A tragic aspect of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was the inability of public sector first responders and critical infrastructure operators in the private sector to share critical incident management information in real-time. Meaningful, actionable interoperability was virtually non-existent. Nowhere was that more evident than in the aviation sector.
Improving interoperability for commercial aviation is a function of two crucial factors: (1) maintaining a persistent commitment to fostering institutional cooperation and coordination; and (2) strengthening the nation’s ability to field better technology in support of security operations. When bad things happen, better technology can enable real-time, effective interoperable communications among public and private sectors at all levels – local, state and federal.
Where do things stand today, eleven years after the 9/11 attacks? I’d argue that institutionally, we have made significant progress. At most commercial airports, the airport operator, airlines, TSA and local law enforcement have created strong partnerships. Communication is not perfect, security operations are too costly and the pace of innovation is frustratingly slow, all for a multitude of reasons.
On the other hand, airports globally are increasingly adopting a commercial software tool for command center management that is relatively low-cost and provides a transformational boost to operational efficiency, security performance and incident management interoperability. As a class, these software tools are known as physical security information management (PSIM) platforms. Full disclosure, VidSys is a leading supplier of such a PSIM platform.
PSIM technology was nonexistent on 9/11. Today it is in use by public sector and enterprise clients globally – by leading firms (from Fortune 100 technology firms to global financial institutions), as well as by a multitude of public agencies in the U.S. and around the world. In addition to airports, these include the military, transit agencies, ports and other transportation providers, police and operations centers for traffic management and emergency management.
PSIM software is a command center tool that rides on top of existing systems. It continuously fuses, instantly correlates and effectively presents vast amounts of data gathered from virtually any type, brand or generation of physical security system or sensor – and from many other networked management applications critical to enabling nimble operations.
These platforms provide automated tools needed for safe, effective and timely resolution of basic alarms and for management of more complex incidents that involve multiple simultaneous alarms at one or more locations. As a secure web-based solution, the VidSys PSIM platform allows operators easily to manage geographically dispersed assets and to share among various entities, as authorized. With these capabilities, PSIM has transformed real-time interagency communications, operations and collaboration.
Example: Exit Lane Breach Control
How does PSIM work at an airport? Take, for example, the problem of exit lane breach control. PSIM software can reliably integrate with proven behavior recognition software. First of all, PSIM can in most cases enable an airport to use technology rather than individuals to manage the mind-numbing and otherwise expensive job of monitoring exit lanes. More importantly, with off-the shelf video surveillance tools, PSIM would instantly trigger an alarm for an exit lane breach. If an unauthorized individual enters into a secure area, cameras and video recorders ordinarily operated independently by TSA and the airport can be immediately fused to provide a common operating picture for both. On-site police would instantly be notified, audio alarms can be activated and all video cameras adjacent to the breach would synchronize to track the location of an intruder and, if required, prior movements.
PSIM then would provide step-by-step, automated instructions to help guide operators through pre-defined response procedures. Specific actions, customizable by the airport or TSA, may include alerting all authorized security and law enforcement officials of the incident via their mobile devices with pictures of the intruder or locking accessible doors. As a result, situations are identified, managed and even resolved in minutes. PSIM may help avoid terminal closures entirely, potentially saving the airport and airlines millions. Complete incident records are automatically retained for after-action analysis, training or prosecution.
In short, PSIM can deliver real-time interoperability. And it can provide materially enhanced security performance.
But imagine a given exit lane breach incident is not a benign incident, rather a quick attack. And imagine further that the same thing is happening simultaneously at several airports at the exact same time. Obviously, this second scenario is more grave than an isolated incident. With PSIM, airports could establish continuous connectivity with local police and with TSA’s national command center in Virginia. Those entities would not have operational control of the airport’s cameras or other security assets, but they could be granted immediate situational awareness for specified incidents that could save lives and trigger more complex response protocols.
With PSIM, a targeted airport could also quickly be informed that other exit lane breach incidents are occurring simultaneously. Obviously, that would impact each airport’s response and may elevate the number and type of assets deployed.
To conclude, the attacks of 9/11 underscored the importance of real-time information sharing and interoperability. The aviation community has come far since then. But with now-proven technology, the aviation community can readily take interoperability to a higher level, improving security, decreasing costs and strengthening critical interoperability.
Michael P. Jackson is Chairman & CEO at VidSys, Inc. and former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (2001-2003) and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (2005-2007).