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Airport security, an ever-evolving field, is a critical aspect of modern travel, where seamless experiences and safety are equally imperative. With nearly a decade of experience providing security solutions to the airport sector, Joe Degrassi understands the importance and complexity of airport security and access control.
Degrassi leads the Western Public Sector team as the Director of Sales at Genetec, a leading technology provider of unified security, public safety, operations, and business intelligence solutions. We recently spoke with Joe about the access control challenges airports face, how technology can address these issues, and the role of consultants in ensuring compliance, operational efficiency, and comprehensive security.
Airports are unique, requiring multiple layers of security throughout the facility and varying identity verification processes depending on whether an individual is an airport employee or a passenger. Can you explain the differences between a typical enterprise and an airport regarding access control?
Unlike most enterprise businesses, airports must comply with many different regulations and standards across a range of public and federal agencies, which makes managing the system very complex. Access control systems (ACS) typically aim to solve traditional problems and are designed for a single business. At an airport, the ACS must manage all the credentials and identities of every tenant, contractor, employee, or other badge holder at their facility. On top of that, the ACS has to comply with strict regulations, all of which affect the way the ACS is supposed to function.
What are the top 2-3 challenges airports face with access control security, and how do these challenges impact passenger safety and overall operational efficiency?
The first challenge for airports is regulation and compliance with each government agency. Every user group has different requirements, and the ACS has to manage the database and all stages of the badging process, including background checks and expiration dates. Fines are steep for non-compliance, so the approach to badge diverse user groups is often complex. Badges are color-coded based on the zones the authorized user can access, i.e., public, sterile, and operational areas. Similarly, access rights are segmented to ensure only authorized individuals access specific areas.
Another challenge airports face is to balance security with efficiency. The very nature of physical security can negatively impact a passenger’s travel experience. Data shows that passengers with a negative experience at airports are less likely to spend money. Because airports are for-profit, each airport’s goal is to maximize the passenger experience. Happy travelers, eat more, buy more, and travel more. Airport profits help them improve operational efficiencies, make physical improvements, and invest in new technology. Ensuring passengers have a safe yet efficient experience during their travels is a difficult balance for airports.
Finally, airports are challenged with providing the highest level of security possible to mitigate risk and ensure the safety of the passengers, employees, contractors, and others at their facilities. This is no small task, given all the reasons I mentioned before. An airport can not have an unauthorized person accessing the tarmac or baggage handling. These scenarios are a risk to the safety of everyone and the operational flow of the airport, and the damage to reputation and goodwill would be devastating. Not to mention the fines!
What is the role of access control systems, including facial biometrics, in combating these top challenges?
Access control methods, including facial biometrics, play a critical role in combating the many challenges associated with airport security. Facial biometrics are crucial in swiftly and accurately authenticating individuals, ensuring secure access. Biometrics with AI features, such as tailgate detection, can be very helpful in identifying unauthorized individuals who attempt to enter a space behind authorized personnel. Solutions that provide a time stamp, a picture of the event, and a record of the authorized individual who enabled the tailgating event to occur give airport security the capability to take immediate action. Facial biometric solutions can be deployed across all areas of the airport, from critical areas, like the jet bridge, all the way to offices.
Additionally, multi-factor authentication provides an additional layer of security at airports, enabling the highest level of protection for critical areas. Airports typically use a color-coded badging system to visually identify if a person is authorized to enter controlled areas. While I don’t believe airports will ever eliminate the use of physical badges, facial biometrics can ensure the identity of the badge holder and automate the verification process throughout the facility in a non-intrusive way.
Your vast experience at Genetec managing the A&E consultant team and the airport vertical provides you with a unique perspective of the ever-changing security needs of airports. What role do consultants play in airports' security threat assessment (STA)?
Consultants and engineers are more critical in an airport’s process than almost any other vertical. A security threat assessment (STA) of airports is a comprehensive evaluation and analysis of airports' various security risks and vulnerabilities. This assessment aims to identify potential threats, assess their likelihood and impact, and develop strategies and measures to mitigate them effectively. Consultants help airports write policies and refine their security operations to make them more effective. They have a deep understanding of the standards and regulations airports are required to follow and are often aware of new technology that is solving the problems of the past.
Why is tailgating a significant security concern for airports? How does this unauthorized entry method put passengers, employees, and airport assets at risk? Which areas within an airport do you see the benefits of tailgate detection?
Tailgating is a huge concern for airports because of the different controlled areas and large volume of people, yet most airports do not have a great solution to address the issue. If unauthorized individuals gain access to restricted areas, the airport is at risk for serious safety hazards or disruption of operations, which impact everyone present. Alcatraz has uniquely addressed this problem with your tailgate detection and alerts sent to the ACS.
All areas of an airport can benefit from tailgate detection, from sterile areas to high-security areas, including SIDA. The Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) refers to a specific area within an airport that is subject to strict security access controls and regulations. SIDA areas are crucial components of an airport's security infrastructure, designed to protect critical airport operations, secure facilities, and sensitive aircraft areas from unauthorized access. Individuals entering SIDA areas must prominently display their badges, including airport employees, airline staff, law enforcement, and others with a legitimate reason to be in these areas. SIDA areas include the Aircraft Operations Area (AOA), maintenance facilities, cargo and baggage handling, fueling areas, air traffic control and operations centers, and other critical infrastructure. Tailgating is an issue that needs a solution to protect the safety of passengers, employees, and airport assets.
Airport security often involves managing large volumes of data. How do Genetec's data management capabilities and Alcatraz AI's intelligent authentication systems work together to provide efficient data handling while maintaining the highest levels of security?
The Alcatraz Rock integrates and interacts natively with Genetec to provide high levels of analytics, reporting, and alerting to meet the specific requirements of airports. Together, the Rock and Genetec access control systems lower security costs for airports, reduce complexity, provide business insights, and increase the overall security posture. The tailgating events send an immediate alert to Genetec to allow airport security teams to take action. The video at the door via ONVIF camera seamlessly integrates with the Gentec video management system to help prevent the industry’s most challenging breach to detect. Together, Alcatraz and Genetec can significantly impact the overall security of airports.
What is your favorite feature about the Alcatraz AI Rock?
My favorite feature of the Alcatraz Rock is the ease of enrollment. Historically, biometrics have been painful to work with because of the cumbersome enrollment and difficulty of managing a separate user and credential database. With Alcatraz AI, the simplicity of enrollment and management of the platform, coupled with the ease at which it integrates and interacts natively with Genetec, is a huge plus. Other biometrics are challenging to work with, and with Alcatraz, it’s just easy. My second favorite feature, which is a close second, is the tailgate detection because this truly sets Alcatraz apart from other solutions on the market.
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