San Jose Int'l Upgrades Security Perimeter Beyond Federal Requirements

San Jose Int'l Upgrades Security Perimeter Beyond Federal Requirements
Jodi Richards
Published in: 

Following a series of high-profile security breaches at Mineta San Jose International (SJC), the airport teamed up with local and federal agencies and is working toward a safer, more secure facility through perimeter fence upgrades and technology enhancements. 

Responding to the embarrassing breaches, SJC officials partnered with the San Jose Police Department, TSA and FAA to conduct a full evaluation of the airport and its perimeter, as well as security procedures and policies. At one point, the FBI came on site to inspect the airfield and assess its vulnerabilities, notes Bob Lockhart, airport deputy director of operations. 

"It was valuable input," he says of the team-based approach. "Our security partners are the experts in the field, so it's better to have them involved to evaluate where they see vulnerabilities." 

Project: Perimeter Security Upgrades
Location: Mineta San Jose Int'l Airport
Total Cost: Nearly $15.4 million
Cost of Phase 1: $75,000
Funding: Airport funds
Cost of Phase 2: $3.4 million 
Funding: FAA grant; $1.8 million airport funds
Cost of Phase 3: $10.1 million 
Funding: $8.1 million FAA grant; $2 million 
airport funds
Consultant: National Safe Skies Alliance
Fence Contractor: Granite Rock
Fencing: Golden Bay Fence 
Design/Construction Management: AECOM
Design Support for Future Perimeter 
Fence Project: Gensler
Rebar Contractor: Harris Rebar
Electrical Contractor: Rosendin Electric
Primary Strategies: Increase fence height & base; upgrade technology; increase awareness
Of Note: National Safe Skies Alliance, a non-profit funded by FAA, provided info about potential technological solutions free of charge

Congressional officials were invited to participate as well, which helped inform them about SJC's needs. "Their participation ultimately served us well as we sought and received federal funding to enhance our perimeter fence line," Lockhart emphasizes. 

Evaluations indicated that the airport perimeter, with its 6-foot-tall fence, was, indeed, in compliance with current federal security requirements. "We also saw that there were some opportunities to improve the effectiveness of our perimeter, both from a perception perspective as well as an actual strengthening of some of our perimeter," adds Lockhart. 

"Safety and security is our No. 1 priority," says Rosemary Barnes, public information manager for SJC. "It's easy to state this, but we had to also show our customers and community what we're doing to achieve this."

Physical & Technological Improvements

SJC is taking a two-prong approach to bolstering its perimeter security: physical fencing and technological enhancements. 

Previously, the airport had a 6-foot chain-link perimeter fence with a 2-inch mesh. On top of that was a single angle iron with three strands of barbed wire, which added about a foot to the overall height, details Lockhart. 

In addition to deterring intruders on foot with a higher fence, the airport added K-rail at the base to prevent vehicle intrusions. The 3-foot high K-rail was poured in place and provides a steady piece of solid concrete at the base of the fence line, Lockhart explains. On top of the K-rail is a 7-foot chain-link fence with one-inch mesh, which makes the fence much more difficult to climb with fingers or feet. On top of that is a 1-foot "v" of barbed wire. Now, most of SJC's perimeter fence is 10 feet high; some key areas, however, are up to 11 feet tall.

The three-phase project began in early 2015 with the installation of 1,500 feet of the new taller fence at the southwest corner of the airfield, opposite the new San Jose Earthquakes soccer stadium. This phase was completed in April 2015 and paid for with airport operating funds. 

Phase Two, completed in September 2016, covered north and south areas of the airfield and was funded through a $3.4 million FAA grant and $1.8 million in airport funds.

Airport officials expect Phase Three to be completed in 2017. It includes improving additional areas of the perimeter fence line as needed and incorporating high-tech hardware and software (more and improved cameras and/or adding sensor-type technologies). In September 2016, SJC was awarded an $8.1 million FAA grant to move forward with the design, purchase and installation of surveillance technologies for targeted areas inside the perimeter fence line. The airport will fund $2 million for the project. "[This technology] will give us another layer of security," Lockhart notes. 

Tech Testing

To evaluate potential technological solutions, the airport partnered with National Safe Skies Alliance, a non-profit formed in 1997 and funded by the FAA. Its goal is to help airport operators make informed decisions about perimeter and access control security, and its services are free to airports. 

"An airport might have a general idea of where they want to go to improve their security, but they may not be as aware of the breadth of options that are out there," says Brian Hollis, Safe Skies test engineer. "We can give you a firsthand look at how [a technology] performs at your site."

Test installations evaluated by independent, unbiased personnel provide an opportunity to foresee how a system could perform at a particular facility before investing in it, says Test Team Manager Lori Anderson.

Safe Skies began working with SJC in summer 2014. Following a site visit to assess the airport's challenges and goals, the organization briefed officials about potentially applicable technology classes/types. "As an independent group, we don't recommend specific vendors, but we can say we feel based on these reasons that your location is a good fit for these particular technology classes," explains Hollis.

Site visits are critical to Safe Skies' work, because each airport has unique elements and challenges-from environmental to infrastructure, he adds. 

To simulate a breach, the technology being tested is set up-preferably in the exact area where the airport is looking to improve situational awareness, Hollis explains. An operator from Safe Skies, who has been trained by the vendor of the technology, runs the system, while a test subject simulates an intrusion at different profiles or speeds. Data is collected about whether the system performed as it is designed to. 

At SJC, Safe Skies evaluated eight systems from six different technology classes: thermal cameras, thermal cameras coupled with video analytics, behavioral video analytic systems, pressure sensor buried cables, laser detection systems and wireless cameras. 

One-inch mesh and barbed wire make SJC’s new chain-link fences more difficult to climb. Concrete K-rails at the bottom help prevent vehicle intrusions.

Testers evaluated each system for about two weeks. In that time, hundreds, if not thousands, of simulated intrusions were performed to provide the airport with statistically valid detection rates for each of the evaluated systems, Hollis says. Following each session, Safe Skies provided SJC with a report on how the system performed against operational concerns such as perimeter security intruders. 

Safe Skies independently evaluates and writes a report for each system. "We don't compare the systems," emphasizes Anderson. The reports it produces are given to the airport and are also available, by request, to security coordinators at other airports.

Security Procedures & Protocols

Installation of the new, improved fence line involved careful planning and phasing to ensure the continued safety and security during construction, Lockhart notes. Contractors built a temporary fence line parallel to the existing fence, then poured the new concrete and constructed the new fence. 

SJC also used the elevated awareness that followed the breaches as an opportunity to review its security policies and procedures with employees at the airport. "We did some additional training of staff," reports Lockhart. 

In addition, the airport increased perimeter inspections by operations staff, contract guards and the San Jose Police Department. "Everyone at the airport was reminded they play a part in our security program," he says. "The old, 'see something, say something' motto is still very apropos."

"We even heard from our local residents and businesses," Barnes adds. "We really appreciated the community bringing their concerns to our attention."

Lockhart says that in general, airports need to look at what they are doing about security on a day-to-day basis. He also encourages fellow operators to evaluate how they can potentially do it better-despite limited funds. 

SJC officials are grateful for the support their enhancement project has received from local congressional leadership, which helped secure FAA funding. "We need to continue to be vigilant and look at every portion of every program and project that we're planning to see how it ties into the end result of safety and security at the airport," Lockhart reflects. 

"We needed to do better, despite meeting all federal security requirements," Barnes adds. "It was critical that we enhance security and show and tell our customers and community what steps we were taking so San Jose International would continue to be their airport of choice in the Bay Area." 


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