Baggage Screening for Humans

How can you prevent criminals from beating security channels by sneaking through the baggage system? Tom Allett explains Vanderlande’s new heat-sensitive detection system.

Is your airport’s baggage system adequately protected against potential intruders? (Vanderlande)

Inquisitive as I am about all aspects of airport operations, I must confess that there have been a few occasions, usually when walking across the tarmac after disembarking from a flight, that I have seen what I perceived to be an opportunity for someone to evade the usual security and immigration checks.
On those occasions it has crossed my mind that someone who was quick, determined and maybe had a little luck on their side just might have been able to escape the inbound passenger channels by dashing into the baggage arrivals area and following its path through the terminal.  Recent events at two New York airports have proven that the reverse situation is possible – namely gaining access from landside to airside via what are supposed to be secure areas.  Both incidents caused lengthy delays for many passengers.  While the risks are slim, they are there.
At the Passenger Terminal Expo at Vienna in April, baggage systems specialist Vanderlande unveiled a new product designed to detect anyone who tried to enter the baggage system, so it obviously caught my eye.
Asked if the idea to create such a product was an internal one or had come from a potential customer, Marcel Bunkers, Business Development Manager for Vanderlande told me: “It was something that our company decided to do.
“Of course, controlling access to secure areas and monitoring them for intruders is always important but recent security breaches in the US, where individuals entered secure zones without being seen by security guards, highlighted the problem.
“There have also been a few media reports of people – mainly children – accidentally travelling on a conveyor belt from the check-in area to the baggage hall where they were discovered, fortunately unharmed, by operators.”
Referring to airports’ departure levels, Mr Bunkers said that very few have installed systems to either physically prevent intrusions into the baggage area or raise the alarm.
He added: “The most reliable way to detect a human located amongst bags, is through using two complementary detection techniques; one checking the temperature of the object while the other checks the shape.”
He explained that the Vanderlande product uses a two-camera system, one infra-red and the other RGB to detect people entering the baggage system.
“A camera system is installed over each baggage-drop line, just before the landside/airside boundary.
“The images from the two cameras [infra-red and RGB] are combined using computer classification software to produce real-time alerts with the lowest possible false alarm rate.
“If a possible intrusion is detected, the baggage handling system is ‘locally’ stopped, and, where necessary, security doors can be closed automatically to prevent further intrusion.”
At the same time, the images from the CCTV cameras are sent to the staff in the baggage control room.  After seeing the pictures, the operator can decide whether a real intrusion has actually taken place.  If it has, the operator can close down the baggage handling system to prevent a person from being injured and dispatch a search team, or in the case of a false alarm, reactivate the baggage handling system.
He continued: “As a system integrator we have looked at the market for possible techniques to solve this potential safety and security issue, and noted that traditional detection systems are not always able to identify security threats in real time.”  He said that CCTV systems only provide passive recording capabilities, with little if any active monitoring and felt that motion and heat detection systems, such as simple infra-red sensors, are even less effective.
He explained: “They can easily be triggered by a suitcase that is still relatively warm after being sealed in foil, or by its warm wheels, which makes them virtually useless in identifying real security threats.
“Even worse, the false alarms divert staff members’ attention and resources.”  In a world of heightened security it is debatable as to whether false alarms are worse than having no alarms at all.  While it could be said that it is better to have false alarms than miss a potential security breach, few would deny that repeated false alarms can lead to security personnel ignoring a real threat.
Vanderlande’s system is still in the trial phase but should be commercially available in the near future.