Miami Int'l Improves Runway Incursion Detection With Multi-Tech System

Ken Wysocky
Published in: 

A new $3.1 million security system that went online at Miami International Airport (MIA) is providing one of the country's largest international hubs with new tools for detecting taxiway and runway incursions.

Funded by TSA, the airport's new system employs a variety of technologies, including ground-based radar, digital cameras and complex target-analytics software. In addition, a GPS-based remote-tracking system helps speed the dispatch of first responders.

The result is faster and more accurate identification, verification and tracking of intruders that could pose a threat. The system also reduces false alarms (triggered by wildlife, for instance) that lead to inefficient deployment of security resources, says Ray Davalos, MIA's outgoing airport building systems manager.

Project: Runway Incursion Detection System
Location: Miami Int'l Airport
Operator: Miami-Dade Aviation Dept.
Cost: $3.1 million
Funding: TSA
Main Components: Ground-based radar, high-resolution digital cameras, target-analytics software
Timeline: Nov. 2011 to May 2014
Project Management: Unicom Global
Subcontractors: NICE Systems; Honeywell Int'l
Radar: FLIR Systems
Cameras: Axis Communications; Moog
Benefits: Faster, more accurate detection & verification of runway/taxiway incursions
Concurrent Project: Checkpoint Infrastructure Updates
Main Components: New intranetwork; high-resolution cameras; servers; video-recording system
Cost: $6.9 million
Funding: TSA
Checkpoint Cameras: Axis Communications
Benefits: Improved image quality; increased camera coverage; better playback/recording capabilities

A key component of the incursion detection system, which went online in May, is Situator analytical software, by NICE Systems. It essentially acts as the "brain of the operation," allowing the system's various components to communicate and work together. For example, the software "talks" with ground-based radar when a target is detected on a taxiway or runway, then selects the correct camera to verify and track the target. It also automatically sends a photo of the target to tablet computers carried by first responders in security vehicles that rove the airport's 12-square-mile grounds. The link to a Google map that pinpoints the target's exact position accompanies the photo, Davalos adds.

Prime contractor/project manager Unicom Global emphasizes the importance of a layered approach for runway/taxiway security. MIA's system uses three primary technologies: ground-based radar by FLIR Systems, fixed and pan-and-tilt digital cameras and software analytics. "Sensors are used, too," notes Mark Storek, senior client executive for physical security at Unicom. "Each target is subject to at least three verifications."

More than 70 high-resolution, low-light digital cameras cover the airfield to detect incursions. "If the target proceeds out of range of one camera, Situator allows an operator to sequence to the next available camera to start tracking the target," Storek explains. "It can even send the closest first responders an actual picture of the target in a high-resolution photo that's sharp enough to identify a threat."

Additionally, the software includes built-in standard protocols that tell operators what to do, step by step, when a target is detected. This ensures a consistent response to situations, he notes.

"It takes all this disparate data and makes it actionable - helps operators make sense of it - for an efficient response each time," Storek says.

Mapping a Response

Detected targets are tracked on a high-resolution aerial map of the airport, which MIA personnel say is a dramatic upgrade from the computer-aided design version they previously used. The ground radar is integrated with a radar video surveillance receiver, developed by Honeywell International. It captures information from an FAA-mandated automatic dependent-surveillance broadcast (ADSB), which triangulates with the ground radar to determine whether or not an incursion target is an aircraft. A radar feed from the FAA serves as a backup if MIA's ground-based radar malfunctions, Davalos notes.

"Another benefit is that even though it's primarily concerned about unknowns (targets), the system gives our folks in the tower a much better perspective on everything that's happening on the airfield at all times - a situational awareness of everything that's moving around that they didn't have before," he explains. "Part of their job is to see if there's another aircraft waiting to taxi or one coming around one of the concourses ... and instead of having to call one tower and ask if it's holding an aircraft, they can see it all on a computer screen."

