Architects fight airport security threats
with flexible design
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[July 02, 2016]
By Alwyn Scott and Daniel Trotta
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Gresham, Smith and
Partners recently designed a screening area at Norfolk International
Airport in Virginia with one major concern in mind: flexibility, so it
can adapt to changing security threats.
From box-cutters to explosives to automatic weapons, the dangers
for airport security evolve. So the firm created a large, open space
without support columns that can be easily reconfigured to bring in
the next generation of screening machines.
"We don't know what's coming next so we design for that," said
Wilson Rayfield, executive vice president in charge of aviation at
the architecture, design and consulting firm.
In the face of airport threats such as Tuesday's deadly attack in
Istanbul, designers are asked to come to the frontline of the
security challenge and achieve the nearly impossible: improve
security without slowing down travelers.
The stakes are high. In Istanbul, three suspected Islamic State
suicide bombers killed 44 people and wounded 238 in a gun and bomb
attack. In Brussels on March 22, two Islamic State suicide bombers
detonated suitcase bombs in the airport departure hall before a
third struck a metro train in the city, killing 32 people in all.
Sometimes, art and function coincide. Open spaces and high ceilings
can reduce the impact of a concussive blast.
Other times, designers are working to reduce congestion in
non-secure areas and create more offsite checkpoints. They seek to
channel passengers in ways that take advantage of high-tech sensors,
cameras and facial recognition software that may help police stop
assailants before they kill.
"Aviation has a lot to learn from Las Vegas casinos," said Rayfield,
referring to surveillance cameras and crowd control methods that he
said allow three-fourths of visitors to be identified.
A terminal renovation soon to begin at Denver International Airport
will incorporate the latest innovations, such as creating more
security checkpoints dispersed throughout the airport in order to
reduce crowds. At Newark Liberty International Airport, another
major hub, vehicles have already been moved further from the
terminal to lessen the threat of a car bomb.
In May, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued
a broad call for companies to devise new ways to address threats,
improve passenger screening and deliver next-generation screening
technology. Proposals are due later this month.
ISRAEL AT FOREFRONT
Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, security experts have
revolutionized their craft, sometimes by moving screening
checkpoints further away from terminals, one of many tactics
employed by Israel, long seen as the vanguard nation in airport
Ofer Lefler, a spokesman for Israel Airports Authority, said
security was "100 percent" a consideration required of architects
who designed Ben Gurion Airport's main terminal, though he declined
to discuss specifics.
The terminal, completed in 2004, is grand with high ceilings and an
abundance of marble and Jerusalem stone. A magnificent sun roof,
water fountain and atrium give way to corridors leading to the gates
like spokes on a wheel.
Beyond aesthetics, the design has a function, according to one
Israeli aviation security consultant who spoke to Reuters on
condition of anonymity as he was unauthorized to discuss measures at
Ben Gurion Airport. Wide-open sight lines give security agents a
clear view so that "potential terrorists can be tracked by guards,
whether in person or through the closed-circuit TV system, from the
moment they are arrive."
[to top of second column]
The security screening area of Norfolk International Airport after
renovation is seen in an undated handout picture in Norfolk,
Virginia, U.S.. Chris Cunningham/Courtesy of Gresham, Smith, and
Partners/Handout via REUTERS
From the parking area to the terminal, there are several access
points with sliding glass doors made from a blast-proof material
that would help limit casualties from shrapnel, the consultant said.
Surveillance at Ben Gurion begins well before anyone reaches the
parking area or terminal. Cars are stopped at a checkpoint, watched
over by heavily armed guards and cameras that read license plates.
People deemed suspicious are pulled over for further questioning and
possibly searches. Largely surreptitious monitoring continues all
the way to the terminal.
But, experts say, such measures may be impractical at busier
airports. Ben Gurion handled fewer than 16 million international
passengers in 2015, compared to 75 million at London Heathrow.
In the car-crazed United States, adding vehicle checkpoints to old
airports would create even greater traffic jams where congestion is
"That stops a car or bus or a truck. But it doesn't stop people,"
said Matthew Horace, chief security officer at FJC Security Services
in Floral Park, New York.
Technology has proven to invaluable to move people quickly through
the terminal, said Stanis Smith, executive vice president and
airport sector leader for Stantec <STN.TO>, a Canadian design firm
that is a technical adviser to a major terminal renovation at New
York's La Guardia airport.
Passengers can now move twice as fast in places employing technology
such as self-service check-in and baggage tagging, automated
passport readers and electronic signs that can be tailored to the
any particular flight.
"Just as we saw ATMs take over in the banking sector, we're seeing
the same thing in the airport world," Smith said.
This includes the use of new body scanners, carry-on baggage
scanning machines, and pre-airport checks to improve the flow of
people and bags.
"Aviation is going to remain a favorite target," said Thomas
Sanderson, director of a Washington-based think tank at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies. "If someone wants to kill
people, they will find a way. They just have to be right once. We
have to be right all the time."
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem,; Siva
Govindasamy in Singapore, Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Writing by
Daniel Trotta; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Edward Tobin)
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