Innovation key to aviation security

As soon as it became clear that the events of September 11th were the result of an act of terrorism, the Canadian government responded. Transport Canada connected with critical organizations to coordinate the first airspace shutdown in Canadian history. The Canadian Forces implemented an increased level of readiness and DART was mobilized, ready to deploy to any site in the US. In the months that followed, myriad security initiatives and measures were put in place to protect the traveling public from future threats and assure Canadians that air travel was safe.

With these actions, government officials were sending a message to Canadians: we are not waiting for another 9/11 to improve the security of our aviation system. With new threats continuing to emerge, that message still resonates with aviation stakeholders and the general public today.

Innovation is key to ensuring the security system does not become predictable or vulnerable to attacks. Just as businesses must anticipate the unexpected to stay ahead of the competition, the security world must anticipate the unexpected to stay ahead of terrorists. In Canada, government and industry partners are working on harnessing both technology and human factors to ensure the aviation system is resilient in the face of new and emerging terrorist threats.

Innovations in passenger screening
The pre-board screening of passengers and their belongings is a critical element of air transportation security. The success of this process hinges on the screening officer’s ability to quickly recognize camouflaged or hidden items, such as explosives, guns or knives, when they appear as x-ray images at the pre-board checkpoint.

To help screening officers learn and refine the art of x-ray image recognition, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) – the crown corporation responsible for pre-board screening in Canadian airports – is launching a new nationwide computer-based learning program.

X-Ray Tutor is a software program based on studies determining how the human brain uses viewpoint angles to distinguish objects. The computer program projects threat objects similar to those displayed on x-ray baggage screening machines. Like a video game, the screening officers progress through several levels of complexity when using the program, each level offering different and increasingly challenging images.

The Threat Image Projection System (TIPS) is another software learning tool being implemented across the country. TIPS operates on the same x-ray equipment screeners use every day on the job. TIPS software projects fictional threats, such as explosives, guns or box cutters into the x-ray images of a real bag. The screening officer’s task is to detect these threats and respond accordingly.

Consistent use of the software enables screening officers to sharpen their detection skills, identifying and familiarizing themselves with potential and previously unknown threat objects. Like all of CATSA’s activities, this process is regulated through the federal government by Transport Canada.

Innovations in biometrics
CATSA is also implementing a world first in the field of biometrics. A unique dual biometric program uses innovative technology to prevent unauthorized people from gaining access into restricted areas of airports. The Restricted Area Identification Card program uses fingerprint and iris identifiers to ensure only airport workers who have valid security clearance can access restricted areas.

With two alternative biometric signatures – iris scanning and finger printing – the new card provides a real-time validation of the clearance, which ultimately ensures our airports are more secure.

Several airports were involved in a trial of the biometric card program. The Canadian Airports Council, which represents airports and airport associations in Canada, supports the use of RAIC cards in airports, stating that biometric technology will add another layer to the airport security ‘onion’. Once RAIC is fully implemented, it will apply to over 120,000 airport employees, including pilots, fuelling operators, security staff, concessionaires and other airport workers.

In the coming years, there may be more examples of Canada using biometric technology as an aviation security tool, which presents even more opportunities for vendors at home and abroad. This specific topic was addressed at the Canadian Aviation Security Conference, held in Ottawa on March 29-30. During a panellist discussion at the event, industry leaders and academics discussed how Canadian industry could position itself to play a larger role in the arena of biometrics.

The implementation of the RAIC program, which involved several technology vendors, also highlights the role the private sector has to play in aviation security. With Unicom Canada acting as the project integrator, HID manufactured the contactless smart cards, Bioscrypt Inc. supplied the fingerprint readers, and LG provided the iris scanning hardware. IBM was also involved in the project.

For Canadian technology companies in particular, there are further opportunities to get involved in aviation security technology projects. The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance, which represents technology firms across the country, is working to assist Canadian businesses in their participation of corporate, public and national aviation security issues. One of their responsibilities is to encourage awareness of Canada’s advanced security and technology communities as contributors to Canada’s economic well-being.

Innovations in collaboration
Along with technology, the collaboration of several government and private sector agencies is a big part of the aviation security equation. For example, financial and regulatory support from the federal government and cooperation from public and privately run airports were critical in the effective implementation of CATSA’s biometric card program.

The commercial aviation industry also has a say in aviation security issues: the Air Transport Association of Canada, which represents aircraft operators and manufacturers, is working with regulatory authorities to ensure the aviation system remains competitive and efficient as new aviation security solutions are put in place. Therefore, it takes a whole network of industry and government partners to ensure the implementation of new technologies is coordinated and effective.

The events of September 11th further complicated aviation security in Canada and abroad. Given that security threats are constantly changing, key players are pursuing opportunities to step back from the flurry of activity and discuss how Canada is moving forward. A better understanding of the human and organizational factors, as well as the appropriate use of new technologies, will help these players ensure the air transportation system remains secure, even as the threats change.

Norm Kirkpatrick is CEO of the Canadian Aviation Security Conference. He has held a wide range of senior management positions with Canadian and multi-national high tech enterprises (including Xerox and Apple), governments and not-for-profit associations. He is past chairman of CATA Alliance and president & CEO of the Canadian Information Productivity Awards (CIPA).

Author: Norm Kirkpatrick from the April/May 2006 issue published

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