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December’s drone fiasco at Gatwick airport resulted in grounded planes and affected over 10,000 passengers. The incident raised inevitable questions regarding the effectiveness of perimeter security measures and put current operational tactics firmly in the spotlight.

It’s not just drones that are causing problems for perimeter security at airports. As recent events at Stanstead and Heathrow have shown, protest action on runways is on the rise. However, as airports across the country release plans for expansions, the threat of onsite protests is likely to grow.

Airport breaches are vastly expensive affairs and result in significant delays, diversions, chaos and negative media coverage that operators would rather avoid. An intruder shutting down a runway or preventing a single plane taking off could potentially cost an airline thousands of pounds in fees. It’s therefore vital that airports look to enhance their perimeter security solutions in line with their broader development and growth plans.

Perimeter security at airports is typically implemented using techniques such as conventional plain fencing and CCTV with motion detection/thermal imaging cameras, as well as digital microwave, infrared sensors or ground radar systems. However, even with these measures in place, there are still regular incidents that expose vulnerabilities of perimeters, such as fence jumpers.

Despite the security measures in place, it’s apparent that airports are far from immune to the significant security risks caused by perimeter breaches. If these vulnerabilities cannot be patched using existing techniques, then airports need to bolster their perimeters with the use of more covert and comprehensive detection methods.

Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) is such a technology, offering a platform to significantly enhance the efficacy of security monitoring at airport perimeters. It’s a solution that uses fibre optic cables to provide real-time detection by ‘listening’ for acoustic disturbances in the surrounding area – allowing security personnel to act quickly when perimeter intrusions do occur.

Entire perimeters can be completely covered by DAS, meaning areas that can’t be assessed through traditional monitoring methods, such as patrols, are secure.  An added benefit is the ability to automatically identify different types of threats, which could effectively guide response teams to deal with intrusions adequately.

DAS can be installed in both ground and fence situations, meaning it can be used for both physical perimeter monitoring and as a method to detect intruders away from the actual perimeter. It also has the added advantage of being difficult to interfere with — with redundancies, it can even operate in the event of a fibre cut.

Airports are getting more sophisticated all the time in terms of the passenger experience, screening processes, even airfield management. While perimeter security isn’t an obvious ‘big ticket’ item in the context of these upgrade programmes, it is a vital part of an airport’s make-up. As such, we need to ensure that perimeter security isn’t left by the wayside.

DAS can provide a powerful new method to keep perimeters secure and deter intruders through the detection of issues from the outset. It should be a key part of airport security measures in the future.