A New Surveillance System at PHL

Oct. 11, 2022
Philadelphia International Airport is working with Arora Engineers to upgrade their surveillance system in customs and boarder protection areas in Terminals A – West and A – East with upgrading remaining terminals including remote areas.

Philadelphia International Airport [PHL] is working with Arora Engineers to upgrade their surveillance system in customs and boarder protection [CBP] areas in Terminals A – West and A – East with upgrading remaining terminals including remote areas.

The objective of this program is to upgrade the existing system to 100% IP while significantly increasing CCTV viewing coverage; establishing comprehensive coverage including currently unsupported (“green-field”) areas around the airport perimeter, and on terminal roadways; upgrade the video management system (VMS) to allow for more efficient management and resource allocation; upgrade control rooms/MDFs to support the new system; replace network infrastructure, new fiber, equipment, storage, and switches necessary to support the new VMS/IP CCTV configuration.

PHL began the program three years ago during the COVID-19 pandemic and has completed phase 1 and has started construction for phase 2A of the program implementation.

Vice President at Arora Engineers Kalpesh Trivedi said the existing system at PHL is almost 12 years old, and a lot of the equipment is outdated or not longer available.

“The program is being planned in multiple phases to deploy new Video Management System throughout PHL for multiple reasons, for funding, and also the interruption to the security system and the operation during implementation,” Trivedi said. “PHL is not only upgrading the CCTV, but it's upgrading everything that's associated with it that requires the new Video Management System to deploy in the right manner.”

Acting Airport Security Manager for the City of Philadelphia Division of Aviation Jason Sankey said the main objective for this project is to get comprehensive coverage of the entire airport.

“The cameras are new access IP and we're using a new security Cisco Network. So, everything about the system that we have is being upgraded for this new CCTV project,” Sankey said. “We are taking everything old out and putting all new fiber, all new cameras, all new system to watch the cameras, as well.”

Sankey said they are deploying around 4,000 cameras at PHL.

“We had about 1500, 1800. We're going to about 4,000,” Sankey said. “We're going into places that we weren't before. So, more eyes and a better security footprint with this new system.”

The program is installing a new system parallel to the existing system. This means that there will be no coverage drops or interruption to the current coverage. Although according to Trivedi, ensuring there is no gap in the security system and monitoring system comes with its own set of hurdles.  

“It is challenging, installing a new system in the similar geographical areas and in the IDF, MDFs, where the space is limited and is being utilized by the old system. However, we're installing the new in the same areas so, that is being planned and designed carefully and executed carefully,” Trivedi said. “Our current recording is up to 30 days here that we keep on file for lot of different reasons. So, we are not interrupting our current system until the new system retrieves at least 30 days, or at least has the programming of 30 days before we touch the whole system. There are multiple challenges, and this is what was thought through during the planning of this program, as to the airports are mandated to have a security monitoring system from federal government.”

Features of the New System

Sankey said the resolution with the new cameras will be much better.

“So, some of the upgrades would be, let's say, you're going from one of those old CRT TVs to something let's say like an HD TV, which is pretty fantastic, you could see things a lot more clearly; you get a lot more coverage,” Sankey said. “We went from analog-based cameras to IP based cameras. So, the difference between the two of them is night and day. You can actually see more clearly what's going on with these new cameras and you can do a lot more with them than what our old system did before.”

Facial and Eye Biometric Data

Deputy Director of Aviation, Capital Development for the City of Philadelphia Division of Aviation, Api Appulingam said they did a pilot prior to the pandemic for the biometric system to understand the technologies that are out there and what makes sense for PHL.

“Now we are beyond the pilot and we have been figuring out the way to implement biometric technology at our international gates,” Appulingam said. “So, gates in terminals A-East- A-West, which are our international terminals, a total of 26 gates. The intent is to have all 26 gates capable of utilizing biometric exit by end of next year. That will be a phase two and phase three of overall implementation, if you will.”

Trivedi said the main purpose for the biometric technology at the airport is to mainstream operations.

“A few years back CBP, the Federal Agency started initiation of implementing and using the biometric exit. Biometric exits are mainly utilized as the passenger is departing the airport … as you are leaving the United States for your international flights, you would present your passport and the boarding pass for verification at the check in, and at the boarding gate, what biometric exit does is it takes away, per additional physical verification, of that passport at the gate level. It's a system that you step up to and the cameras recognize your face. The system verifies your facial features with what's already in the database for CBP and gives you instant verification.”

