Airport lacks security tech, experts say

Oakland International Airport lacks video surveillance technology used in other airports, such as the ability to quickly retrieve images of intruders and a system that alerts authorities when people enter secure boarding areas through exit...


Oakland International Airport lacks video surveillance technology used in other airports, such as the ability to quickly retrieve images of intruders and a system that alerts authorities when people enter secure boarding areas through exit lanes.

That technological gap may have contributed to the airport's three apparent security breaches this year, security experts, airport authorities and sources who supervised security efforts at the airport, said.

In the most recent incident, on July 10, an aide for the Alameda County Sheriff's Office reported seeing a man entering the "sterile" Terminal 1 boarding area through an exit lane guarded by the federal Transportation Security Administration.

Searchers from the Oakland Police Department and the Sheriff's Office were given only a verbal description, as the terminal lacks the ability to retrieve video images to track down intruders.

Nor did the TSA have "enough information to necessitate an evacuation" of the terminal, said administration spokesman Nico Melendez.

The situation was nearly identical to two previous incidents at Oakland -- one on Jan. 5 and a second on Feb. 15 -- when people entered secure areas without being screened for weapons and authorities could not locate them.

That is something Steve Irwin finds troubling.

Irwin, who has been a mid-level airport manager and supervisor at both Oakland and San Francisco international airports, is now a security consultant based in St. Louis.

He believes the Oakland breaches are the fruit of airport

management's reluctance to invest in the kind of security systems needed to both prevent such incidents and deal with them if and when they occur.

With what little surveillance capability the airport does have, Irwin said, "It appears they can't translate it into, 'There's a guy in the crowd, let's get him.'"

Melendez said the airport's Terminal 2, which is used exclusively by Southwest Airlines, does have the ability to capture images that can be used to help track down intruders, but Terminal 1 does not.

Nor does the airport have what's known in the industry as a "counterflow detector," which analyzes video images and transmits an alarm when someone walks into the secure area through an exit.

San Francisco International Airport installed motion detectors to perform that function about 10 years ago, airport spokesman Michael McCarron said in an e-mail.

"If someone should enter the exit lane from the wrong direction (from the non-secured side) an alarm sounds, lights flash and a photo is taken of the individual," he said. That digital image "can either be printed out or sent electronically anywhere in the terminal."

San Francisco also has had three incidents in which people entered the secure area without being properly screened, but none of those were through exit lanes. In only one case did authorities fail to locate the person and, following security protocol, order a terminal evacuation and re-screening of passengers, McCarron said.

Oakland's Terminal 1 does, in fact, have closed-circuit television surveillance, said Steve Grossman, who runs the airport for the Port of Oakland as its director of aviation.

"We actually have a CCTV system throughout the terminals. That is in the process of being upgraded as we speak to gain more capability," Grossman said.

Asked why searchers for the recent intruder were not provided with images from that system, Grossman said the system can't always provide them.

"It depends upon where the incident is, what's going on and how much of it we capture," he said. "When we capture an image, I do believe we can print it out. It's a question of, in any one location, do we have a camera there to capture it."

As for a wrong-way motion detection system like San Francisco's, Grossman said, "We don't have it now.

"In some ways, I wish I had their money. But we will be looking at it for the future."

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