Huntsville Int’l Completes Comprehensive Security Upgrade

Huntsville Int’l Completes Comprehensive Security Upgrade
Author: 
Ronnie Wendt
Published in: 
November-December
2020

Huntsville International (HSV) didn’t plan for its new security system to go live during one of the greatest periods of unrest the U.S. has seen. But that’s how the project schedule unfolded. The new $9 million integrated security system was commissioned in January, reaffirming the Alabama airport’s commitment to protect the flying public no matter what is going on. 

Passengers and employees can rest easy knowing that HSV offers the best in airport security, reports Operations Manager Ryan Gardner. The updated system includes a new communications center layout, vertical-pivot perimeter gates, an advanced access control system and a sophisticated surveillance camera network with video analytics. 

Both integrated and scalable, the system leverages the latest in artificial intelligence and machine learning to track a person’s path as he or she moves through the airport. The new communications center is equipped with a large video wall that allows security personnel to view video feeds from more than 300 cameras that provide 640 views, receive alerts when unauthorized access occurs and dispatch authorities to respond. 

facts&figures 

Project: Facility-wide Security Upgrade 

Location: Huntsville (AL) Int’l Airport 

Owner: Huntsville-Madison County Airport Authority 

Cost: $9 million

Timeline: Oct. 2013-Jan. 2020

Key Components: New system that integrates security cameras, access control & perimeter control; new communications center layout with upgraded systems & improved ergonomics

Advanced Features: Smart locks & keys that are programmed to grant specific access privileges & track when/where key holders enter; upgraded cameras & video analytics systems that leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to track a person’s path through the facility and distinguish unusual events or movement; thermal imaging cameras that can monitor airfield in total darkness

Project Manager/Engineer: Pond & Company

Contractor: Johnson Controls

Lock Installation: Peifer Security Solutions

Security Cameras: Avigilon

Systems Integration: Verint Systems

Perimeter Gates: AutoGate

Badging System: Intellisoft

Card Readers: Morpho Card Readers from Safran

Electronic Locks: CyberLock

The innovative system provides complete security coverage across the campus, from the airfield perimeter to inside the terminal.

“Our goal is to keep people safe,” says Chris Scott, chief of Public Safety at HSV. “Updating the system helps us maintain public trust. People know that when they come to the airport, it’s a safe and secure place.”

Establishing the Plan

The project began in 2013 when the Huntsville-Madison County Airport Authority selected Pond & Company to perform a security threat and vulnerability assessment. 

Pond began by studying the existing security components across the airport, including the communications center, closed-circuit TV systems, airport access, operations and system infrastructure. Next, it prioritized areas of concern and teamed with airport staff to implement the top 10 items on the list. 

“We used a commerical airport resource allocation tool, developed by the Homeland Security Institute, which is basically a spreadsheet algorithm that assigns costs to each of our findings,” says Chris Farnie, a senior vice president at Pond. “The software helps balance the security gains with the costs.”

The need to enhance the communications center, access control system and surveillance cameras topped the priority list. HSV funded the project with a combination of FAA Airport Improvement Program grants, airport funds and passenger facility charges. 

Room to Work

Although it was functional, the airport’s previous communications center contained aging infrastructure and outdated technology, and its quarters for monitoring personnel were cramped. 

“We needed a computer-aided dispatch system that integrated with all security systems on the dispatcher’s monitor,” Gardner says. “Whether it’s access control, security cameras or fire alarm systems, we wanted to bring them into a central point to make it easier to respond to emergencies or incidents in real time.” 

Personnel also needed more ergonomic workstations to improve their efficiency. “We wanted security personnel to see all systems at once and not get overwhelmed,” he explains. “We did this by incorporating systems into a singular platform.”

The updated communications center is located in the same space, but includes a dispatcher desk that allows employees to work standing up or sitting down. An L-shaped wraparound video wall provides views of the entire facility on more than a dozen 55-inch monitors. Together, the 14 screens can present up to 200 views simultaneously. 

Dispatchers can monitor multiple displays on the wall for a quick overview or pull up a single screen to take a closer look. They can also access a separate desktop display. 

“It is a much cleaner workspace, and they can do more with it,” Gardner adds. “The center offers an ergonomic layout and has all the background systems dispatchers need.”

Designers also included a supervisor observation station and break area. “Once workers are on duty, they stay on duty,” explains David Woods, Pond’s architect/project manager. 

Inside the communications center, the server rack system room requires a sophisticated heating and cooling system. Designers reworked the center’s HVAC systems to ensure that the server room stays cool without freezing out dispatchers working nearby. 

Because the communications center needed to remain fully operational while crews gutted and rebuilt the facilities, the project team built a temporary center next to the project site. 

“Every project presents some kind of challenge, but this was a very complex project,” stresses Jim Flowers, the airport authority’s project manager. “We had to change out entire systems while maintaining complete functionality.” 

Get the Picture?

Airports face many security challenges from theft and vandalism to trespassing, active shooters and potential terrorist attacks. Surveillance cameras help prevent intrusion, facilitate operations, monitor activity and secure the entire property. 

