Thunder Bay airport faces up to security threat

Thunder Bay International Airport Authority Inc. will become the first Canadian airport to install facial recognition technology to beef up security in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The company Thursday

said it was deploying Burlington, Ont.-based AcSys Biometric Corp.’s FRS access control solution for a doorway that is only available to restricted personnel. So far 60 employees have been enrolled in a pilot project to use the facial recognition tools, but this could expand to about 150 to 200 others.

Thunder Bay International Airport is testing the technology as part of a national effort by Transport Canada to evaluate the use of biometrics to enhance airport security.

“”We knew that Customs Canada was experimenting with iris scanning, so we went looking for something else,”” said Ed Schmidtke, the company’s commercial manager.

“”Depending on how well the prototype works and depending on how much it actually costs site by site — because installations vary very much by door — we would probably end up with two and six such facilities in the building.””

Biometrics refers to software and hardware that uses biological details from human beings — like fingerprints or the eye’s iris — to identify individuals for security purposes.

The AcSys Solution is being deployed by Toronto-based software engineering firm CompuBlox and security consulting company Conquest Alliance Group Inc. in Burlington.

Colin Sutherland, president of Conquest, said he would like to see airports across the country adopt the facial recognition solution. “”There is a very strong demand in the small and mid-sized airport to deal with the escalating human resources cost since 9/11,”” he said. “”Wherever you have an access control site — in the past, it may have been a simple walk-in door with a key mechanism — today there needs to be a security person on hand to check ID tags.””

The AcSys product creates a file size of an individual’s record that is less than 12K. That can be compressed into either 8K or 6K, Sutherland said. That means it can verify within seconds, whereas other systems can take 10 to 15 seconds. “”If you have a queue — let’s say you have a flight crew of six personnel who want access to the aircraft, you’re not going to wait 15 seconds per person,”” he said.

Schmidtke confirmed that time is of the essence.

“”The passenger one is the big one with trying to prevent certain problems before people embark on an airplane,”” he said. “”But so too is there a need to make sure the people working in and around aircraft are the right people. In so doing, we put in one more delay in a system that works, and it works on the critical criteria of on-time performance that is everything in the airline industry.””

Soren Frederiksen, president of CompuBlox, said facial recognition files for more than one door can be set up through a central server and tied in with existing security systems as an extra layer. One of the key benefits to the technology, he said, is the audit trail it provides in the event of someone who tries to go through the door that shouldn’t be there. “”Now you have a file you can send to the security guard that can walk around the airport trying to locate the guy,”” he said. “”That’s what some of the other biometrics can’t do.””

Key to the solution is an optical turnstile (which Frederikson compared to the security turnstiles in retail stores) that will ensure the entry number — the number of people walking through the turnstile — will be checked against the access control numbers. This “”anti-tailgating technology”” will prevent someone from slipping through after someone ahead of them has already been accepted by the system, he said.

Though some corporate customers have described biometric scanning as intrusive, Sutherland said facial recognition is hassle-free, and Schmidke said there had been no problems with the employees who have used it so far. A timeline for when the pilot project will end has not been determined, Schmidke added.

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