TSA-Newark Technology Pilot Focuses Not on Bags, But Trucks

Pilot program focuses on security of airport vehicle access


One aspect of U.S. aviation security that has gotten scant attention so far -- airport vehicle access -- was the target of a successful pilot program recently wrapped up at Newark Liberty Int'l Airport (LPG) in New Jersey.

In a 200-plus-page evaluation released in December, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) gave a definite -- if not exactly ringing -- endorsement of a system that was applied to a limited number (80) of LPG vehicles by ID Systems Inc. of Hackensack, N.J. "This technology is effective against some insider threat tactics as well as the threat of a stolen or hijacked ramp vehicle used for terrorist actions," author Anthony T. Cerino writes for the TSA.

Cerino also lists many other specific system benchmarks that performed well, such as the user-friendliness of the interface for drivers, the automatic logging out of drivers after they're finished with a vehicle, and allowing central command to turn off selected vehicles in case of an emergency. But the one-year Newark demonstration did not involve any security incidents. Also, it ended in the middle of last year, after which time the system apparently was dismantled.

ID Systems' approach at Newark had two main components. One was an access-control reader -- for which drivers swiped an ID card and entered a pin code -- before being able to start the vehicle. The second was the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on the vehicles, so their movements could be followed.

Vehicles have figured in a fair number of security breaches at airports. Perhaps the most recent was in the early morning hours of March 6 at John F. Kennedy Int'l Airport (NYC) in New York, where an elderly driver passed through two guard gates and got onto the tarmac.

Other incidents have involved unauthorized people who had already gained access to a secure area, and then commandeered vehicles to make things worse. Such an incident, also at night, happened last August 25 at Muhlenberg County Airport (M21) in Greenville, Ky. After knocking down a gate, thieves stole a fuel truck with 2,000 gallons of jet fuel.

Before the Newark Airport demonstration, ID Systems had installed worker access control systems for clients such as the Target chain of retail stores. For a big department store, it's a relatively simple system to set up because there isn't a problem with granting most employees access to most areas, ID Systems' Ken Ehrman tells Air Safety Week. But airports are a different animal. Vendors and caterers don't need to go where fuel trucks go or where police go, and visa versa. So there were some modifications.

Authorized drivers at Newark were issued ID cards with a raft of information encoded on them--besides their names, this included the types of vehicle(s) they could use, where they could take the vehicles, and on what day of the week or the time of day the access was valid. If there was a mismatch, or some piece of information was missing, then the vehicle couldn't be started.

Each vehicle's access device also was able to store the entire systems' worth of data. So if there was a large emergency, and power was cut off, authorized drivers (such as police) would still be able to use their cars. This type of fall-back mode is very important, as is the ability not to jam up if many drivers suddenly access the system at the same time, Ehrman points out.

Another feature at Newark was "geofencing." If a driver and/or a vehicle were to start leaving an authorized area, the driver would first get an alarm. If the driver kept going in the wrong direction, the vehicle would have been shut off.

With RFID antennas on every vehicle, central command can keep tack of who is driving where, and is alerted when something is wrong. Such a feature also allows system operators to punch in a date, and review all the vehicle traffic that occurred over a selected area within a certain time frame, Ehrman adds. That's especially handy for finding additional people to interview during an investigation.

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