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...


Installing a state-of-the art video detection system for an airport the size of Oakland could cost around $3 million, including computerized analysis that can differentiate between animals or people approaching the facility's perimeter, people moving in the wrong direction at an exit or even someone acting oddly, said Gadi Talmon, co-founder of Agent Video Intelligence, an Israeli firm that has installed such systems at Washington's Reagan National Airport and the Houston Metro transit system.

That would include a minimum of 500 cameras, each with its own processor to do initial analysis that decides whether to send high-resolution suspect images to a more powerful central computer for further analysis.

"The bottom line is that nobody is watching all those monitors," Talmon said. "It's just impossible to monitor all those hundreds of cameras. Computerized systems can detect events according to predetermined rules" and then quickly convey suspicious images to airport authorities.

Oakland Police Lt. Ed Poulson led the department's security contingent inside Oakland's two passenger terminal until the department redeployed his officers to improve policing in high-crime city neighborhoods July 14.

He said the airport security environment was already complex, with city police on the inside, county sheriff's deputies on the outside, federal passenger screeners from TSA and privately contracted security guards.

Poulson did not bemoan the lack of high-tech surveillance, saying his officers could perform well with the tools they had, but said it could certainly help the new force of sheriff's deputies.

"Anytime you can use technology to assist law enforcement, that's always a good thing," Poulson said. "Look at how effective the technology has been used in England," where widespread use of video surveillance helped British authorities crack subway bombing plots in 2005.

At Nashville International Airport, which has less than two-thirds of Oakland's annual volume of 14.4 million passengers, has video surveillance throughout its two terminals in case someone bypasses security, explained Duane McGray, who recently retired as head of that airport's security.

"They would capture the individual's image, then send that digitized photograph to an e-mail address (on personal digital assistants carried by airport police officers) instantly, so that each of the officers can pull it up and have it in their hand as they look for the individual," McGray said. He added, "Very rarely has someone gotten through; probably less than one every year or 18 months."

There was one time when the digital images came in handy, however, said McGray, who is now executive director of the Airport Law Enforcement Agencies Network. "What they did do once is they caught a shoplifter."

Contact Erik Nelson at enelson@angnewspapers.com or (510) 208-6410. Read the Capricious Commuter at http://www.ibabuzz.com/transportation .

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