A Bright Future

Security system begin to benefit from solar-powered technologies.

Today's airports are as critical to homeland security as they were in the months following Sept. 11, 2001. Airport security officials have implemented new protocols and installed sophisticated scanning technology, while travelers have grown accustomed to more stringent security procedures— from removing shoes to the ubiquitous baggies of approved liquids.

While these counter-terrorism measures are imperative, they represent but one area of concern for airport security officials. The trafficking of contraband, as well as unauthorized access to airport grounds, is a top priority. The task of securing those grounds has expanded to encompass the entire perimeter as well as the roads leading in and out of the property.

It's a mile-high order. Security design has always encompassed "deter, detect, delay and detain" methodology, and it's no different for airports. With travelers, vendors and others conducting legitimate business coming and going in a 24/7 operation, thousands of people pass through every day. Valuable planes and equipment located across the grounds, the growing drug/contraband trade, executive protection and other needs affect all airports, while larger airports have the added issue of being a target for terrorist groups.

In short, property breaches can occur anywhere at any time. Many of today's airports have been around for decades and were not designed for crime prevention through environmental design techniques. Therefore, they may not have the basic deterring structures in place. Detecting activity at the earliest opportunity is critical.

Airport security officials must identify and isolate potentially illegal or harmful activities before they impact passengers and operations. Small and large airports alike require surveillance technology deployed at the farthest reaches of their properties and at the most beneficial locations, regardless of supporting infrastructure. Solar and other battery-based solutions have become a necessity for providing effective and reliable power to mission-critical surveillance devices.

Overcoming Obstacles

Using the power of the sun has not been a consideration for airports, even as recently as five years ago. While they recognized the benefits, airport security officials were deterred by the perceived high costs and network security and reliability issues of solar and wireless technologies. The solar, security and wireless industry players were often their own worst enemies in that the technologies didn't have standards of interoperability. For solar power in particular, design considerations often led to under-sized systems that failed prematurely or experienced regular downtime.

But the need for power alternatives has endured.

"It can be cost-prohibitive to go with a cabled infrastructure for surveillance systems," said Andy Bowman, vice president of engineering for SiteSecure, a system integrator with expertise in airport security based in Sanford, Fla. "It's often problematic to directionally drill under right of ways and runways or cross-existing infrastructure."

The power grid has had its share of reliability issues. For example, American Electric Power, owner of the nation's largest electricity transmission system, discloses on its Web site that over the last five years, the average amount of time a customer is without power has trended in a slightly negative direction, and the number of outages has increased. The company states its long-term goal is to move to the next generation of smart grid technology to bring about significant improvements.

While future enhancements to the grid will be welcome and can solve some of the security system needs for airports, the improved reliability, reduced costs and adoption of IP-based standards will make solar and wireless technologies an even more attractive option.

Today, airport security staff are looking for the earliest possible detection and device intelligence to reduce errors. With the execution of protocols at the edge, solar and wireless technologies may be the answer. With remote power monitoring enhancements, security personnel will be able to monitor each node's performance and be alerted ahead of time to potential issues with equipment.

The Changing Face of Solar

Improvements to the wireless network infrastructure, coupled with an array of new integrated devices, are changing the game in the security industry and making solar power plants a viable resource.

"We work with an airport security system designer for the State Department," said Robert Reynolds, founder and CEO of Solis Energy, an Orlando Fla.-based provider of solar/outdoor power solutions. "The network infrastructure has become far more reliable and has higher bandwidth to support mission-critical applications. Deploying surveillance on wireless networks has become a standard practice. Solar power, power bridges and UPSs are all important design components." Manufacturers serving the security industry are making products that are more solar- and battery-friendly. Camera and encoder manufacturers are designing their products with 12/24/48 volts DC and PoE inputs, eliminating the need to convert to 120 volts AC or 24 volts AC, where much power is lost. (DC powered applications are more solar-friendly than AC).

The adoption of PoE power is especially beneficial. Additionally, with multimegapixel camera technology, a broad region can be watched, reducing the need for a higher-wattage PTZ camera. Many of these multi-megapixel cameras do not require heaters and blowers, also reducing the power budget. This can drop power requirements from 70 to 7 watts. The analytics software to capture and analyze video also has improved, facilitating the use of MMP-IP cameras. This will continue to improve with the introduction of the new ONVIF standards.

Today, the cost to deploy solar power is lower simply because the power draws are lower and the commonality of power requirements reduces power transformations. Nevertheless, systems require proper design with rugged and reliable equipment. As a cost avoidance, solar power plants usually save the end user significant costs over trenching.

