Port Macquarie Airport Sets Its Sights on Video Surveillance

Think you've got problems with physical security? Spare a thought for Lane Dechaineux, Airport Manager at Port Macquarie Airport, whose security responsibilities include all the usual requirements of an airport, with a few new ones unique to the facility's rural location, like keeping kangaroos, livestock and other animals off the runway.

As airport manager Dechaineux is responsible for most operational aspects of running Port Macquarie Airport, including security strategy and implementation. Following the creation of the Aviation Transport Security Act in 2005, Port Macquarie Airport conducted a risk assessment which made it clear that introducing video surveillance was crucial to improving the facility's overall security. After initially investigating older, cheaper closed-circuit television (CCTV) options, Dechaineux instead opted for a fully digital, Internet protocol-based surveillance system from Canon.

The airport's solution - which involves 15 Canon network video cameras and VK-64 Network Video Recorder software - offers a fine example of how physical security and IT security continue to converge. Previously, Dechaineux spent 22 years at Sydney airport, most recently as standards manager, a role that saw him heavily involved with the safety and operational aspects of the aircraft movement area. However, he says that implementing the network video monitoring system taught him firsthand how today's security technologies require knowledge of both IT and physical security environments to run effectively.

CSO: Tell me about Port Macquarie Airport and the type of security requirements you have . . .

Dechaineux: On the scale of rural airports, Port Macquarie Airport is pretty average. The population of the district is about 76,000 and we service over 100,000 passengers a year. We have two runways, including one that is 1586 metres long, and our terminal can handle 200 passengers an hour. We operate five Qantas flights to Sydney each day, with two flights a day to Brisbane. And with those two services, the aircraft are parked overnight with Port Macquarie Airport.

Because the aircraft stay overnight, we need to provide a reasonable level of security around those aircraft to control any illicit activity that may occur. For instance, most of the building area between the hangars had a fence only about 900mm high, so that had to be upgraded. And around the perimeter of the airport we have an electric fence to keep out kangaroos, livestock and the like, so that the aircraft movement area is protected from animals wandering onto our property.

I understand it was a risk assessment that prompted you to adopt a new video surveillance system. Could you explain how you came to the present solution?

It goes back to 2004, when the federal government introduced a new act of parliament in the wake of 9/11, called the Aviation Transport Security Act. The contents of that Act made it quite clear that airport operators were required to have what they called a "transport security program", which is a document that sets out what we will do to manage security at our airport.

Also in the regulation it specified that we had to conduct a risk assessment to determine if there was a need to provide a higher level of physical security. At the same time, the federal Department of Transport and Regional Services offered to pick up the tab on certain security projects that they saw as being beneficial for rural airports that made applications for funding. So we undertook this risk assessment to prove how important it is that we embrace new technologies in physical security and justify funding from the government.

In the end, the risk assessment showed that we mostly face criminal threats - like arson, vandalism and theft - more than terrorist type threats.

Why did you opt for a digital video solution?

We investigated CCTV but found it was all 10 years old and used analog equipment. Footage was still recorded on videos, so the technology might as well come off the Ark. I wasn't prepared to go down that path; it wouldn't be long before we had to rip it out and replace it.

We decided to embrace digital cameras and a number of tenders came in. QOL iT took an interest in our original tender specs, but said that we were asking for pretty average stuff - and in fact alerted us to the new technologies out there.

They described for us all the benefits of this digital video network system, and it perfectly suited our vision of a new security monitoring centre. We planned to build to a specific room to contain our hardware and software - full digital, with fibre-optic cables and QOL iT helped us get the job done in three weeks.

The system has now been running for about six months. Our security room is up and working. During January we stared training and chased all the bugs out of the system, and now the software is running well.

What benefits have you started to see?

Even though there are only 15 cameras, we can cover a great deal of area. Every 15-20 minutes the cameras can turn to a point and photograph a particular area, depending on what your commands are, which gives us coverage of a very big area and not just in front of the camera. At night, other cameras have infrared actuators to help us guard poorly lit areas.

We also wanted a system that was reasonably automated, so that we wouldn't need people to man the security monitoring centre 24/7. Now when someone comes back on shift they can go to the system, look at the time bar onscreen and tell when the cameras came on and off. If an event occurred at 3:30 am, you just click on the bar and up comes a picture for that event.

We also have a DVD recorder so we can download a particular event for further investigation or to hand over to the police. We specified that we wanted to have a 30-day holding period for all 15 cameras before they started recording over previous space, which also meant that we needed a server with enough memory in it to provide that kind of support - over 100 terabytes all up.

The beauty of the system is the that it is digital, full colour and the cameras have tremendous zoom capability. We have one camera positioned on a building that's 100 metres away from the terminal, but if you can direct the camera at the terminal face and zoom in, it can look through the glass doors on one side of the terminal, out the glass wall on the other side of the terminal and read the numberplate on a car in the parking lot.

When aircraft are parked overnight, you may have noticed that they often have red ribbons hanging off or hanging off the front nose wheel [Note: these ribbons are there to call attention to any "remove before flight" items on the aircraft - Ed.]. If those red ribbons blow around in the wind, the movement sensor will switch on the camera, which means that the camera might record all night but not record an incident, just ribbons flapping in the wind.

But with our system an operator can highlight an area in the picture, isolate it and tell the system that we don't want to know anything about movement in that space. Then, when the ribbons are blowing in the wind, it doesn't activate the cameras.

What kind of challenges did you face? Does your rural location put constraints on the kinds of technology you can implement?

The technology is full of interesting capabilities, which we're still exploring. Take isolating a bag, for instance. The camera records the picture, and if it discovers an object that's not supposed to be there, the machinery can dial up and call you on a palmtop - in your pocket when you're home having tea. That's the next level, which I have not yet purchased, but hopefully we will when broadband is available.

Each camera has an IP address, but the airport is pretty remote from town and we're linked by copper telephone lines, so broadband does not really work. We're currently looking at an aerial connection to our Sydney office, but the expense is high and our plans may be overtaken by Port Macquarie Council's intention to run a circular fibre-optic cable right around town. When that happens, I will be able to watch on my computer a real time picture of what is occurring at the airport, or have a look at what happened last night, even at home. We can create a default operations centre wherever I or another representative, happen to be.

Are there any specific security events that you can tell me about?

The aerodrome officer inspected the airport recently and found one of the taxiway lights had been run over by an aircraft and broken. He was able to go back to the office, look at the security footage and find the particular aircraft that ran over the light.

About 12 months ago we did have problems with school holiday/Saturday night crime - cars broken into in the car park and things like that. But we've not had any such activity since the cameras were installed. We've warned people that the area is covered by video surveillance and the cameras and the signs have a real deterrence value. People realize they will be identified.

Making the business case for any kind of security spending can be difficult. How did you make your case?

With that low fence and no eyes on the aircraft parked overnight there has always been the chance that people will gain illegal access to an aircraft and damage it or do any number of things. And since each aircraft is worth $10-12 million, the maths is not hard to do. The system cost less and $400,000, so the ability to protect an aircraft worth $10 million is pretty significant, not to mention how catastrophic the consequences could be if loss of life was involved.

We were in a very high-risk situation before, and now because of the deterrent value of the network video monitoring and the new fencing, we have moved to a much more secure position. I think we've lifted our game immensely in a very economic way.

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