Boston airport tests video alert system

Logan International Airport in Boston launched a digital video pilot project in May designed to automatically detect breaches of the airport's perimeter so that police patrols could be dispatched to investigate.

Logan is using VistaScape Security Systems' software and infrared cameras to continuously collect and analyze video images from the airport's grounds. The challenge is to build a system that can detect suspicious activity but not burden security staff with lots of false alarms.

Here's how the system is designed to work: When its cameras pick up a suspicious object (based on location or some other criteria), they track the object's movements from camera to camera, judge its speed and direction, and generate an alert that is sent to handheld computers that state police officers carry. The alert is coupled with geographical positioning on a satellite map of Logan to mark an intruder's exact location.

"Typical physical intrusion detection relies on some sort of sensor," said Dennis Treece, director of corporate security at the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport). "The bogey that you want to avoid is false alarms because they drive everyone crazy. I have big jets taking off and landing all the time. I have commercial and government vessels right next to our beaches, and I have a lot of wildlife.

"Traditional sensors that measure ground vibration or heat or noise or motion won't work," he said. "I needed a technology that I could program so I can determine what specific conditions need to exist that I am worried about, because I am worried about a lot."

VistaScape's technology allows Massport officials to set up a finely tuned security policy, such as one based on pixels and location, to avoid false alarms.

"If somebody is coming out of the water, I want enough pixels to cover a person from the waist up at 250 feet from the camera," Treece said. "It gives me the ability to really focus on things that matter, rather than 'Yep, there's another airplane taking off.'"

Network bandwidth has not been an issue for pilots because the system does not use resource-hungry full-motion video, Treece said. Also, integrating the technology into the airport's existing information technology infrastructure simply involved adding another server.

Treece is also weighing the option of obtaining forensic-quality video to support the successful prosecution of intruders. However, that upgrade could triple the project's cost.

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