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San Diego
Saturday, May 18, 2024
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Security Through Software

San Diego’s Lindbergh Field is not only the busiest single-runway airport in the nation, it’s also one of the safest starting this year.

The reason has lots to do with a new security system developed by two high-tech firms, Tactical Survey of Crestline in San Bernardino County and Wireless Facilities, Inc. of San Diego. The airport is one of two in the nation that are using the system (the other is Charleston, S.C.), although it will shortly be deployed in Anchorage, Alaska.

Called Tactical Survey, the software system that’s been installed this month into existing hardware at the airport is intended to give emergency responders a huge edge when dealing with a possible critical incident such as an aircraft crash, a bomb threat or a hostage situation.

“It’s an emergency response plan on steroids,” said Steve Larsen, the chief executive officer and founder of Tactical Survey Group Inc.

Beyond merely using wireless cameras that can provide 360-degree, spherical views of any part of Lindbergh’s 1 million square feet, the system provides a myriad of data pertaining to the selected view.

The pictures don’t just show a two-dimensional view of a particular site, but have the ability to expand a view up and down, as well as right and left until the view comes back to the original point.

Then, along with the view of a particular site, all the data of what’s contained at the site and other essential information are displayed on a computer screen.

In case a firefighting team needs to find a door to access a particular point, the view would show the door, but it would also contain data about how the door opens, including what direction it opens in, whether it has an electronic security lock or manually opens, what the door is made of, and where the hinges are, said Larsen.

“All of these things can make a difference in saving someone’s life or if that person dies,” he said.

Because time is such a critical element in deploying resources in an emergency, the data is color coded to give first-responding personnel a quicker view of the situation.

Critical data aimed at firefighters is colored red; data deemed essential to SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team members is in black and white; and data aimed at personnel dealing with explosives disposal is in purple.

If all this sounds like a bit of overkill, think again, say security experts whose job it is to protect the public.

“The system allows us to enhance and improve the training component of the key first responders so that they’ll better understand the facilities and infrastructure here at Lindbergh Field,” said Mark Denari, the airport’s director of aviation security and public safety.


Better Prepared

While the airport conducts emergency response exercises to ensure overlapping agencies are familiar with proper procedures in a real emergency situation, the Tactical Survey system takes the preparedness to a whole new level, Denari said.

In past exercises, emergency response teams would do walk-throughs of certain areas of the airport, and would hopefully have access to documents and information concerning what’s in a certain area, and how certain systems function. The information was often contained in written documents or manuals that weren’t always easy to find, or weren’t always updated, Denari said.

“What we have done here is collected all of this data and brought it into one system,” Denari said.

The airport is spending $1.2 million to install Tactical Survey, with the funding provided by the Technical Support Working Group, a part of the Department of Defense that aims to test cutting edge technologies for security purposes.

Denari, who has worked in security in commercial airports for 10 years, said Tactical Survey is, “within the realm of technology and computer applications, the absolute best” he’s seen.

Once it is fully tested, reviewed and analyzed, he expects the system will be installed in every large airport.

Wireless Facilities, a publicly traded firm with annual revenues of nearly $400 million, provides systems engineering and network integration services to large wireless carriers. It became involved in the Tactical Survey project when it acquired High Technology Solutions, the predecessor partner firm of Larsen’s TSG.

“WFI has been a great partner for us,” Larsen said of Wireless Facilities. “While we had the basics of the system in place, since we’ve worked with WFI, they’ve helped us to change and modify the system to make it more scalable so it can be used at far more locations.”

Tactical Survey has also been installed at several other federal installations in San Diego, particularly those operated by the U.S. Navy.

Access to Tactical Survey isn’t confined to a central command and control point, but can be installed on a network’s hard drive and given access via PCs and laptops.

Tactical Survey Group is taking a look at embedding the system within new powerful mini PCs that can be worn by first responders.

“The latest versions we’re now using are the size of a PDA, but are as powerful as a laptop with a Pentium (chip),” said Larsen.

“One method that it could be used is by putting the computers on the backs of vests worn by first responders so that they can get a view of the facility to make it even easier for them to do their jobs,” he said.

The key to the Tactical Survey system is cutting down the time it takes to assess what has to be done, and getting the right personnel into the right positions as quickly as possible.

“If we can get in and mitigate an incident quickly and effectively so that it doesn’t become major, then we may be able to neutralize the impacts,” he said.

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