Austin-Bergstrom Overhauls Security System

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

Roughly two years ago, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) went live with a complete overhaul of its security system. The $9.8 million system provided necessary upgrades and left room and capability for future growth.

According to AECOM, the firm that managed the project, the Texas airport is tops in the nation. "I don't know of an airport in the country which has significantly better access control, video system integration than Austin does," says AECOM project manager Christer Wilkinson, PhD. For an airport its size (8.6 million passengers last year), AUS has done "very well," says Wilkinson.


Project: New Security System

Location: Austin-Bergstrom Airport (TX)

Cost: $9.8 million

Project Manager: City of Austin Dept. of Public Works

Consultant: AECOM Airport Security

Access Control System: Hirsch

Access Control: Intellikey

Video System: Genetec

Video System/Access Control Integrator: EO Integrated Systems

As project designer and construction administrator, AECOM provided a comprehensive security system, including upgraded access control and closed-circuit television (CCTV), as well as new perimeter gates, intrusion detection systems, smart card readers and internet protocol (IP) video systems.

Jonathan Lian, the airport's principal planner, explains that the former security system was quickly becoming too costly to maintain. "We were also having a lot of difficulty finding spare parts for the old system," Lian recalls. "And (it) was installed before 9/11, so we needed to upgrade it to meet post-9/11 challenges."

AUS also wanted a system that could grow in the future, should the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) require biometrics or other technologies, adds Denise Hatch, airport security manager.

Wanted: Operability

While it may sound simple, "a system that works" topped the airport's wish list, says Hatch. "We also wanted more cameras and [the ability] to digitally record," Hatch adds.

Since the airport opened, several improvements had been made to security over the years, resulting in a "significant mix of equipment that was getting well toward the end of its life," Wilkinson says. "Taking a clean sweep, so to speak, and replacing the entire access control system and adding hundreds of cameras and integrating the old cameras into one system allowed [Austin-Bergstrom] to have one system with much easier maintenance," he adds.

After the airport decided to proceed with the project, it engaged AECOM in July 2006. The consultant surveyed the existing system and interviewed key airport personnel, including Hatch's team, to determine the needs of the airport and provide recommendations.

As usual, Wilkinson insisted on having an on-site office. "I refuse to design a system remotely in an ivory tower," he explains, noting the advantages of spending time in a client's environment to get a clear idea of the airport's needs. "Every airport is different and has slightly different requirements."

Upgrade Anatomy

The project was funded, in part, by an FAA grant of $6 million and Capital Improvement Program dollars. In addition, a portion of the cameras was funded by TSA, because it had requested more cameras in the security checkpoint and baggage areas.

The new system, relates Wilkinson, is a digital system based on IP technology, which provides greater control and storage of video. "Because it uses digital storage, they are able to store digital images and easily retrieve them for a longer period," he explains. "Previously, they had to deal with old-fashioned VHS tapes."

While some new Pelco cameras were added, many of the airport's 150 existing cameras were incorporated into the new CCTV system.

Because the access control system is integrated with the CCTV, the airport has video recall of incidents "in about a quarter of a second," estimates Wilkinson.

Such integration, notes AUS information security analyst Phillip Bays, allows the airport to better manage alarm situations.

"When an alarm happens," Hatch explains, "you get all sorts of phone calls in the communications department as to why the alarm occurred." Now, the team can quickly review the video to determine the cause of the alarm and respond accordingly.

Genetec supplied the video system, and EO Integrated Systems provided integration services. For each specific alarm, the system displays a selection of video feeds associated with that alarm. They are displayed on the screen in operator-selected order, so when an incident happens, they know exactly where to look on the screen, explains Wilkinson.

Video recall can be set up to suit an airport's preference, he notes. In addition to the live feed, AUS programmed its system to supply 30 seconds previous to the event. The airport can customize each area to its needs, programming the playback for any length of time.

Another feature allows the airport to perform forensic review or retrospective consideration of video, Wilkinson notes. Because the CCTV and access control systems are linked, the airport can program the system to produce a picture of every time a certain employee passes through a particular door. By the same token, it can chronicle every person who goes through a certain door.

"The effectiveness of this forensic activity in determining inappropriate activity at an airport is staggering," Wilkinson relates. "To do that with the old-fashioned VHS system would have taken days. What they can achieve in a couple of keystrokes was hours of research in the old VHS system."

Upgrades to the communication center include four new workstations and the ability to view all 350 of the airport's cameras in about eight minutes, says Bays. Along with a "significant increase" in the number of cameras, the airport also replaced its existing analog monitors with digital. This allows each operator to look at about eight video channels simultaneously.

New card readers were a big upgrade for the airport, reports Bays. They are scramble-able proximity card readers that can be upgraded to biometrics in the future. A cyber key system from Intellikey provided access control for doors without additional infrastructure.

Previously, employee badges were magnetic stripe. "By going to proximity card readers, it's definitely more secure than it used to be," Lian says.

AUS' security system was also built with flexibility in mind - in terms of expansion and new technology. The network system architecture can add cameras "almost indefinitely," Wilkinson states.

On the access control side, the card readers are capable of supporting biometrics. "In order to assist this in the future, we put in the physical infrastructure to each door of an IP-capable cable so that we have future proofing of the card readers against any change in the TSA regulations which require IP connection," Wilkinson explains.

"If TSA ever comes in and says we have to put in some biometric readers, all we have to do is buy a piece of hardware and we're ready to go," Bays remarks. It would still require an investment, but AUS is "definitely in a better position than most airports" because of the recent upgrades, notes Lian.

Additional card readers were also added to the airport's sterile area so those doors could be locked if TSA ever mandates 100% employee screening.

Lessons Learned

After AUS' overhaul, Lian advises other airports to look at their telecommunications rooms. "It's not just about the square footage, but also about the cooling load and electrical needs," he explains, noting that equipment size and weight capacity of the room's floor need to be considered as well.

A simple and robust network was a necessity on this project, Wilkinson says. The capacity significantly exceeded the demand, but there was never any concern about having the system working on the network. And without that worry, "you could just get on with getting the functionality right," he says.

According to Lian, communication with all members of the project team, including the airport, consultant and contractor, was key. Weekly meetings, involvement from every group and strong management support made the project "seamless," he says.

Close communication helped the airport ensure the system was working as well as possible. As it came online, Hatch explains, feedback from tenants helped the airport find workable solutions that kept the airport secure, but also operationally functional.

Changing out the security system while keeping it operational at the same time was a challenge for the airport team, recalls Bays. To do so, the airport kept all employees and partners informed about when the old elements would be removed and the new installed.

Individual training of airport and tenant employees helped staff embrace the new system. They also had to learn to be more careful with the new badges. In the early days of deployment, some employees were bending their badges and breaking the cables inside. But a low-tech device - reinforced cardholders - fixed the problem.

As for the future, "We're always looking at where we can put more cameras," says Hatch.


FREE Whitepaper

PAVIX: Proven Winner for All Airport Concrete Infrastructure

PAVIX: Proven Winner for All Airport Concrete Infrastructure

International Chem-Crete Corporation (ICC) manufactures and sells PAVIX, a unique line of crystalline waterproofing products that penetrate into the surface of cured concrete to fill and seal pores and capillary voids, creating a long lasting protective zone within the concrete substrate.

Once concrete is treated, water is prevented from penetrating through this protective zone and causing associated damage, such as freeze-thaw cracking, reinforcing steel corrosion, chloride ion penetration, and ASR related cracking.

This white paper discusses how the PAVIX CCC100 technology works and its applications.



Featured Video

Featured Video

# # #

# # #