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Last month we were all shocked to learn of the heist at Brussels Airport, in which an armed gang breached the perimeter fence and stole £30 million in diamonds from the runway, as the cargo was being transported from a Swiss bound Helvetic Airways plane. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the longer term damage to the reputation of the airport remains to be seen.

This incident is a stark reminder to airports around the world that whilst major incidents are rare, they do happen, and when they do you need to be well prepared to act at that decisive moment. Of course, I cannot comment on the specific systems, infrastructure and processes that are in place in Brussels (although it was reported that in 2001 it pioneered IP video by installing what was then the largest system in Europe), but airports in general have been some of the early adopters of the very latest safety and security technologies (especially since 9/11). They have invested millions in state-of-the-art communications, IP-based surveillance cameras, alarms and detectors, video analytics, access control, biometrics, intrusion detection, ANPR etc.

All of these systems alongside the teams on the ground, in the control room and those working in the emergency services, are vital to protecting the infrastructure and people in and around the airport. However, the turn of events in Brussels is a timely reminder to all involved in the safety, security and broader operations at airports large and small around the wold, to look at the systems and processes which are in place and ask if such a situation occurred now, how well equipped would they be to react.

The truth is that all of the technology investments may not deliver the heightened standards of security if the control rooms in to which all of the data feeds are being pumped are suffering from information overload. LAX airport in Los Angeles was one of the first airports to address this issue when it opened its Airport Response Coordination Centre in 2011. The airport introduced a situational awareness solution - an advanced PSIM (Physical Security Information Management) - that brings the data from all of its systems and sub-systems together to provide the control room with a single clear picture of what is happening across the airport estate in real-time.

An advanced PSIM solution such as this not only shows what is going on in the terminal, the gates, concourses, around the perimeter, the hangers, offices and warehouse buildings, but it also provides the team with step-by-step guidance as to how to respond to every incident in accordance with pre-determined best practice, and in accordance with industry regulation. So, whether it is a queue building up at passport control due to a faulty machine, a fire alarm, through to an emergency landing, or a vehicle breaching the perimeter, the operator is aware, presented with the necessary information and knows what to do and when to co-ordinate a response. Since LAX introduced a situational awareness solution, many other airports have followed suit such as the much smaller New Orleans International Airport, which has incorporated over 90 standard operating procedures using the solution.

Today’s airports have never been safer or more secure but the incident in Brussels serves as an important reminder that we must look at every safety and security measure, look for the weak spots and continue to improve. However, the final word goes Mr Jim Swire whose daughter was killed in the Lockerbie bomb disaster in 1988. He wrote in the Guardian on 21st February 2013: “Surely these days we could have immediate central security warning of perimeter breaches, with automatic "lock down" of the airport including all outgoing flights, till the cause is discovered.”

Very wise words indeed!


Jamie Wilson, Security Marketing Manager, NICE EMEA