According to Trivedi, within three to five seconds, you get the verification.

“Not only does it provide a secure verification because actually, it takes a human factor out of it, you're actually verifying the person against the CBP database. It also expedites the boarding of the flight,” Trivedi said. “Let's say on an average 200 passenger flight, anywhere from hour and a half to hour and 50 minutes, down to less than an hour, because now there's not that initial step where a passenger has to present, the agent has to verify it. All of that is done automatically. So, it's a secure way of expediting boarding. So, it's a win, win situation.”

360 Coverage

Sankey said one of the things he’s excited about regarding the upgrade from analog to digital cameras is the fidelity.

“The biggest thing that has me excited for this is just, what you'll be able to see with this stuff. We, as a security team, look at video all the time in case there's a security issue,” Sankey said. “If there's something that happens in a terminal, and sometimes, if the stuff is blurry, It's hard to see. And the way that our old cameras were, we had some pan tilt zoom cameras, which they're great because you can move them around, but they're not good if they're not pointed at a certain spot at a certain time. So, one of the big things that we're doing is having 360-coverage in certain spots too. So, it'll capture all those areas for 30 days, which will help not only security wise, but if there are slip and falls, we'll have a video of that. If there's an auto accident, we'll have the stuff for that.”

Deputy Director Operations & Security for the City of Philadelphia Division of Aviation Chris Dougherty said the 360 coverage will be useful in NTSB investigations as well.

“Now, you can focus in almost like in the movies, in a corner of a section and zoom in on that part of your screen and it will automatically focus and go down to almost pin size of what a person has on,” Dougherty said. “We also have the runways and taxiways – we can actually zoom in and we can help with investigations with the NTSB and others for any kind of information they're looking for, let's say a spark in an engine or anything like that, that they can help investigate stuff.”


Trivedi pointed out that another great feature of the new cameras is that they consume less energy to operate.

“Some of the old cameras we have, needed a rail power, 120 outlet near the camera to power the camera along with coax cable, to bring the data to it. With these new IP based cameras, there's no power requirement,” Trivedi said. “All of the power is over ethernet. So, these are cameras that are driven from network switch. So very low on energy. And not only at the camera level, as you go through the network equipment, and the storage equipment, and the servers for Video Management System, all of that over the years have become very energy friendly and sustainable, which uses overall less power.”

Appulingam added that sustainability is a major focus for PHL.

“The city of Philadelphia has a carbon neutrality goal of 2050, which is what we are signed up to do as well,” Appulingam said. “Over the course of the last year, [we] updated our design standards to incorporate sustainability in any way, shape, or form, that we can into our infrastructure.”

What to Consider When Upgrading Security Camera Systems at Your Airport

“Some of the top things to consider when you're making these upgrades, is make sure that you plan effectively,” Sankey said. “Make sure that you know exactly what you're doing because poor planning will not make a good time when you're actually putting this stuff out there. Also, make sure that you're future proofing your installations in a way so that it won't be obsolete within a year or two. You definitely don't want to put in equipment already past its prime. Also, for the end user itself, make this pick a system that's easy for them to understand and use and then come up with a program to train them because you could have some of the best equipment in the world, but if the end users don't know how to use it, it's useless.”

Trivedi said from a technical approach, if you are looking to deploy or undertake a major program, having a good understanding of what type of infrastructure you already have at hand is important.

“A lot of times, if that's not surveyed and studied properly, you may run into these additional needs that you did not plan for budget wise,” Trivedi said. “So, having a good understanding of what the infrastructure is at the airport and can it handle what you're about to implement.”

Appulingam added that piloting the technology before going full scale will help both operationally and with budgeting.

“Before you go full scale, pilot the technology, and there's a lot of vendors that are out there that would be happy to do it because they want the business. But also, you benefit from it because you learn, is this something you could construct? Is this something you could maintain? Because that's important too,” Appulingam said. “Oftentimes, we walk away after construction thinking we're done, but the other half needs to also understand what they're taking on in terms of maintenance and making sure the system is running. So, I think, that helps put a budget together. I would say start small, do a pilot and then from the pilot, if that makes sense for your airport, then take into consideration your utilities, your existing infrastructure, what modifications need to happen and budget accordingly because cost also with technology is evolving and maybe something the first year might not make sense five years from then.”