Before MIA's new incursion detection system was installed, it was sometimes difficult for airport personnel to distinguish exactly who or what was moving airside. "We couldn't easily tell whether a vehicle belonged where it was," Davalos says. "We also had a couple incidents in which passengers ended up on the tarmac. Now, as soon as someone gets away from the terminal and starts walking on a taxiway, they get detected."

Historically, vehicle incursions occurred more frequently than pedestrians straying onto the tarmac, he clarifies.

"For example, we're doing a major resurfacing project right now on our largest runway," Davalos explains. "At any given point in a day, there are probably more than 100 vehicles driving on the taxiways that are designated to travel on specific routes. But if someone makes, say, a right turn instead of a left, it's detected by the ground-based radar. Then Situator tracks that target and selects the nearest camera ... video pops up on a computer monitor and an operator determines if the target is a 'friendly' and or an 'unfriendly.' "

New Technology

Most of the system's cameras are made by Axis Communications and work in low light or changing light conditions that would thwart conventional equipment. Each camera is essentially a lens on a computer with considerable processing firepower, explains Anthony Incorvati, head of transportation business development in North America for Axis. When combined with a sophisticated image sensor, MIA's cameras generate image quality that didn't even exist a couple years ago, notes Incorvati.

The system also includes five cameras by Moog Inc. that track targets at night. "They can see two miles when it's pitch black outside - and even identify a name tag at that distance," Storek says. "It's pretty stunning technology."

Because it wasn't feasible to run new fiber-optic lines to every outdoor camera, Unicom designed a wireless network that aggregates all camera streams and offloads them to MIA's network. "It would have cost millions of dollars to tear up the airport grounds and install fiber-optic lines, which just wasn't going to happen," Storek says. "We'd have to shut the airport down, which would be unacceptable."

In addition, the Unicom system uses solar power and battery packs to surmount another challenge: lack of electricity for cameras during daylight hours.

"The (airfield) light poles at Miami go hot only when it's dark out," Storek explains. "So we installed power processing units, or battery banks, around the runways. At night, when electricity is running, it charges the batteries. During the day, the battery packs power the cameras and the wireless gear that transmits all camera streams and images back to the NICE recorders and software."

Checkpoint Enhancements

In conjunction with the incursion detection project, TSA spent an additional $6.9 million inside MIA's terminal, upgrading security checkpoint infrastructure. Crews installed a new intranetwork, 219 high-resolution cameras, servers and a video-recording system.

"Before, the (checkpoint) cameras were analog," Davalos notes. "This system is more intuitive and provides better video quality, better recording and playback, and more cameras per checkpoint - 20 to 25 per area compared to 10 or 12 previously."

Axis, the company that supplied cameras for MIA's incursion detection system, also provided intelligent-surveillance cameras for the checkpoint project. "These are Internet Protocol (IP) networked video cameras, which means they're digital right at the source," notes Incorvati. "To be networked, the old analog cameras had to be encoded and then transport video over a network, and image quality suffered."

He compares the image quality of MIA's new checkpoint cameras to a high-definition television with sound color fidelity. "That's critical for better target identification, especially when you go back for forensics and zoom in for more detail, which an analog camera can't provide," he explains.

More Applications?

If it chooses, MIA can further leverage its new cameras inside the terminal and on the airfield by using a video-analytics application. According to Incorvati, more and more airports are using cameras initially deployed for security purposes for everything from queue management to monitoring third-party contractors to determining specifically where cleaning crews are needed.

"Some airports also use them for gate management," he reports. "Years ago, you never saw cameras at a boarding gate or out on a ramp. Now, we're seeing cameras at gates to help manage the boarding process."

If an aircraft doesn't leave on time, cameras can help the airport and airline understand why. They can also provide video that serves as a forensics tool to determine cause and liability in cases involving aircraft ground damage, which costs airlines millions of dollars annually, he notes.


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