When Evan Collins wanted to find a new way to monitor Perth Airport’s airside perimeter fence, he looked to the skies for inspiration.

The airport’s new approach to its perimeter patrols was developed in an Australian airport first after seeing the effectiveness of videos used on police helicopters.

Inspiration struck as Collins’ team sought to improve aviation protection officers’ ability to more accurately monitor the airport’s expansive fence line.

Collins, the airport’s airside and landside security manager, says the officers had traditionally patrolled the 12km airside perimeter relying on their own observations to identify potential security issues.

With one officer driving and the other observing from the vehicle, the team would visually inspect the perimeter – and bushland beyond it – to look for signs of a security breach or suspicious activity.

While a relatively easy task in the bright light of day, night-time and low-visibility weather conditions such as fog or rain made the job that much more difficult.

The vast size of the 2105 square hectare site – along with aviation safety and environmental considerations – meant it was not possible to light the whole area, compounding visibility issues.

Collins said emerging technologies had provided the opportunity to examine new solutions that would make the officers’ job easier and safer while also improving outcomes.

“We looked at technology being used in similar places,” Collins says.

“We had to look at our challenges first and that was trying to operate in an environment that was not particularly well lit – even in low light such as rain or fog.

“What really caught our attention was the video on police helicopters. They were tracking targets that were determined to evade surveillance – which would be useful if we had someone actively trying to hide from our own patrollers.”

After further investigation with their partner ISS Security, the airport installed Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) cameras on patrol vehicles used by aviation protection officers.

The mobile cameras now allow staff to position their vehicle at key locations around the airport during patrols to complete a 360-degree scan of the perimeter.

The camera’s infra-red capabilities allow people to be detected from 800m away, while a vehicle can be spotted from a 2.2km distance.

The thermal imaging means anyone loitering in bushland beyond the perimeter could be easily identified even when they may be actively hiding from patrols, no matter what the visual conditions on the day.

And the results are already speaking for themselves.

“We’ve been able to detect some antisocial behaviour occurring in some remote areas of the airport, such as illegal dumping and loitering beyond the perimeter fence,” Collins says.

“The feedback has been really positive. Our officers feel safer because they’re aware if there’s someone that they can’t necessarily see, they’ll still be able to identify them. So it’s very comforting for them.

“They can also identify the presence of someone beyond the perimeter without needing to leave their vehicle, which is a better safety outcome for our team.”

He says the project’s implementation has also shown the strength of the airport’s partnership with ISS.

“It’s really demonstrated our contractor’s willingness to try new things and be receptive to different outcomes, which has been great for the partnership.”

The next step for Collins is to look at where the technology can take the team in the future.

Live streaming to the airport’s control centre is proposed, while transitioning the camera to be able to operate on 4G technology in the event of an outage would further support their use in an emergency situation.

The addition of more cameras with different modes and capabilities is also up for discussion. But the options are many and varied and Collins sees strong potential for further enhancements in the future.

“We might look towards integrating some form of analytics or machine learning to take as much workload as possible off the officers,” Collins says. “The less they have to process in their minds the more effective and safer they’re going to be.”

With airport security continuing to evolve, it’s an issue that will continue to develop as technology advances.

“There’s been an increasing awareness of the responsibility of airports to secure public spaces, and not just relying on standard barriers, gates, locks and doors,” Collins says.

“These cameras allow us to increase surveillance and maintain our response capability at the same time, so even in sub optimal conditions we can achieve the security outcomes we require.”