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Security Follies, Part 2: Video Surveillance and the Traveling Public
Derek Brink, Aberdeen Group
MAY 05, 2014 01:02 AM
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“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45. Our 2,300 mile flight from San Jose to Maui will take about five and a half hours, and we’ll reach a maximum cruising altitude of about 38,000 feet.”

I wonder if the 15-year old boy who was stowed away in the wheel well for the landing gear of the Boeing 767 heard this announcement.

Somewhat miraculously, he survived the flight. Under normal conditions, the air temperature drops about 2 degrees Celsius for every 1,000 feet of higher altitude, up to 38,000 feet – at 38,000 feet and above, the temperature remains constant at -56 degrees Celsius (-70 degrees Fahrenheit). Now that’s cold.

I say “somewhat” miraculously, because a Federal Aviation Administration report called Survival at High Altitudes: Wheel Well Passengers describes how 5 out of 11 stowaways survived incidents occurring between 1947 and 1993. The survivors were saved by the human body’s incredible ability to enter into a state of virtual hibernation under conditions of extreme cold.

Ironically, when the boy was finally discovered walking on the ramp at Kahului Airport in Maui, it turns out that he didn’t realize he was headed to Hawaii – he was trying to visit his mother in Africa. You just can’t make this stuff up, as I noted in my blog on Security Follies, Part 1.

Rightly so, the incident is causing a closer look at the security practices at the San Jose airport. Kimberly Becker Aguirre, who was promoted to Director of Aviation at SJC in September 2013, noted that the teenager defeated multiple layers of physical security controls in place, including:

·        A six-foot fence topped with barbed wire on airport perimeter

·        Regular police and employee patrols

·        Continuous airport-wide video surveillance

·        Policies for on-airfield employees to challenge any person they see without an access badge

·        Maintenance crews checks of the aircraft, including the wheel well

·        Pilot and crew member checks of the aircraft before takeoff

We may not be privy to the full details of the airport’s physical security systems, but come on people – can you not see the pattern here?

With the exception of the perimeter fence, everything mentioned above depends on human beings.

For example, the San Jose Mercury News reported that “security cameras captured an image that appeared to be the boy, but apparently no one monitoring the closed-circuit video system saw it.”

This case should be the poster child for the difference between video surveillance (human monitoring, analysis and response to video data as it is being captured and displayed), and video analytics (automated monitoring and analysis of video data, to identify and track objects, to analyze motion, and most importantly to generate alerts on exceptions or abnormal events for humans to investigate).

As I wrote nearly 4 years ago now – see the report Video Analytics, and Beyond (September 2010) – the human factor has played a major role in the effectiveness, as well as in the economics, of traditional video surveillance initiatives. Control rooms typically have fewer video monitors than the number of video cameras feeding them, and in any case there are simply not enough eyeballs to monitor and analyze the sheer volume of video data that is being captured and displayed. Humans have distractions and other duties to attend to, authentic events and alarms are not “caught,” and physical security is too often relegated to reviewing recorded video surveillance footage and reconstructing events after the fact. This still has certain benefits, including an element of deterrence from the mere presence of video cameras, the possibility of recovering stolen assets, and the potential to prosecute offenders post-event. But preventative and proactive it is not.

Video analytics solutions are designed to identify the needles in the proverbial haystack – the exceptions, incidents, or events that really matter – to assist guards and operators in their decision-making process. Regardless of technical approach, there are many practical applications or use cases for video analytics, including the following examples:

·        Perimeter control / line crossing / virtual tripwire

·        Fence climbing

·        Wrong direction / counterflow

·        Loitering

·        Congestion

·        Unattended luggage

·        Object removal

·        Illegal parking

·        License plate recognition

·        Facial recognition

In the immediate days after the incident, Aguirre was reported as saying that the airport will wait for the TSA’s investigation before deciding what, if any, security upgrades will be made – and that there was no obvious security gap that needed immediate fixing.

Puh-lease. We don’t need to spend taxpayer dollars on an investigation to see an over-reliance on video surveillance, and an obvious opportunity for video analytics. 

I’ll be the first to admit that 9 times out of 10, I am pointing out that security relies too much on technology, and that human experience, interpretation and judgment will always be required. But this is an example of too much faith being placed in humans, and an obvious opportunity to leverage proven and widely-used technology.

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