The previous analog surveillance system at HSV performed these functions, but the airport could no longer maintain or replace its aging cameras. Officials also wanted the more robust capabilities of newer systems. “Technology becomes obsolete about every seven years,” Woods says. “We had to replace all the cameras on the airfield, inside the terminal, in the parking lot, and at access gates. Every camera on site was replaced, and additional cameras were added to provide HSV with additional surveillance.”

Crews installed nearly 400 Avigilon cameras, providing dispatchers a much broader simultaneous viewing capability than they had previously. Fixed-position cameras that look in one direction monitor some areas, while pan-tilt-zoom cameras capable of remote directional and magnification control capture footage in others. 

The new closed-circuit TV system includes forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras placed strategically on the airfield. These cameras capture video as aircraft land and move to the gate area, and can monitor the area even in total darkness. 

Gardner notes that advanced video analytic capabilities make the system unique. Video management software from Verint Systems leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence to learn from various scenes around the airport. Once the system “knows” a scene, it can quickly identify pixel changes within it.

Post-video analytics enable operators to select specific people or objects of concern on video footage and follow them through the airport. For example, if a passenger reports that someone stole his red backpack, a dispatcher can select an image of the backpack where the incident occurred, and then follow it as it moves through the airport. 

“This capability lets dispatchers see what happened to the item or person in question,” Woods explains. “The system knows when the scene changes, so you can track the object from camera to camera as it moves through the airport.” 

This important feature eliminates the need to manually sift through multiple cameras and views to learn what happened to a person or an object, adds Scott. 

The new system also lets operators watch a person of interest in real time as he or she moves through the airport. “This capability is not to be confused with facial recognition,” Woods emphasizes. “It does not provide identification; it just lets you watch objects or people as they move along.” 

Verint’s video management software brings all of the airport’s security systems into a single platform. For example, if a fire alarm goes off, operators can pull up a map that shows them where the alarm is, select and view footage from a camera in that area, and then dispatch accordingly. 

“The primary benefit is improved situational awareness,” Farnie summarizes. “This is a state-of-the-art video surveillance system.” 

Beefing Up Access Control 

The project also advanced access control at airfield perimeter gates and doors throughout the facility. The airport installed an Intellisoft badging system that adds biometric security to identification cards. The change lets the airport distinguish areas requiring both biometric and card authentication from areas that only require card authentication.

Every door received a security upgrade. Some received technology ugrades, such as Morpho Card Readers from Safran that work with biometric-capable badges, while others received hardware upgrades.

The new equipment and system required the airport to re-badge every employee, a process that took three months. The new badges worked on both the old and new systems while employees were trained to use the new access control system. “Once we finished, we began switching out old devices with the new ones,” Gardner says. 

The new system also required a new database. “We had to migrate all data to the new system, and that took a while,” Farnie says. 

The new badging system keeps an access audit trail that allows security officials to track who enters and leaves each area. With future updates, the system will be able to notify employees when it’s time to update security training and other educational requirements for employment and badging. 

Getting Inside the Perimeter

During the project, crews replaced 12 horizontal-rolling perimeter gates with AutoGate vertical-pivot gates. The new, more robust gates are expected to reduce long-term maintenance costs. The airport also installed additional security cameras and lighting. 

Peifer Security Systems upgraded certain traditional keyed locks and padlocks with high-tech alternatives. “We put CyberLocks on every perimeter gate and in other key areas,” says Glen Peifer, owner of the company. 

Crews installed the new electronic lock cylinders into locks with existing mechanical cylinders to enable them to use smart keys that are programmed to grant specific access privileges to key holders and track when and where employees use their keys.  

“We also ran fiber optic cable throughout the terminal all the way to the gates and back,” says Woods. “The communications center is in a separate building, so we ran fiber optic cable to that as well.”

Upgrading the gates and locks required significant coordination with airport stakeholders. “Every area affected by construction requires the airport to coordinate with the TSA,” Scott says. “We needed to constantly communicate. We had to know when and where the work was being done to maintain the necessary level of security and access control at all times.”  

Ready for the Future  

In retrospect, Farnie says that keeping the old systems operating while crews installed and integrated new systems presented the biggest challenges for the project team. 

“We couldn’t just shut things down for two to three months while we upgraded the security system,” he remarks. 

Every component in the new security system had to undergo testing before going live. “Commissioning the integrated system took a long time,” Farnie adds. “As we tested the system, little things would pop up and we’d have to work through them.”

The airport and project team also had to find the right balance between integrating enough and too many systems. The radio system, for instance, is not integrated into the access control and surveillance system. “When you have multiple events happening at once, you need the ability to use the radio system as a standalone system,” Scott explains. 

Ultimately, Pond integrated several different systems into a single user platform. “We even created a mobile platform so people in the field can access the computer-aided dispatch system through a tablet or phone,” Woods notes. 

The resulting system is designed to last many years. “The airport now has an automated multilevel system that lets them work with the TSA to elevate its security level at any time,” Woods says. “And the system is plug-and-play, making it very easy to upgrade.”

Subcategory: 
Security

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