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Airport perimeters

Denver International Airport is larger than San Francisco and twice the size of Manhattan. It spans 53-square-miles of space (or 34,000 acres) and is comprised of twenty-five airlines, six runways and three concourses. Due to its sheer size, fortifying the airport’s physical perimeter is considered one of the world’s most challenging security operations.

The reality is that perimeter security poses a significant challenge to airports the world over. But the larger an airport’s physical size, the bigger the perimeter, the more difficult it becomes to maintain integrity and police borders.

The vast majority of airport borders are protected by layers of security that consist of walls, barbed-wire fencing, CCTV, guardhouses and manned patrols. These measures can be effective, but they are mostly passive barriers, which can be easily bypassed by determined intruders and criminals.

Perimeter security, for the most part, remains a rather manual and analogue operation. And as a result, many airports struggle to detect and locate perimeter breaches, and fail to stop intruders.


In 2015, the Associated Press conducted a comprehensive investigation into perimeter breaches at U.S. airports between January 2004 and January 2015.

Through public record requests, incident reports, archive news searches and interviews, the report found that 268 intrusions had occurred at airports that handled three-quarters of all commercial passenger traffic.

Most recently, in the UK, we’ve seen Gatwick, one of the country’s busiest airports, grind to a halt. Just before Christmas, flights were grounded, and passengers stranded, after a spate of drone sightings disrupted the airport’s runways.

While there was no indication of a physical breach of the perimeter, it raised questions regarding the use of new technologies in regard to detecting and combating intrusive activities within their perimeters.

Importance of integrating

Despite the mix of technologies in airport security strategies, it’s fair to say that airport’s need to further digitise their perimeters in order to protect their borders more effectively. So, the focus for airport security operations has to be on investing, adopting and integrating technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) systems and distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) to improve management and security.

But the principle question operators face when it comes to integrating new technologies: how do you layer them for operational efficiency? Different airports face different threats — based on factors such as location, land mass, local topography, weather and geography — and have different procedures and processes when it comes to perimeter security.

What is clear is that airport operators need to understand that innovation is essential to improving security, and digital technology can enhance security protocols and help teams overcome the unique challenges involved in protecting the physical perimeter.

DAS-based strategy

Technologies such as DAS, which provide continuous monitoring of an entire perimeter and raise alerts in real-time, give security teams the comprehensive overview needed to manage their operations and respond to threats effectively.

When it comes to adopting digital technologies, and integrating them into perimeter security strategies, a DAS-based perimeter has many advantages for airport operators.

By connecting into the fibre optic cables installed along the perimeter, DAS converts them into an ecosystem of highly-sensitive, vibrational sensors, effectively creating a ‘smart barrier’ around the entire perimeter. It can be installed both in ground and integrated into fencing and is difficult to interfere with – continuing to operate even after it has been cut.

One of the biggest benefits of DAS is its ability to detect and locate a range of potentially threatening activities, including people walking, excavation and tunnelling activity, fence climbing and cutting, as well the ability to gather intelligence on prolonged or historical events, as well as highlighting long term patterns and points of potential vulnerability.

It delivers clear, confident discrimination between the different threats that might occur at the edge of an airport and provides security teams specific alarms that allows quick, straightforward decision-making.

Early detection

What we often see in regard to perimeter breaches at airports is that they often go undetected until it is too late. But, with a DAS monitoring solution, security teams can be alerted to intrusions at the earliest possible opportunity.

Early alerts are an essential element of any modern security strategy. The earlier the alarm the swifter the response, meaning protocols and procedures can be initiated instantly and officials can coordinate with external parties — whether it be the police, private security or other government bodies — and mitigate any possible trespassing, disruption or damage that may occur.

This is hugely advantageous for airport operators. By being alerted to malicious activity in real-time, security teams can co-ordinate a targeted, effective response. Because the breach can be detected, and the point of entry located, they can effectively manage personnel and teams, and focus their efforts on areas of the airport that are most likely to be at risk.

Integrating digital with analogue

As airports adapt to the complex and challenging new threats they face, digital technologies are becoming an essential element for enhancing perimeter security.

While layered, analogue solutions such as barbed-wire fencing, CCTV guardhouses and patrols still have a role to play, they need to be supported by technologies that can unite these disparate methods. With cutting-edge solutions replacing outdated processes, and access to real-time information increasing operational efficiencies, airport operators need to look at integrating technologies such as DAS into their more traditional methods.

By doing so, airport operators can make sure that their security teams have access to intelligent and actionable insights, are better co-ordinated and are in a stronger position to respond effectively to perimeter breaches and potential threats in the shortest amount of time.


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