New Security System Expands the View for Small Staff at Elmira Corning Regional

Kristin Vanderhey Shaw
Published in: 

Elmira Corning Regional Airport (ELM) was still in the process of installing a new $2.4 million security system when an arriving passenger prematurely tested some of its new components. The passenger was later discovered to be suffering from dementia, and the 2013 incident decisively validated the decision to invest in new technology at the upstate New York facility. 

One evening around 9:00, a man who had just deplaned started testing doors in the sterile area to get out to the airfield. He located a door that opened with a push of a crash bar, and approached the aircraft he had just exited. Grabbing a pair of marshalling wands, he ran down the apron, across the taxiway, and evaded authorities on the ramp. In the meantime, airport staff closed the airfield, called the emergency operations phone number and law enforcement was summoned; but the man was nowhere in sight. 

Fortunately, a "virtual fence" was one component of ELM's new system that was already in place. The fence consists of eight thermal imaging perimeter cameras that connect to a video surveillance system and large video wall in the airport's Security Operations Center. With the help of the brand-new thermal cameras, authorities apprehended the man and took him into custody. After airport grounds were inspected, ELM promptly reopened its airfield. 


Project: New Security System 
Location: Elmira Corning (NY) Regional Airport 
Total cost: $2.4 million
Timeline: 2010 - 2014
Number of Cameras: 60
Noteworthy Element: Virtual Fence
Design Consultant/Project Management: McFarland Johnson
Owner's Representative: Aviation Security Consulting 
ID Management: Quantum Secure (part of HID Global)
Outdoor Video Surveillance System: SightLogix, Pelco; Scallop Imaging
Thermal Cameras: SightLogix
Automated Exit Lane: IEE Sensing

"In addition to being able to locate this man, another great outcome of this system was that [the incident] was very clearly documented," says Ann Crook, the airport's director of Aviation. "And all of the responders did what they were supposed to do."

The virtual fence was just one piece of a larger security project that ELM began in 2010, when it hired Aviation Security Consulting. In 2011, Lori Beckman, the firm's president, started taking inventory of what the airport had and what it needed. ELM's new system was installed and operational by spring 2014.

Overhaul vs. Update

"Most security systems have a lifespan of about 12 to 15 years," advises Beckman. "The time was right for Elmira Corning to update, and the technology available to us now provides more options than when the system was originally installed."

Identification badges with Polaroid pictures used to be the norm for airport employees, she reflects. Then, the Aviation Security Improvement Act of 1990 required airports to install access control systems that included badges that could control access. "The TSA has added many new requirements over the last two decades, and the systems at Elmira Corning were disparate," recalls Beckman. "We needed a way to integrate and tie it all together."

Over the years, ELM had upgraded its previous system to stay current; but in 2010, officials were ready to make a bigger change and replace individual aging components with a new integrated system. The airport decided to overhaul everything, including access control and badging. ELM's previous system would have required costly custom programming to conform to new requirements such as threat assessments, Crook explains. 

ELM personnel worked closely with the airport's consulting team to decide which solutions made the most sense. "Our goal was to design and procure state-of-the-art technology that complied with the TSA requirements," recalls Crook. "We needed to integrate all of the badging and access control systems and be able to easily obtain badge record reports. In addition, we wanted to add biometrics to the access control doors that access the secured area. Biometrics are not yet required by TSA, but we felt it was reasonable to expect that was coming. As long as we were investing in a new security system, we wanted to think forward."

Beckman stresses the importance of hiring a system designer with specific experience in airport security. "You don't want to purchase systems and components you really don't need and that aren't proven in an airport environment. You don't want to be bleeding edge," she advises. "At the end of the day, the airport staff have a day job, and they don't need to be bogged down trying to research and manage security system design by themselves."

Products vs. Personnel

ELM is a non-hub, county-owned airport that accommodates both commercial and general aviation traffic. Airfield tenants include the corporate flight department for glass and ceramic manufacturer Corning Inc. Last July, ELM broke its all-time passenger record; and, unlike other airports in the area, officials expect that upward trend to continue. 

With recent and future growth in mind, Crook wanted to meet the newest industry requirements but stay on budget and not overwhelm the airport's small staff with new security-related duties. Paul Benne, president of Sentinel Consulting, brainstormed with ELM officials and Beckman to find ways to achieve the airport's goals.

"Part of our job as the security consultant and engineer is to analyze the best way to solve a problem with the best return on investment," says Benne. "We analyzed the problems, looked at various technologies, and figured out what the best fit would be for Elmira Corning."

The electronics deployed at ELM cost a fraction of what it would have cost the airport to hire additional staff members, he notes. "We look at what airports are faced with and create solutions that solve the security problem while addressing short- and long-term budget considerations." 

According to Benne, ELM's integration of access control and virtual fencing may be a first. "It's a new approach to combine these three technologies: thermal imaging, video surveillance and access control," he notes. "We tied all three together to create an automated way of complying with the TSA guidelines." 

