MSP to install high-definition surveillance cameras

  • Article by: WENDY LEE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 13, 2012 - 11:32 AM

The $20 million project aims to let the airport keep a better eye on flight operations, improve security and reduce delays.

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Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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The Metropolitan Airports Commission is aiming to improve its eyesight.

The MAC has launched a $20 million project to replace all of its aging surveillance cameras with high-definition digital cameras that it says will improve security and reduce flight delays at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

"It will make the airport more secure," said Dave Ruch, the commission's director of information systems. "The ability to have more coverage, by definition, is you have the chance to be safer."

Delta Air Lines, which will pay an undisclosed part of the project's cost, said the new high-definition cameras at MSP should improve its flight operations because problems at the gate and on taxiways can be spotted on the detailed video images, saving time and the trouble of sending out crews.

Airport officials say the high-definition cameras can help inside the terminals, too, to better identify suspicious items or individuals. The commission has hired System Development.Integration LLC of Chicago to test several types of camera systems this summer and make a recommendation by the fall. The firm has done work for the Los Angeles and San Diego international airports.

Installation of the system at MSP will begin next year. The rollout of the 1,800 new cameras and equipment will happen over three to four years. In addition to Delta's contribution, the commission hopes it will gain additional funding from the Transportation Security Administration.

MSP's security cameras date to 1995. Footage is recorded on videotapes, making it difficult to quickly rewind to past events and identify suspects through blurred images.

The airport is considering new cameras that use facial recognition to pinpoint known criminals in a crowd and technology that sounds an alarm if unauthorized people cross into secure areas. In addition, the new cameras can use a special lens that takes in a 360-degree view of the scene, unlike older joystick-controlled tools.

"This is the difference between a long-playing record and music on your iPhone," Ruch said. "We're moving from regular TV to high-definition TV."

Other airports are following suit. For example, Orlando International Airport is updating its security system in a $7.7 million project.

"Security is a priority," said Carolyn Fennell, spokeswoman for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. "We're constantly looking at technology and its use."

Airport authorities hope to avoid a repeat of a 2002 incident at the Denver International Airport, analysts said. A person detained at security slipped past the checkpoint, resulting in evacuation of the airport's concourses and suspension of its train service because police couldn't locate the suspect.

The incident resulted in nearly 800 delayed flights across the nation and caused an estimated loss of $2 million in revenue, said Jeff Price, author of the book "Practical Aviation Security: Predicting and Preventing Future Threats." Price said he believes the incident could have been prevented with better surveillance equipment.

Beyond catching criminals, Delta believes the cameras will improve its operation. For example, the airline's control center staff could use the cameras to figure out what is delaying a flight by looking at several images that will inform them whether all the bags are loaded or if all the passengers have boarded the plane, said Bill Lentsch, Delta's senior vice president of Minnesota operations.

"Rather than having to send somebody down there, we can pull up a couple of different camera angles," Lentsch said in an interview with the Star Tribune last year. "It's really a tool to provide expanded intelligence to our operational decisionmakers."

Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712

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