's $170 million in-line baggage handling system in 2007, the airport and TSA followed up with a separate closed-circuit television (CCTV) addendum, classified as an Other Transaction Agreement (OTA). In June 2007, TSA issued a $2 million OTA grant to the airport to create the joint-venture system that serves as a base platform to expand and upgrade cameras airport-wide.

"We currently have 400 cameras viewing every position where TSA touches baggage in all three of our zones and also at the checkpoint," Allen says of the shared-view system.


ATL worked closely with TSA and "mutually selected technology," says Dan Molloy, assistant general manager of facilities. "The TSA gave us an LOI (letter of intent) to fund the cost to cover the equipment leading up to the machines including the CCTV," Molloy describes. "We worked with them to make sure we implemented their technology when possible."

The TSA set project parameters including a high video resolution rate, a minimum of 28 to 30 days of media storage capability and designated pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) locations. Based on these considerations, the airport chose the platform, camera manufacturer and software.

The airport opted for off-the-rack replacements using a CCTV screening system that incorporates Bosch cameras with Genetec's Omnicast software. ADT Federal Systems Division implemented the mutually acceptable system at a contract price of $3.3 million, reports Frank S. Pervola Jr., business development manager with the Federal Systems Division of ADT Security Services.

According to the $2 million TSA agreement, the airport is responsible for maintenance and repairs to ensure the uninterrupted operation of a redundant CCTV system, Allen notes. Should an encoder or hard drive fail, the airport can, in many cases, buy an off-the-shelf replacement from a local retailer.

Search & Recover

Utilizing a desktop computer screen in the control room, Allen demonstrated how a search covers "soup to nuts," or, in his specific example, bologna to soda pop. He easily accessed a myriad of images and video footage capturing the manual search of a flagged bag destined for Kochi, India.

The system's lab view allowed Allen to zoom and pan/tilt/view to read bag tag numbers on the bag in question. Further surveillance footage showed video of the TSA employee cleaning the inspection table before accessing the bag. After she found the flagged items in question - distinctively American foodstuffs and a package of frozen fish - the TSA employee put the bag in the clear lane and waited for the next bag in question.

The system's detailed video footage has the ability to exonerate the TSA employee who performed the search should there be any complaints from the passenger, Allen notes.

Overall Purview

The camera system also monitors the 22 lanes of the main TSA checkpoint in live view.

"This helps us because we have a manager on duty at the Law Enforcement Officer station with another PTZ where we can have an overall view," Allen says, demonstrating the crisp clarity of the zoom function in the TSA's purview. "In case we are looking for something or tracking, we can look around and get our live view to see exactly what is going on."

The strategically placed cameras are also helpful for archival reasons. Allen cites a highly publicized case last October in which a mother wrote an emotionally charged computer blog claiming her child was taken from her during the screening process.

"We talked to the managers, and nobody recalled an incident of any kind," Allen recounts. "We went back, pulled the video and actually found nine different camera angles that showed this passenger from the time she walked up to present her identification until the point when she cleared the checkpoint. And it showed that at all times she was either holding the child or that she set the child in a stroller literally right next to her."

In that particular instance, TSA released the video due to the number of inquiries from the news media and other bloggers.

"We posted the video on YouTube and the story quickly turned," Allen notes. "All of that video coverage made it possible to let people judge for themselves."

False Claims

Allen says there are no statistics about false claims because passengers often file claims with the airline when they don't have proof a transgression happened during the TSA screening process.

"If they see a TSA Notice of Inspection within their bag, they may be more likely to file a claim," Allen qualifies. "We also have had cases where people file a claim and when asked to show a boarding pass, receipt or other evidence of flying on that day, sometimes we'll never hear back and that claim will then get closed out as lacking information and ultimately denied."

Prior to the $2 million CCTV implementation, ATL did not have CCTV coverage in baggage, but did have limited coverage in a standalone system at the checkpoint.

"Early on, especially without the cameras, there wasn't the evidence to refute false claims," Allen comments. "Now the cameras give us the ability to go back and say nothing was taken. Before, someone would have to make a judgment call whether or not there was liability."

To date, TSA has executed 32 OTAs valued at approximately $32 million for CCTV projects across the country. Additional surveillance cameras are often installed in tandem with inline systems, which reduce the need to open bags for physical inspection.


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