Small South Texas Airport Adds Big Technology for Access Control

Rebecca Kanable
Published in: 

Brownsville/South Padre Island

Before adding a new access control system last year, Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport (BRO) was literally under lock and key. Its previous electronic access control system encountered so many problems the airport turned it off and resorted to key access for secure areas.

Facts & Figures

Project: Access Control System

Location: Brownsville/South Padre Island (TX) International Airport

Consulting Engineer: Ross & Baruzzini

System Provider: Matrix Systems

Infrastructure: HNTB Corp.

Unique Twist: Airport reduced expenses by integrating some existing equipment and infrastructure with new system

The new system, reports airport operations supervisor John Doude, helps the airport "keep tabs" on its door systems. "Now, we can better maintain control," says Doude. "It's made our jobs a lot easier."

Consulting engineering firm Ross & Baruzzini (R&B) managed the project for the city-owned airport located at the southern tip of Texas. After presenting a variety of system function possibilities, R&B encouraged the airport to request bids from a wide range of access control equipment, installation and aftermarket providers.

"A consulting engineer company should provide more than specifications," says Theresa Smith, senior project manager with R&B. "It should help the end-user put together a collaborative team and see the project through to the end. Too many times a smaller client such as BRO gets the 'C team' from a national installer. Or, they get a local company that really doesn't have airport electronics experience. Brownsville already had a Fortune 500 company install the first system, which didn't work up to standards. Our job was to set superior design specifications and make sure the winning bid company followed the criteria."

One of the airport's main objectives was ensuring single-source responsibility to minimize the opportunity for finger pointing between multiple vendors. The single source it chose was Matrix Systems, a turnkey access control and security system provider that manufactures its own card readers and hardware, authors its own software and installs its own technology.

Working with airport staff and R&B, Matrix Systems installed enterprise access control technology at Brownsville/SPI from February to April 2008. The airport's new system rivals the technology of multimillion dollar systems at Category X airports, says Joe Jenkins, senior territory operations manager and corporate secretary for Matrix.

Big Tech

Brownsville/SPI's new access control hardware includes a server, two networked workstations, one building controller, and ten reader control modules. In addition, 37 i-class card readers were installed at doors, baggage claim areas and security gates inside and outside the building. A new system that creates badges with smart chips was also added.

Not everything in the security system is new - a strategy that saved the airport tens of thousands of dollars in labor and materials, says Richard Rao, Southwest region sales manager for Matrix. Because the company's Frontier software can integrate with other types and brands of equipment, the airport was able to use its existing Ademco digital video recorder, three bag belts and closed-circuit television system from American Dynamics. Additional cameras have been added more recently.

Many providers, notes Rao, don't have the capability to integrate their software with existing hardware. Others don't want to take on the potential liability of linking to another company's equipment.

After passing integrity and signal speed checks, much of the airport's 12- and 24-volt cable infrastructure was also kept in place. "Anything that had deteriorated or wasn't functional had to be replaced," says Rao, noting that rodent damage is often a factor with cables. Where possible, hardware items such as magnetic door locks, electric strikes, egress buttons and door contacts were also re-used.

Infrastructure firm HNTB Corp. helped determine what was and was not useable, and helped keep the airport open and operating as usual during the construction phase.

Real-time Advantages

New technology, notes senior project manager Smith, adds functions and features to electronic security that weren't standard a few years ago.

Brownsville/SPI's new system, for instance, includes real-time event recording. When an alarm is triggered, the closed-circuit television system and digital video recorder are automatically activated to record an event in real time and save what was recorded several seconds before. Airport director Larry Brown and other administrators and security personnel receive immediate notifications by email and/or cell phone.

The airport's new technology also helps it meet Transportation Security Administration accountability regulations. In this regard, automated access control and closed-circuit television monitoring provide the "best bang for the buck" to monitor all portals, says Smith.

In some cases, new technology can also force airports to maintain their systems at optimal performance, notes Jenkins. "If a door won't shut, for example, they get alarm notifications," explains Jenkins. "Depending on how often the alarms go off, federal government fines could be issued."

Overall, Doude says he's been impressed with the new electronic access control system at Brownsville/SPI because it does what it's designed to do. "We're satisfied with the performance," he says. "It's been a big help."


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