Making the Airport Safe by Making Its Workforce Safe

Oct. 12, 2022
HID Global
Matthew Lewis
Matthew Lewis

As airports navigate an uneven return to pre-pandemic operations, they face complex security and safety challenges while trying to support unpredictable passenger volumes and associated staffing and operational requirements. Many of the largest are using a unified physical identity and access management (PIAM) solution for defending against security and safety threats while consolidating, automating, and simplifying associated administrative and regulatory processes.

Difficult Challenges

International travel took a nosedive last year, but now the aviation industry faces the new challenge of cautiously returning to pre-COVID operations without ruling out the possibility of new surges.

Airports are addressing this challenge on top of the ongoing challenge of balancing safety, security and operational efficiency in a world of ever-evolving cyberthreats. They also have compliance mandates to worry about, not just for external customers and travelers but also their workforce consisting of thousands of employees, contractors and others who enter and exit the facility as part of daily airport operations. Any access control solution must address all these internal identities as airports work to restore their workforce numbers to pre-pandemic operation levels smoothly, safely and with the flexibility to adapt to each new challenge.

The solution is to automate and simplify airport access control for complex workforces while also streamlining management of associated TSA and COVID-19 compliance requirements. PIAM solutions accomplish this by combining an advanced access manager, badge manager, visitor manager and security reporter with operations analytics to provide complete security across the organization. Reporting and audit capabilities also ensure that compliance with regulations is enforced and any requirements to supply proof, e.g., 10/100 audits, aren't laborious tasks.

Automating Onboarding, Badging, Identity Management and Compliance

Today’s PIAM offerings streamline how employee, contractor and visitor identities are managed while simplifying compliance with physical security regulations and making complex access policies easier to govern. These capabilities are especially valuable for airports, whose workforce identities are constantly undergoing role, license, endorsement, and contract changes that each affect the identity's access rights. PIAM solutions simplify and automate these changes to ensure appropriate and secure access and remove the burden of manual processes.

PIAM solutions solve three primary challenges:

1. Speed enrollment of new contractors, workers and employees as headcount demands fluctuate.

Airports must support increased traffic flow into their badging office so they can seamlessly and efficiently enroll workers to meet the new travel demands. The onboarding process must be executed with a minimum of customer service issues for tenants, vendors, airline personnel, ground transportation and third-party contractors.

Web-based PIAM solutions are particularly valuable because they enable this process to be conducted remotely. This limits the number of staff needed on site and makes it easier to execute access changes nearly instantaneously to badges after they have been created.

2. Ensure that staff members are fit to work and do not pose any risks to fellow employees or travelers.

Most of the attention being paid to airport access control has been related to traveler health screening and ensuring everyone is deemed fit to travel. Less prominent is the work being done to ensure that staff members are fit to work and do not bring any risks into an already complex environment. Because PIAM solutions are integrated with other airport systems for document management, training management, health documentation, and criminal history check (CHRC) databases, they can simplify screening workflows during enrollment.  Before granting permissions or access, the appropriate information has been received and reviewed from sources ranging from the FBI’s Rap Back vetting and notification service for credentialed populations to training certification and insurance status databases.

PIAM solutions can also be integrated with a mass notification system, enabling workers to be notified of a change in access requirements before they come on site. Examples include new social distancing guidelines. All workflows should be configurable to suit organization-specific safety demands, and PIAM users should be able to monitor all compliance-related data. Continuous availability of building access and identity information ensures that all companies and their workers consistently meet the airport’s requirements and all applicable mandates.

3. Protect the complex environment of airport networks, data and employees against continuously evolving threats.

Long before the pandemic, airports were a target for direct attacks or attempted illicit activities. They must constantly mitigate insider threats. With dramatic operational changes already implemented and many still potentially ahead, airports must increase security while maintaining compliance with frequently changing local, state/provincial, and national/federal mandates and regulations.

It is extremely difficult to do this with traditional, stand-alone physical access control systems (PACS) for managing workforce credentialing, because these solutions were not purpose-build for airports and do not work together with other airport systems, they require manual processes that are vulnerable to threats. What is needed is a PIAM solution tailored to unique airport compliance needs and workflows. This reduces any need for manual approaches by codifying and enforcing access rules while recording all requests, decisions, exceptions, and authentications.

The result is organization-wide consistency in changes and controls that are captured within a single and easily accessible system. This eliminates human error, resulting in greater efficiency and security. Additionally, centralizing and standardizing how access rules, policies and activities are captured shortens the overall audit cycle and reduces the risk of financial or legal repercussions.

PIAM Solutions in Action

PIAM solutions consolidate information from various departments  from facilities to finance, and ticketing to the Security Operations Center (SOC). They also centralize critical capabilities, including reporting, audit and attestation functions, as well as all biographic information, biometric enrollment, background check systems, credential production, and access control.

PIAM solutions like these have helped major airports around the world enhance safety and security. One airport is using the web-based HID SAFE for Aviation solution to manage more than 15,000 identities for secure airport access and reduce duplicate data input, enhance customer service, achieve paperless records management, cut costs, and improve efficiency. A second is managing close to 1,000 badges and has adopted the first cloud-hosted model that enabled it to integrate SAFE for Aviation with its existing physical and IT infrastructure and other authoritative systems. A third deployment supports a nationwide initiative to bring two dozen airports into compliance with strict government standards. It includes access policy enforcement through regular audits, and a 360-degree view of issued credentials and their privileges and permissions.

When planning for a PIAM deployment, it is important to look for a highly scalable solution with optional capabilities built specifically for airports. The solution should streamline identity, credential, access and policies management across multiple systems, user groups, buildings and regulations. This ensures that the airport can easily carry out all critical tasks. With a solution like this in place, airports can continue to operate in environments of elevated risk that have been made even more complex by the global pandemic. Despite the unpredictable future ahead, they can adapt without compromising security, safety and efficiency. 

Matthew Lewis is the director of product marketing for HID Global helping drive the go to market for the Workforce business unit within the Identity and Access Management Solutions business area. He has led product marketing organizations for five years with experience in both vertical and horizontal global markets. Prior to joining HID, he spent time at a global software provider in the energy sector, in the collaboration and communication software space, and marketing cybersecurity products at Entrust.