STE Security Innovation Award Honorable Mention: PSIM Takes Flight

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is the primary commercial airport for the New Orleans metropolitan area and southeast Louisiana. Spanning more than 1900 acres, with four concourses and two terminals, the airport serves nearly 8 million passengers per year. Passenger safety and security are paramount. The focal point for that mission is the airport’s new Security and Emergency Operations Center, headed by John M. Lyon, Telecommunications Manager.

Hurricane Katrina was a pivotal event for the City of New Orleans, and for the airport as well. In 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck, more than 40,000 people were evacuated through New Orleans International Airport. The airport also served as a triage site for the injured, and a staging point for military personnel and federal authorities spearheading the disaster response. “After Hurricane Katrina, we realized that the airport had a very important role to play in disaster response and recovery,” Lyon says. “We realized that if we were to going to undertake this role, we needed to have the infrastructure and the technology to do it properly, and that’s why we built the new (Security Operations Center).”

 

Inside Operations

The Security Operations Center is where dispatchers are responsible for handling everything from airport switchboard calls to every feasible emergency situation, including aircraft alerts, security breaches, fire alarms and EMS calls. The facility also houses an Emergency Operations Center to be used for command and control in the event of a disaster. Equipped with ergonomic workstations and constructed with low-maintenance finishes and material, the facility is designed to withstand 7-foot floods and sustain 130 mph winds, and in the event of a power failure can operate without commercial electricity for up to three days on generator power.

Most of the equipment in the former AVCOM center was decades old, so Lyon undertook what he calls a “forklift technology upgrade,” replacing every single system — from the CCTV system to access control — with state-of-the-art security and safety technology, including: DispatchNow computer-aided dispatch system from Tiburon Inc.; C•CURE access control solutions from Software House; fire alarm solutions from SimplexGrinnell; and video surveillance solutions from Verint.

“We really wanted to take that next step and consolidate and integrate all of these systems,” Lyon explains. “When we saw NICE Situator at ASIS, we were like, ‘wow this is it!’ For us, the immediate draw was the fact that it was a one-stop solution to consolidate all of this information for our dispatchers.”

 

PSIM System Goes Live

Lyon’s vision materialized in 2010, when New Orleans International Airport became the first North American airport to deploy the PSIM system. Johnson Controls, the systems integrator, worked with the vendor on the project.

Using Situator, the airport was able to consolidate information that would otherwise have taken up 12 screens on the dispatcher’s console down to just two screens.

“With technology, you have a lot of different stovepipes of information — video, access control, fire alarms, computer aided dispatch (CAD), Voice over IP (VoIP), AED (automated external defibrillator) alarms, and so on,” Lyon explains. “That can make it hard to form an overall picture of what’s going on. (The new system) enabled us to present this information to our dispatchers in a unified picture and in a real-time, relevant context.”

“It’s no different than flying an airplane,” Lyon continues. “It looks like there are a million dials inside the cockpit of an airplane, but really, you only need four or five to fly.” The Situator system is based on the same general premise, Lyon says. Situator transforms complexity into simplicity by presenting a unified view of a situation across many different inputs or systems, with real-time correlation and alerts. “My dispatchers can do 95 percent of their work just by using the two Situator screens,” Lyon adds.

The solution also streamlines incident handling, which is welcome news considering Lyon’s team handled more than 19,000 incidents requiring dispatch of life safety or security personnel in 2010 alone.

“Before, we had islands of information — so one dispatcher would be monitoring the CCTV and another would be responsible for access control, and so on,” Lyon explains. “They would have to manually piece this information together through verbal communication to get situational awareness and make decisions, which obviously took time. Now, all of the pieces of information are already assembled together so they get a much clearer picture immediately. And that’s for everything they do — not just for security, but for life safety as well.”

Lyon says that the ability to view everything in a geographic context further streamlines incident handling. “To be able to see a map of the facility, to see where something is happening, and then drill down into the layers and devices around that, is very empowering. Everything is right there on the map. If I want to direct a firefighter or someone from security, I can look at them on the video, and say, ‘you need to take the next door to the right,’ because I’m also looking at the building plan. I didn’t have that capability before. It’s very easy to get that big picture and then take appropriate actions when it is right in front of you.”

