SFO: Steady Vision, New Tools

Nowhere has the image of counterterrorism activity been more vivid than at the nation's airports. The exposure for catastrophic human damage, the scope of commercial assets at jeopardy, and the potential for socioeconomic havoc occasioned by a wounded...


The upshot of this planning is a program that is different from what exists in most of the country's other major airports. In a word, the system is about multiplexing—the ability to do remote screening of multiple bags while they are being processed at multiple CTX locations throughout the airport. Instead of having operators "tethered" to specific machines, the system at SFO has all operators—each a TSA employee—viewing CT images from a central screening room. The advantage is one of human resource allocation. Images ("bags") flow to operators as each is ready to view or inspect another piece of luggage. During slow periods (for example, afternoons as opposed to mornings or evenings), the number of operators can be reduced and some can be re-assigned. The operational point of view is that machine downtime doesn't demand underutilization of manpower.''


The operators, of course, only look at a small percentage of the bags that are moving through the system. These are ones that have been flagged by the CTX or, more precisely, by the artificial intelligence software that has recognized some attribute that needs a human evaluation—say, the shape or density of an object, or its puzzling position. The system, therefore, is automated with technology alerting humans for the exception. The result is 100 percent CTX redundancy for suspicious bags. If a bag's contents are still in question after an operator has evaluated its image, then it is directed to the BIR, baggage inspection room (sometimes described with the more graphic term “bomb room”), where operators follow up with closer physical inspection techniques.'


The challenge of monitoring the movement of thousands of bags every hour through what amounts to almost seven miles of conveyor systems at SFO begs for additional technology aids. RFID tags have been used before, but newer applications are being evaluated for better accuracy in determining the location of a bag in the system. Other software programs are being developed that give operators touch-screen tools for quickly pulling up threat images for any bag that needs the hands-on physical evaluation. "The game," said McKinley, "is to use your resources efficiently and to stay ahead of what bad guys might do."'


Physical Access Control
Denari, meanwhile, has been the manager responsible for developing and assessing the protocols that assure that SFO's operations comply with standards proposed by the TSA. His approach is built around a model that has three elements: programs, people and technology. Denari's team uses the model to understand the threat vectors that endanger the airport and how to respond to them.''


The process includes an assessment of the unique features of SFO: its geography, size, and waterfront exposure, as well as the issues associated with a large international, long-haul clientele. The programs and technologies suggested by the model are subject to stiff cost/benefit analyses and collaborative input from multiple groups (from executives to union workers). Drills to practice emergency procedures help assure an engaged worker population. In fact, each year SFO normally runs three or four drills related to air piracy, air crash and other extraordinary circumstances—more than what has been mandated by the TSA (or prior, the FAA).'


As part of the planning effort, Denari co-hosted in the Fall of 2002 a notable meeting with the San Diego airport to identify technological applications for an airport security operations command center. Participants included a select group of invited vendors, TSA officials, an assortment of military brass and representatives of other airports. They surveyed a host of issues, from escalation procedures to new technologies. He ended up selecting one participant, NEC, to help design a solution for controlled physical access.'


Much like McKinley's task with luggage, Denari has the problem of increasing security while maintaining an acceptable throughput of employees. With 25,000 to 30,000 workers (both employees and independent contractors) having access to the runways, for example, the challenge is daunting. SFO currently uses a system that has both an ID card and a biometric measure (hand geometry technology from Recognition Systems) working off the same platform. The redundant configuration was the first ever employed at an airport, but it has some shortcomings, not least of which is the inability to prevent or detect piggybacking by unauthorized personnel, an application for which it was not designed. Of course, the workable anti-piggybacking solution is in Denari's words, "the holy grail of access control systems."'