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Viewpoint | Hi-tech protection

Diane Burt

Security at airports has never been tighter. Yet with the demand of increasing global footfall and an ageing population contrasting against the need to make passenger journeys more comfortable, the aviation industry needs to square the circle.

It’s not going to be easy, but the sector is already well prepared with good practice, codes, robust security strategies, and a culture that is ingrained to learn the lessons from past incidents.

However, as technology changes at a lightning pace, the sector needs to keep up. Twitter, for example, broke news of the Hudson River plane crash in 2009, and the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. The trouble with this platform is that it is not location specific. Terrorist incidents tend to be multiple simultaneous events and having detailed information can help those caught up on it to escape, saving lives.

Different approaches are also required for different incidents. For example, when you look at the guidelines for a fire, the general approach is “if it’s small try and put it out”, and “if it’s not, walk calmly to a location and call the fire brigade”. However, if there is a bomb threat or if there is somebody shooting, the advice is to run and hide.  

Technology’s role here could be crucial: If you were hiding and were informed there was another gunman, or the location of a second bomb, you could make an informed decision as to whether to stay or get out of the building.  

One way we can use the latest technology to assist passengers is location-specific mapping information, twinned with “big data”. Currently the density of phone signal movements mapped over alternative routes helps avoid traffic. By using the layout of a building, a smartphone app and physiological data from wearable technology we could share information to show the fastest (and safest) routes out of a building by mapping passenger flows on foot.  

In an incident at your home or office you would typically know the lay of the land. However, at transport hubs the way in is not always the way out. To solve this we could use GPS and piggyback off the use of signage or advertising to help with evacuations.

Elsewhere, baggage scanning technology advances could function rather like the technology you find in shop doorways to security scan people as they walk through. This would provide enhanced security inside terminal buildings and ensure there is no-one roaming around with large parcels land side. This reduces large queues that themselves are targets.

If you have a distributed, automated process, such as bag drops in airport car parks, you wouldn’t create such a target. So you are trying to separate an armed person from their weapon at the earliest opportunity and disperse the crowd.

By using a combination of technological advances in scanning equipment to prevent devices becoming close to crowds and use of real time data to respond to an event should it occur, we can look to minimise the impacts and enable us to get from A to B in the fastest, safest way.

● Diane Burt is WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff aviation director

In association with

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