 

Added Efficiency

Lyon says it is not enough to know what’s happening — dispatchers need clear procedures to follow too. Using Situator, the airport was able to create and input dynamic pre-defined response plans that are immediately accessible to dispatchers for specific scenarios.

“We took every single form we had previously — more than 90 forms in total for all types of security, fire, and EMS incidents — and we analyzed the business processes behind them,” said Lyon. “We have been able to implement all of those processes in the Situator system.”

Previously, the airport relied on a basic data management program to catalog electronic forms, but the forms were ‘flat’ — essentially just cues for handling different types of incidents, but they were not interactive. Processes implemented through the PSIM system, on the other hand, are interactive and adaptive, with the ability to integrate automated or operator-initiated actions, and dynamically proceed down different paths of a response plan based on pre-defined conditions.

“For example, how you would respond to a fuel spill could be dictated by the magnitude, size and type of spill,” Lyon says. “With Situator, the process can be much more dynamic and detailed and change as conditions warrant. We also know that the job’s going to get done because we have escalation built into our forms where if something doesn’t get done in a pre-set amount of time, we can immediately escalate it to the next level.”

In addition, the system automatically tracks every action taken by the dispatcher during an incident. The ability to embed adaptive response plans, escalate when necessary, and record actions to see if procedures were followed is a very powerful quality assurance tool and helps the airport remain compliant with TSA regulations.

“When we have an error, we are able to correct it on the spot and later use it for training and quality control, or look at why the error happened,” Lyon says. “We are able to walk through what the dispatcher did. Before, I would have to dig through logs and video...now, everything is right in front of me and I can pull it up in one fell swoop.”

The Benefits of Adaptability

No one knows better than Lyon that situations — especially those involving weather — can change on a dime, and you better be prepared. Lyon, a 20-year aviation/airport expert, is regarded as somewhat of a disaster professional, having weathered Hurricane Katrina. Lyon found himself in the thick of it when Katrina stuck in 2005, flooding and damaging large parts of the airport, compromising communications, and creating a logistical nightmare for Lyon and the multitude of agencies on-site.No one would ever hope there’s a ‘next time,’ but should another hurricane strike, this time the airport will be even better prepared. “Obviously, we want to be able to leverage our technology in such a situation,” Lyon says. “Situator can help us extend all of our technology into the emergency operations center so it can be used by airport managers, as well as outside agencies.”

Lyon says that response plans for hurricanes and other weather events are already embedded in the system, but as importantly, he can also readily adapt those plans or create new procedures on the fly. “If an outside agency comes in and needs to do something different, I can implement new procedures very quickly without having to re-program anything. Situator gives us a lot of flexibility, and that’s important because you have to be flexible when it comes to disasters that involve different agencies and responses that fall outside of your normal business processes.”

In addition, because the PSIM system is open and connects to security and safety systems through the use of gateways, it offers adaptability into the future. “Airport challenges are not going to go away,” Lyon says. “We are going to be monitoring more cameras, more doors, and needing to comply with changes in procedures with the TSA. I’m confident that the system is going to be able to expand to meet those challenges.”

 

Editor’s Note: Want to read an enhanced version of this article? Check out the exclusive STE iPad App, available now in the Apple App Store! This article features an exclusive video that takes an inside look at the security operations within NOIA, and how PSIM has impacted those operations.

 

Now in its seventh year, the Security Innovation Award is an annual competition held by STE. Of the dozens of projects entered, the winning (top four) projects are chosen by a panel of security industry experts. The awards are open to vendors, systems integrators, VARs, and security or risk executives. Winning projects included innovative use of technology, along with significant contributions from the vendor/manufacturer and integrator/consultant. For more details or to learn about entering next year’s competition, contact editor Steve Lasky at steve.lasky@cygnus.com.

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