One of the team's goals was to create a secure Aircraft Operations Area (AOA) that allows aircraft operators to access their equipment when it's on the tarmac without triggering alarms. The airport, however, must maintain security when anyone leaves the fixed-base operator area and enters the AOA. "It's a challenge, because it's an enormously wide-open space," Benne comments.  

ELM's consulting team recommended the airport-wide deployment of video cameras, the use of thermal imaging technology and specific intelligent surveillance products from SightLogix that are designed especially for outdoor use. The combination of equipment allows airplanes to cross the security line of demarcation without triggering an alarm; but people entering the AOA without presenting access control credentials at a local card reader will trip an alarm. 

"The use of a virtual fence is very new technology for a commercial service airport," says Beckman. "In many facilities, tenants have access control systems in their own buildings, with a line of demarcation between the hangar and the AOA. There is a card reader inside the hangar, and they have to swipe it to go outside - [so] there is a limited range where the tenants can move around without triggering alarms. If an alarm is set off, the Operations team is alerted via their smartphones."

System Specs

McFarland Johnson designed ELM's new security system and managed its construction. In total, the airport has 60 cameras, eight of which create its virtual fence. The system includes a closed-circuit television system with a video wall that gives airport personnel a streamlined view of the entire facility.

"The cameras sense when someone walks onto the apron, the people in the Security Operations Center get a warning that the perimeter sensor has been set, and then the camera zooms in on it," explains Chad Nixon, senior vice president at McFarland Johnson. "The system can easily distinguish people and animals from airplanes, based on size and thermal profile, which saves time."

Another challenge ELM faced was staffing the exit lane for passengers leaving the terminal. The team suggested an automated door with a sensor that determines the direction each passenger is traveling. If anyone stops and backs up or tries to re-enter, the sensor sets off an alarm, closes the door and alerts the Security Operations Center to a possible security violation.  

"Though the TSA has responsibility for monitoring the exit lane, this system provides a cost-effective redundancy," Benne notes.

"Smaller airports like Elmira Corning are lean, and employees wear several hats every day," adds Nixon. "The team's job was to find a solution that would maximize technology to run the security system for both airfield and terminal threats in order to most efficiently utilize the staff."

Nixon acknowledges that it's challenging for small and non-hub airports to provide meaningful security without breaking the bank for technology and personnel. "We looked at improving security through an identity management system to replace the traditional badging system," he explains. "Usually, airports the size of Elmira Corning have a keypad for entering a PIN or a proximity card. The airport now has both a smart card and biometric readers for two-step authentication and the ability to add a PIN for a third authentication if necessary."

To mitigate inside threats, the airport hired Quantum Secure, part of HID Global, which created the first Physical Identity and Access Management platform. Quantum's SAFE for Aviation Software Suite is designed for managing identities and provisioning access in physical security infrastructure. The company helps automate physical security system functions such as physical identity management, role-based access, self-service administration, identity/event correlation and reporting into a single Web-based interface. 

"Airports often focus on passengers, which are outside threats," says Andy Kuchel, vice president of Business Development for Quantum. "We focus on the employees at the airport - those who are badged - to help the airport keep watch for malicious or mistakenly risky actions."

The company's approach is to manage access control infrastructure through employee credentialing. "We put intelligence on top of the access control system to ensure that anyone who gains access through a door meets the requirements to reach AOA and SIDA (Security Identification Display Area) areas," explains Kuchel. 

Quantum's software is a compliance-based, enterprise-wide system that determines and demonstrates whether airport personnel have properly completed the credentialing process. The system also checks to ensure that employees are 100% in compliance at all times, adds Kuchel. The software monitors driver's license and badge expiration dates and notifies the company when it's time to renew. Because the system is fully automated, it minimizes personnel time, he explains. 

"Elmira is a small airport with a limited budget," Kuchel relates. "When you have a small badging office, like Elmira's, things can get delayed and people get upset. Identity management is a way to help the airport comply with regulatory requirements and provide better security and customer service. There are always new hoops to jump through as we continue to close gaps that present threats to airports, and it puts pressure on small teams and limits the ability to comply quickly."

An updated TSA security directive (1542-04-08H) that increases the frequency of background checks for badged airport staff was announced in April. Previously, airports were only required to check criminal history records when hiring employees. With the new rule, they must perform background checks every two years. 

"Now that there are more requirements inside the badging office, airports who have prepared with an identity management system - something like what Quantum Secure offers - will be in better shape," says Kristi Crase, director of vertical market development for the company. "We will minimize the impact of those kinds of changes for Elmira Corning."

She explains that the company's goal was to allow ELM staff to focus more on actual security and less on mundane elements of mandated security issues. Quantum ensures that airport badges are trustworthy, and identity management systems help reduce insider threats and augment airport security programs, adds Kuchel.   

"The airport has to manage records from the time people are on-boarded to the time they are deactivated. That encompasses a number of procedures that are federally and locally driven," advises Crase. "Our company provides an overlay to what is in place at the airport. At Elmira Corning, we helped streamline their process and made it easier for them in a paperless environment."


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