Airport Security - Beyond the Perimeter

To counter the various threats to airports in the 21st century, airport operators must extend their awareness beyond the airport’s perimeter. Detecting intruders as they are climbing the fence is too late. As such, an effective beyond-the-perimeter, intrusion-detection system requires both threat detection and assessment capabilities from a variety of sensing technologies. These sensors integrate into a comprehensive command-and-control platform that is not dependent on video analytics.

Comprehensive Command & Control

An intelligent command-and-control solution is the crux of an integrated perimeter security solution. This core element draws intelligence from the raw sensor data and improves the airport’s security position. Solutions that integrate multiple types of sensors – radar, thermal imaging, and other technologies – provide comprehensive, decision-support intelligence.

Ground surveillance radar provides early detection and alarm-zone configuration. Radar as an initial detection sensor also has several advantages over fence-line-based sensors. Unlike visible camera systems, radars deliver maximum performance regardless of the amount of light available, and better penetrate atmospheric obscurants like fog, smoke, and dust. In addition, cameras typically use video analytics based on video management systems, which may be unreliable for detecting intrusions.

Vibration-based sensors – like seismic sensors and fence cables – also have inherent drawbacks. First, they provide no information that would allow security personnel to assess the threat level posed by whatever initiated the alarm. Even more problematic, though, is the fact that they only alarm on triggering events at or even on the fence itself. They do not provide information about the intrusion beyond the point and time it took place, whereas radar provides speed and heading. Radar also can hand tracks off from one camera to another automatically. Using ground surveillance radar as a primary sensor integrated with thermal cameras and other technologies can help overcome these shortcomings.

Advantages of Radar

Tightly integrated ground-surveillance radar solutions can detect potential threats well beyond an airport’s perimeter fence. Such systems provide security personnel with important information on the nature of the potential threat the system detected, even in dynamic environments.

For example, most airports have one or more perimeter roads that run adjacent to the fence line. Radars offer an extended range not only to monitor traffic as it travels near the airport perimeter, but also to detect certain behaviors that can trigger alarms. Radarentifies an object by timing the return of the signal broadcast. Each pulse that goes out will provide “returns” off surfaces, and as those returns change, the radar knows something has moved or is in the wrong place. For instance, users can configure the radar to alarm when a car stops on the road, or when a single return turns into two returns, indicating that a person has exited a vehicle. Similar behaviors extend to boats approaching the perimeter from the water, or people approaching on foot, making ground surveillance radar the most effective and flexible tool for detecting threats before they reach the fence line.

Radar and thermal imaging work together and provide great functionalities. Beyond simply detecting a potential threat, the radar logs the threat’s location, heading, speed, and track. After initially detecting a threat, radar has the ability to automatically track the return. If a person does breach the perimeter, security personnel would have an accurate, current record of the intruder’s location. The thermal camera provides reliableentification, even in total darkness.

When integrated with daylight, low-light, and thermal cameras through command-and-control software, the cameras automatically slew-to-cue and stay locked on the return of interest, giving security personnel instant image analysis tools they can use to assess the threat level and respond accordingly. When the intruder leaves one camera’s visual field, the radar could automatically pass the threat cue to the next camera, so operators never lose sight of the event, without having to manually reconfigure the system.

With powerful command-and-control software, security personnel can set up customized trip wires, exclusion zones, and alarm areas based on map locations within the facility. All of these capabilities illustrate 21st century solutions to airport perimeter security: technology that detects, tracks, and assesses threats well beyond the perimeter boundary, while leaving security personnel free to decide on the appropriate course of action and response.


Andrew Saxton
Andrew Saxton

Andrew Saxton is the director of marketing for FLIR Systems, a global leader in thermal imaging for military, law enforcement, commercial, and industrial applications. He has been with FLIR for 10 years, and previously served as the director of airport security. He received an M.B.A from University of Washington, and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Columbia University. FLIR Systems has developed and delivered reliable and intelligent solutions for the protection of civil and government aviation facilities around the world. Please visit or follow @flirdef on twitter for more information. He can be reached at



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