Miami International Airport takes layered approach to security

Aug. 27, 2012
GTSI integrates cameras, other systems into video management platform at airport

Airports are undoubtedly one of the most challenging modern day security environments. Not only is there the ever-present threat of terrorism, but also overall safety and security concerns across the entire facility.

A recent incident in which a stranded man on a jet ski was able to breach a $100 million security system at JFK International Airport in New York illustrates the importance of not just having expensive security technology, but a comprehensive and integrated system.

Looking to avoid similar breaches, Miami International Airport (MIA) recently overhauled its entire surveillance system with the help of systems integrator GTSI. Based in Herndon, Va., GTSI has about 450 employees and is completely focused on work in the government sector including the Department of Defense, as well as state and local agencies, according to Dan Silver, the company’s director and general manager for sales.

As part of the project, GTSI installed new surveillance cameras on the airport’s interior and exterior and also integrated its existing surveillance infrastructure into NICE Systems’ NiceVision video management system to create a common operating picture for the facility. According to Mark Storek, a client executive with GTSI, there were several technical challenges posed by the project that GTSI had to address including video retention during the upgrade process and the testing of system prior to its installation.

"(The airport) wanted to maintain 30 days of previous recordings while the upgrade was taking place," Storek explained. "Testing also needed to take place in a lab environment previous to being deployed throughout the airport because they can have no downtime at all."

In addition to security cameras, several other systems were also integrated into the video management platform such as ground-based radar, video analytics and secure wireless networking technology.

"The reason for mixing and matching the number of different technologies was two-fold:  One was that it would give a layered approach to any target for two reasons; 1) to more effectively track and 2) to help eliminate false positives," he said. "One of the concerns with any of the security networks that are being installed is operator fatigue. You get a lot of false positives. So, the idea was to have at least two, if not three different sources to confirm targets and then be able to effectively track them."

While he could only speculate on the incident that occurred at JFK, Storek said that the system GTSI installed in Miami was "absolutely designed" to detect intrusions along those lines because it’s a best-of-breed solution.

"If you buy one manufacturer’s out-of-box solution, the tendency is that it may overlook a layered approach," Storek said. "The key at Miami International was to bring in best-in-breed in every (product) category, vet those technologies and integrate them so that they played well together and could do things like eliminate false positives. If you get a lot of false positives, the tendency is for an operator to either lessen sensitivity or shut it off altogether. If you’re getting quality data and it’s being vetted by more than one technology in a layered approach, I think you eliminate a lot of that."

Flexibility and future scalability were also primary considerations that were taken into the account with the installation of this new system at MIA.

"If you’re dealing with the right manufacturers and suppliers, (you can) have an open source, open architecture platform where you can add to it as time goes on," Storek added. "What we tried to design at MIA was something that was more IT-reliant than proprietary technology-reliant, so that in the future, if for example, new technologies are integrated with this system that it’s more of a upgrading the beefiness of the server perhaps rather than having to completely eliminate technology and replace."

Silver added that many integrators do not even think about the infrastructure and the IT component of a project when they’re installing a new security system. "It is probably as critical as the selection of cameras or any other piece of a security system because you’re only going to be as valuable as your weakest link," he said.

Video analytics were also a big component of the MIA surveillance upgrade and despite much of the criticism the technology received about being over-hyped when it hit the market a little more than a decade ago, Storek said that analytics has finally started to deliver on some of those early promises.    

"In the past, they were something that sounded better on paper than in practice and I think that more IP-centric solutions really lend themselves to improving analytics as analytics improve," he said. "In addition it makes installation in outdoor environments a little more flexible and what I mean by that is if everything is IP-based, your transport layer, etc. it is easier to deploy and more cost-effective to deploy. I also think people have a better understanding of how analytics work."  

Additionally, the project will also enable better sharing of data between those agencies responsible for securing the airport, which goes well beyond just preventing acts of terror.

"There was a high-priority due to the nature of Miami itself, the size of the airport, the types of events, etc. that take place in Miami and the folks that go through that particular airport, to be able to quickly and seamlessly share important data with other agencies without infringing on the security of the network itself," Storek explained. "Obviously, while terror is certainly an issue, there are other events that occur at airports such as people being disoriented and driving through guard gates. The proper combination of software and hardware can also aid in the very things that generate revenue for an airport, whether it be counting of things or tracking things. Obviously, the focus was on protecting passengers and people at the airport."  

About the Author

Joel Griffin | Editor-in-Chief,

Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of, a business-to-business news website published by Endeavor Business Media that covers all aspects of the physical security industry. Joel has covered the security industry since May 2008 when he first joined the site as assistant editor. Prior to SecurityInfoWatch, Joel worked as a staff reporter for two years at the Newton Citizen, a daily newspaper located in the suburban Atlanta city of Covington, Ga.