Unguarded airport perimeters constitute a major security threat. Gord Loney, vice-president of product sales for Senstar Corporation, a global leader in perimeter protection, reveals how soliciting unbiased professional advice from experienced airport security professionals is the first step toward protecting passengers and staff from the ever-present threat of terrorism.

Since 9/11, airports have invested billions of dollars protecting aircraft with screening, cameras and access control, but far fewer resources have been devoted to addressing the weakest security link – their mainly unguarded perimeters.

Five years ago, a member of the public breached the ground security at Kuala Lumpur International Airport to stow-away on an aircraft that landed an hour later in Singapore.

Last year, an intruder used a rug to defeat a razor-wire-topped fence at a Utah Municipal Airport to steal an aircraft, while a man whose jet ski stopped working swam ashore, climbed the perimeter fence at JFK Airport in New York City, US, and walked undetected across two runways until he reached the terminal and asked for help.

More recently, armed men breached the perimeter fence at Brussels Airport without being detected and stole $45 million of diamonds from a plane being readied for departure.

In the US alone, there have been over 1,300 known breaches to airports’ perimeter security in the last decade. While none of these incidents resulted in harm to the public, most would agree that it is not a question of whether or not a major terrorist attack will start with the breach of an inadequately protected airport perimeter, but when.

There is no simple one-size-fits-all solution to the challenge of airport perimeter security and many costly mistakes have been made by airport authorities that have shunned professional advice in favour of the latest security technology fad. Any good security system starts with a threat and risk assessment, which is matched by balanced investment in deterrence, detection, delay, assessment and response resources. A fundamental question is: "which airport perimeter(s) should be protected?"

An airport is a very complex facility with many inner perimeters, not all of which are of equal importance; many may not even have fences. Some of the more important internal targets include aircraft parking areas and fuel storage, electrical, communication and navigation facilities. While protecting the outer perimeter reduces the operational workload associated with managing legitimate internal airport traffic, it may make more sense in a low to moderate threat environment to invest limited resources in protecting vital inner perimeters well, rather than the larger outer perimeter poorly.

However, large international airports are such attractive targets for terrorists seeking to make a global statement that an integrated multilayered security system extending to the outer perimeter and beyond is almost a necessity. The components of a well-designed, high-security airport perimeter system include:

  • a well-maintained fence to deter casual intrusions, delineate the secure area and in some cases act as a platform for intrusion sensors
  • physical measures including berms, ditches, reinforced gates and bollards to prevent unauthorised vehicles from entering aircraft manoeuvre areas
  • access control at all entry points to check the identity of individuals and their vehicle’s contents
  • appropriate perimeter sensors on the outer (and sometimes inner) perimeters that act as reliable trip wires that pass off high-probability targets to surveillance assets
  • an integrated wide-area surveillance system comprising CCTV cameras and thermal imagers with outdoor-capable intelligent video analytics and, at higher risk locations, radars for target validation and tracking
  • a centralised physical security information management system that provides the security operator(s) with a clear picture of what is happening throughout the airport and also provides them with step-by-step incident responses based on best practices
  • a fast and well-trained mobile response force to interdict any intrusions.

There are no short cuts to properly securing airport perimeters. Soliciting unbiased professional advice from experienced airport security professionals to provide a balanced system commensurate with the threat will go a long way to achieving a positive outcome and real security.