Through the Digital Lens

April 16, 2013
Airport IP surveillance is more than meets the eye -- more cameras, more users, and more uses that go beyond security


Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) recently tripled the size of its video surveillance system, going from less than 1,000 cameras to more than 3,000 stationary and pan-tilt-zoom IP cameras as part of a $29.7 million security upgrade.

From checkpoints to perimeters to restricted areas to retail stores, airports are turning to IP video for help in facing their many security challenges.

Walking through an airport nowadays is like strolling through a showcase of modern security technologies. Security personnel, canine units, access control, surveillance cameras and X-ray machines -- you see them all. But what you may not see, or not notice, is the recent trend in video surveillance: the shift from analog to IP video.

Video surveillance cameras have been part of airport security for decades. But until now the systems have been limited in scale and functionality. Since the first network video surveillance camera came on the market in 1996, airport directors and security executives have been arguing the merits of analog vs. IP technology. A recent report from IMS Research indicates that 50 percent of the market is converging on IP, and as a result, these conversations are changing.

As airports of all sizes take on new surveillance initiatives, there are major trends emerging that wouldn’t have been possible two or three years ago. From checkpoints to perimeters to restricted areas to retail stores, airports are turning to IP video for help in facing their many security challenges.

So what is driving this move toward IP technology?

Two things: A host of benefits that include things like better images, expanded light capabilities, and greater scalability; and a multitude of uses in nearly every area of the airport.

Lengthy Benefits List

What are some primary benefits that IP technology brings to the table?

  • Better Images. Video surveillance is only successful when it produces actionable images. One of the most significant benefits of IP video surveillance cameras when compared to analog is image quality and, more importantly, image usability. IP cameras bring HDTV image quality to video surveillance, which can mean the difference between identifying the person entering a restricted area and simply knowing an intrusion occurred. To maximize usability, corridor format turns the aspect ratio on its side, delivering a 9:16 image to provide better coverage of hallways and aisle and high-racking shelf environments without wasting pixels on the sides.
  • Improved Light Capabilities. IP video also has made great strides in producing high-quality video even in difficult lighting conditions, which are common in airport environments. Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) combats changing lighting conditions, such as backlighting near large windows or in loading bays. While award-winning Lightfinder technology produces color images even in low light -- down to .05 lux (think moonlight or minimal street lights in an alley). 
  • Scalability and Ease of Use. In addition to improved image quality, IP-based systems offer scalability and ease of use. All it takes is an Ethernet drop to add a new camera to a specific location. Video playback is also easier with IP, with users able to playback footage virtually anywhere and at any time. Retrieving a specific video segment with analog video is often a painful and time-consuming process. But with IP technology, operators can use video management software to easily access the video they need through smart search features and mobile access. They can search the video by date, time, pixels and more, and if configured properly, airport security can even track an object with the software, which essentially stitches together the sequence of events camera-by-camera.In addition, the robustness of today’s network infrastructure, the ability to integrate video with other airport operations subsystems, and the business intelligence captured through video analytics are leading to an increase in larger IP camera installations. 
  • Storage Requirements. Because IP video uses H.264/MPEG-4 Part 10 advanced video coding, these systems enable video to be transferred and compressed quickly, and stored easily.

Think Big

But wait a minute. With increased functionality and better image quality shouldn’t airports be able to do more with less?

Not necessarily. Today, many airports are discovering that they can actually do more with more.

For instance, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) recently tripled the size of its video surveillance system, going from less than 1,000 cameras to more than 3,000 stationary and pan-tilt-zoom IP cameras as part of a $29.7 million security upgrade. An international airport on the East Coast that had less than 100 analog cameras just eight years ago, but now has long-term plans to install nearly 2,000 IP cameras -- and they are halfway there.

Historically, video surveillance was the province of security for the TSA, airport security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Now these power users have been joined, and sometimes are being trumped, by operations, maintenance and risk management departments, which are finding more proactive and innovative uses for the technology. As a result airports are now justifying a need for even more cameras.

Let’s take a look at some new uses that have evolved out of this change.

  • Baggage Handling. Airports traditional used surveillance of baggage handling systems to ensure processes were being followed and bags were being retrieved by their rightful owners. Now this same surveillance system can be used to detect downtime issues and bring the baggage handling system back to operational effectiveness. As many airports undergo costly renovations and expansions, they also can use video surveillance to keep an extra eye on work performed by external contractors.
  • Airline Use. Many airlines have purchased and installed their own cameras at gates and ramps and deployed analytics like people counting and traffic flow management to improve operational effectiveness and ensure on-time departures. Flight delays can be caused by any number of factors, from unscheduled maintenance to food vendors to the airline refueling staff. If a flight is delayed, video footage offers valuable data that can clear an airline of wrongdoing or pinpoint an operational inefficiency.
  • Concessions/Retail Security. Larger airports with mall-like atmospheres face an additional layer of security for their retail and food stores. Busy terminals and exposed merchandise displays can be loss prevention nightmares. Individual tenants have begun deploying their own IP cameras on the airport’s network and using heat mapping, customer flow and queue-counter analytics to gain insights that can help improve their sales operations.

With so many stakeholders, surveillance systems are being designed with more than just traditional security users in mind. While airports continue to seek innovative ways to keep passengers, staff and property safe, new best practices dictate that proposals and plans for future surveillance expansion are segmented out by individual department need so that nothing is overlooked in the design phase. If done in a comprehensive manner, many surveillance synergies will arise that allow multiple goals to be accomplished simultaneously. And it is those synergies that will help your facility stay on the cutting edge.

Bio: Anthony Incorvati spent 20 years in the transportation industry before coming to Axis Communications in 2010. His experience ranges from naval aviation, Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), Marconi/Ericsson, and time with Bombardier Transportation. As Axis Communications’ Transportation Business Development Manager for the North American market, Incorvati drives brand awareness by working closely with partners and end-users to recommend and design transportation systems that meet security, surveillance, industry standards and operational needs.