A Question of Operability for Philly Airport Cameras

The Philadelphia airport has plenty of new high-tech security cameras, but too many of them give washed-out images or sit pointed in useless directions.

A multimillion-dollar expansion of the airport's video surveillance since 2001 has run into significant problems, sources familiar with the system say, with as many 200 cameras failing to function at any given time.

A September 2004 list obtained by the Daily News showed 241 of the airport's approximately 900 cameras were not working. A more recent list showed 119 cameras out of commission.

A recent airport list of problem cameras includes page after page of cameras on concourses, at security checkpoints, emergency exits, baggage areas and hangar areas marked "camera not online," or "image washed out," or "camera inoperable."

In some cases, the pan, tilt and zoom functions on high-tech cameras weren't working, according to the list. Some outdoor cameras designed to survey activity on the ground are pointed skyward, locked in position.

Spokesman Mark Pesce declined to discuss the airport's camera surveillance in detail, and wouldn't say whether as many as 200 cameras might have been malfunctioning. But Pesce said the federal Transportation Security Administration has approved the airport's security system, which he said is "something we're extremely proud of."

He said that a camera could be off-line for any number of reasons at a given time but that "we don't put any area of the airport in jeopardy without a camera in working condition. No area goes unsecured."

Pesce noted that the Transportation Security Administration doesn't require airports to have video-surveillance systems, but Philadelphia has had closed-circuit cameras since the early 1990s.

In early 2001, the airport embarked on a project to upgrade security systems, including surveillance cameras. That program added more than 300 cameras to the airport, and a similar number was added when the airport's new International Terminal was built. In all, there are about 900 cameras, old and new, at the airport.

The installation of the new cameras was done by Carr & Duff, a large Huntingdon Valley-based electrical contractor, which won the contract in a competitive bid. The contract for the security upgrade alone, excluding work in the International Terminal, was worth about $3.7 million.

One source said Carr & Duff had improperly installed many of the cameras and was seeking more money to fix them. The source said Carr & Duff argued that it had fulfilled all the requirements of its contract.

It's unclear whether the airport fully inspected and tested Carr & Duff's work after the new cameras were installed.

Carr & Duff spokesman Pat Ryan declined to comment on the camera problems, referring all questions to airport officials.

The principals in Carr & Duff have donated $8,500 to Mayor Street's campaign since 1999, not enough to place them among the mayor's major donors. The firm has won numerous city contracts in competitive bids.

Problems with the camera system have been the subject of several intense meetings at the airport in recent months, sources said.

TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis had no comment on the security camera issue.

The TSA reviews and monitors airport compliance with its security plans and assigns a federal security director to each airport.

In August, Philadelphia got its third federal security director in less than a year, capping four security breaches that prompted the shutdown of checkpoints and the evacuation of thousands of passengers.

A press release from the airport yesterday says that a December review of airport security by the TSA showed Philadelphia "meets or exceeds" all 9/11 standards and requirements.