Udi Segall

director of business development, Qognify

Author Bio ▼

Udi Segall is director of vertical marketing at Qognify. In this role he is responsible for devising and executing go-to-market strategies and solutions aimed to improve organizations operational efficiency and security. Prior to joining Qognify, Mr. Segall spent more than 10 years working in data communication field, holding various positions in engineering management and marketing at both private and public Israeli hi-tech companies. Mr. Segall holds a BSc degree in Electrical Engineering from Hertfordshire University, England and holds a patent for acceleration of web traffic over cellular networks.
December 4, 2015

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There’s an Unattended Item in the Airport. Here’s How I Would Deal With it

qognify airportsAs we all wait for the findings of the investigation into the cause of the Russian Metrojet incident that resulted in the tragic loss of 224 lives it’s inevitable that our thoughts turn to airport security around the world.

Recently the chief executive of EasyJet, Carolyn McCall, urged a global rethink on the issue.

Since 9/11 many airports have invested heavily in their safety and security systems. However, the point that Carolyn McCall is making is that not all airports have the same levels of security.

The size of the task at hand was brought home to me while travelling on an EasyJet flight from London to Berlin last week.

This year the airline is expected to carry 68 million passengers – each of whom need to pass security, travel through the terminal and the same again when they arrive at their destination. So, that’s 136 million security checks in total – and that’s one airline!

The numbers get even crazier when you take in to account each passenger will be accompanied by one, two or more pieces of luggage and it’s luggage that is the main focus, especially as initial unfounded headlines suggest an explosive device placed on the Metrojet may have been the cause.

Marrying people with their possessions

Inevitably, there will be calls for every airport to reassess their security processes and protocols. For me one of the first places to begin is with luggage.

I am not talking about restrictions around what can and cannot be carried on, although this is important. I’m talking about the importance of the marriage between a passenger and their cargo.

While I was rushed to the departure gate on Tuesday (I never give myself enough time to walk), I passed an airport worker standing next to a large, sealed duty-free bag and overheard her say to a colleague that it had been left and she was waiting for security to arrive.

My first thought was for the poor person who had forgotten their bag of shopping, my second was a reassurance that it had been identified and was being dealt with.

My next thought as a security professional with experience working with airports was to wonder what processes were in train at that moment. What happened after the worker had been alerted to the bag?

Here’s how I think a similar scenario should play out in an ideal world.

Locating the origin and owner of an object

The bag was automatically detected as being abandoned and an alert raised on the screen in the control room. This automatic alert triggered the nearest worker in the terminal to attend the bag, cordon off the area and await further instructions.

Meanwhile, the surveillance operator was presented with a live feed from the nearest CCTV cameras and a replay of the minutes leading up to the bag drop, in order to ascertain how the object came to be there.

It seemed that a lone male placed the bag down to take something out of his pocket and wandered off. It could be an innocent mistake but at this stage it’s impossible to call. The operator grabs a still image of the male and an automatic sweep of all the cameras in the terminal is carried out (in a matter of seconds), pinpointing on a terminal map not only the person’s current location but all of his movements since arriving at the building.

There is no major cause for alarm, however. With his location confirmed and a camera now trained on him the airport police are dispatched and the individual is questioned. Hopefully, the end result is a passenger happily reunited with his duty-free and a warning to be more careful in the future.

If the operator had reason for suspicion, then in accordance with the US Department of Homeland Security’s protocols there would need to be a building evacuation distance of 45 metres from the terminal building. This was the case last year when Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal One was evacuated for almost two hours while a police bomb squad investigated the report of an unattended bag.

There are literally tens of thousands of lost/left behind items in airports every year and the likelihood of a piece of unattended luggage being an improvised explosive device or bomb threat is remote indeed. However, every incident must be taken seriously.

As I say, the above scenario took place in an ideal world. However, for many large international airports this is fast becoming a reality thanks to the investment made in the most cutting-edge safety and security systems.

Through the use of ground-breaking innovations airports are now able to rapidly identify, assess and manage potential and real threats far more efficiently and effectively, whether it’s a lost bag of duty-free or a serious terrorist incident, in accordance with regulation and best practice.

Not only does this provide better security, it also helps airports maintain their to-the-second schedules and mitigate the risk of stiff financial penalties for delays. In the case of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport it is estimated that for every minute the terminal was evacuated it would cost an estimated $33,600 (figures from the Journal of Aviation Technology and Engineering).

So, for the two hour evacuation the total would have been in the region of $4m, as well as the distress it would have caused to passengers, airport workers and their families, not to mention unwanted media attention.

In my view, when it comes to safety and security, airports need to have an open-door policy with each other, to learn from mistakes and share innovations and improvements. Big international airports should not only work together but also provide support and guidance to smaller regional airports. After all, it’s a truly global, interconnected industry.

In the 12 months between September 2014 and September 2015 EasyJet flew 68 million passengers, an increase of 132% in a decade and indicative of the overall increase in passenger numbers around the world.

While airports are only going to become more crowded and under even greater pressure, security threats are not going away any time soon. As civil societies and functioning economies we rely on a friendly and efficient aviation industry, so addressing this challenge is an absolute necessity.

While we cannot be paralysed by the atrocities committed by terrorist attacks, airports ought to find the right balance between security needs and the passenger’s experience. In my view, innovative technologies can be instrumental in bridging this gap. Safe trip.

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Robert Stevenson
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Robert Stevenson

“Abandoned bag detection” HA ! There is absolutely NO SUCH THING. In practice (in airport terminals and train stations etc.) abandoned bag detection apps raise HUGE amounts of false alerts.  So many, that they quickly get turned off.  I am willing to bet that there is not one single major transport terminal that regularly and routinely uses camera-based abandoned bag detection to spot bags that have apparently been abandoned. I have many reasons for saying this. This is typical of the untruthful boastful hype that got video analytics a bad name in the 2000s.  For practical and technical reasons, I… Read more »

PeterAustin
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PeterAustin

The real problem is airport workers, who can be bribed or forced to bring illegal items airside. Pretty sure that was the cause of the Russia Metrojet bombing.

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