Case in Point

The aforementioned DOS designer plans security for airports in Central and South America, as well as in the Middle East. He described the challenges presented when installing perimeter surveillance with cameras and wireless radios in the most remote of locations. His airport projects typically involve potential terrorist staging areas and places where contraband issues exist. Therefore, video and wireless networks are critical.

These hot spots present myriad challenges. Gate locks need remote power/UPS coverage, and perimeter fence lines require intrusion detection systems. Both of these applications need overlapping surveillance. Trenching through the tarmac under any condition is nearly impossible. Trenching around the tarmac is not only costly, but during the rainy season, any copper in the ground is likely to cause issues. Remote entrances or lengthy fence lines are difficult to cover. Because this DOS contact believes in solar power plants, he plans the optimal device location and either connects to existing power, uses solar or connects to a light pole using a power bridge. For any node he considers critical, he uses outdoor UPSs for reliability and transient suppression.

Runway and perimeter lighting is controlled by the control tower, and video surveillance cannot be powered by the same system. To address these challenges, the DOS contact has found solar and wireless networks to be functional, effective and reliable. He said he will continue to deploy them wherever and whenever needed.

In another airport located in Central Florida, heightened security measures had to be implemented to prevent unauthorized vehicles and aircraft from entering airport property. Unauthorized aircraft were able to land undetected on the airfield at night, strip equipment off grounded planes, and then leave without being identified by airport security. The airport did not have the systems in place to detect these unauthorized nighttime landings. Also, electronic gates along the perimeter of the airport often lost power, which affected gate functionality.

To further complicate matters, authorized staff could not enter or exit via perimeter gates until power was restored. Unauthorized people found it to be a useful entry point. SiteSecure was brought in to deploy the most cost-effective and effi- cient security surveillance solution available based on the airport's specific needs.

To identify unauthorized people on the airfield, SiteSecure deployed infrared cameras to ensure consistent, reliable, identification-level video during the night. The problem was getting power to the surveillance equipment. The closest power source was 1/4 mile away, which is too far to provide clear detail for accurate suspect identification. Trenching new fiber to all of the camera sites was not economically feasible.

Next, the integrator needed to address the problem of lost power and functionality with external airport gates. Since these gates use electronic keypads and magnetic locks, any interruption in power would cause the gate to fail to open until power was restored.

SiteSecure turned to Solis Energy to deliver a solar-powered solution for the tarmac cameras. With power available, the equipment was positioned exactly where it was most effective—right next to the taxiways. Solis Energy's Solar Power Plants were installed to drive the infrared cameras and wireless video encoders.

The power supply system uses a PV array as the recharging mechanism for the battery bank. This system was designed with seven days of autonomy, 93 percent cold temperature compensation and 4.5 sun hours. So far, over a three-year period, the only downtime experienced was due to a blown fuse. Because of the strategic location of this equipment, airport security is able to quickly and easily view clear, detailed video of airport traffic to better monitor unauthorized landings at roughly one-fourth the cost of trenching.

At the back gates, a different solution was needed. To alleviate the concern over unreliable power, SiteSecure installed multiple outdoor UPSs to ensure continuous power. Now, if power outages occur throughout the airport, the UPS will power the gate and keypad, keeping it functional until full grid power is restored. The UPS also protects the electronics from the ever-present dips and spikes of grid power.

Solar Power

To best harness the power of the sun, after the security system's initial design is complete, users should place the equipment where it provides maximum functionality. Then, answer the following questions:

  • Where is the grid in relation to the power needs? Can you simply connect to local power?
  • If so, is the node important enough to add a UPS and/or lightning protection?
  • For each node, what equipment is being powered?
  • What is the voltage required for each device? (Stay with the same DC voltage if possible.)
  • What is the wattage required for each device? (Take into account the effect heaters/ blowers will have on the wattage.)
  • What is the location of the installation?
  • How many days of autonomy are required for solar during days without sunlight? (Remember, greater autonomy means greater reliability.)
  • How many hours of UPS backup time is required?
  • How many hours do you need without a recharge for power bridge applications (for gang-switched light poles)?
If connection to the grid is available and can be done with reasonable effort, this solution and a UPS is usually the most cost-effective option.

The use of solar and wireless technologies, rather than cabled infrastructure with fiber optics and utility power, is gaining a foothold as airports seek a costeffective solution for perimeter surveillance. Converging technologies, ready-tointegrate systems and smart solutions for continuous outdoor power will bring even more opportunities. With manufacturers evolving new solarrelated products to address gaps—such as command-and-control remote systems and integration into multiple systems—the future looks very bright for airport security.

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