Blurred busy environment

Security screening in crowded places; a balance between assurance and speed

At the end of last year, we were invited to be part of an exciting and immersive experience at UK Security Expo. Showcasing our turnstiles integrated with other leading technologies as part of the ‘Securing Crowded Places’ demonstrator area, and spending time discussing the future of security with some of the industry’s most esteemed thought leaders, we identified a perception which has long been a factor when considering securing crowded places, but until recently has rarely been addressed by security solutions providers. The perception is that site owners either need to do something that is 100% guaranteed to stop all threats from getting through a physical perimeter, or they might as well do nothing at all. At the root of this is the misconception/belief that security screening, and by that we mean some form of access control, can either deliver high assurance of security or it can deliver high throughput of people – it cannot do both simultaneously.

Roger Cumming, Director at Fenley Martel Ltd and Project Manager for the Crowded Places Demonstrator area at UK Security Expo, has been driving a change in this perception. Roger believes, and it’s a view shared by us here, that there is a middle ground to be had, with a balance between the level of security and speed of throughput. This balance is something that IDL intends to be at the centre of revolutionising through the collaborative development of innovative product and software integrations.

If we consider the security checks in two different crowded environments, for example a sports stadium and an airport, there is a notable difference in the way that security is handled.

When people attend a major sporting event, they normally walk into the venue freely off the street with usually only a basic security check, for example they will check that you have a valid ticket and maybe perform a rudimentary bag search. But, there is rarely any serious attempt at screening individuals for any kind of threat item which they may have concealed about their person, which could be used for malicious purposes. By contrast, at an airport you can’t even walk through security with so much as a metal buckle on your belt without raising the alarm.

One of the reasons why you don’t find airport style security at sports stadiums is because of the belief that thorough security checks take a long time, and you wouldn’t get people attending a football match if they had to spend hours queuing and working their way through security.

“One of the things that the Crowded Places Demonstrator area at UK Security Expo aimed to do was to show visitors that this is changing, and that cutting-edge technologies can be used together in novel ways to provide security in traditionally hard-to-secure areas such as sports stadiums, without inconveniencing the user or site owner,” comments Roger.

It is now possible to cause a minimum amount of disruption to the people being screened in crowded spaces such as sports stadiums, whilst at the same time delivering a high level of assurance that individuals are not carrying any major threat items, for example an automatic firearm or suicide belt. Concealment of a smaller threat item may be possible, but the amount of damage that can be done with this is likely to be very limited compared to something like an automatic firearm. In crowded environments where you need to process a large volume of people at speed but still provide a high level of assurance that security measures have been taken to prevent a major incident, there is a balance to be struck between very detailed, granular security screening and the potential inconvenience to users.

Roger continues: “The purpose of security is to allow people to go about their daily lives freely and with confidence. Freely means not interfering with them unnecessarily – not asking them to remove jackets, empty pockets etc. With confidence means that they can go into a sporting venue, for example, and not feel worried that the person next to them might be planning a major attack.  You can only achieve this by using the most advanced technology, and by fusing different technologies to provide an integrated system which allows multiple checks to be made simultaneously in a way which doesn’t inconvenience the user.”

When it comes to pedestrian entrance control in particular, the security process needs to be as easy and simple to use as possible. At UK Security Expo, the situation of a major sporting event was used as an example and here the Fastlane Intelligate 300 was integrated with the Mass Spec Analytical Scentinel™ mobile explosive detection system, which simultaneously searches for improvised and military-grade explosives as well as other chemical risks. This integration was used to demonstrate how simple and quick it could be to protect public events from explosive or chemical threats.

Someone trying to smuggle in fireworks or a flare into a football match would almost certainly retain microscopic traces of indicator substances on their hands, even after cleaning them. When this person handles their entry ticket, the substance is transferred to the ticket. On entering the sports stadium, each person seeking entry is required to place their ticket into a machine to check its validity. At this point, the integrated Mass Spec Analytical Scentinel™ screens the ticket for traces of harmful materials, including explosives whilst the turnstile authenticates the ticket. Only when the person presents a valid ticket and they test negatively for traces of harmful materials would the Intelligate then allow access.   And the whole of this process takes only a matter of seconds.

Another example of an integrated security system was demonstrated at UK Security Expo. This integration was between our Glassgate 150 and FST Biometrics’ IMID™ product, fusing biometric and analytical technologies including facial recognition and body behaviour analytics to provide high security access control without users having to stop or slow down to gain authorised entry.

Tony Smith, Major Accounts & Marketing Manager at Integrated Design Limited, comments: “The success of security in the future lies in the ability to integrate technologies so that when a user presents him/herself for authorisation to access a secured environment, various credentials are screened simultaneously, for example the validity of a ticket is confirmed whilst also checking a database of wanted people.”   

Tony continues: “Behind the beautiful exterior of our Fastlane range, the infrared matrix that drives the decision to authorise entry makes thousands of calculations per second based on luggage being carried or pulled, tailgating, unauthorised passages and much more. This intelligent technology in our Speedgates range, for example, is capable of processing up to 60 people per minute, one at a time. When integrated with software like FST Biometrics’ IMID™ there is little or no dwell time when screening someone’s ticket and biometrics simultaneously, and deciding whether or not to allow entry.”

There is purpose in investing in as efficient a system as possible.  Security systems which inconvenience the user often also inconvenience the site owner. If someone has to queue for a long time, they are unlikely to bother attending again in the future, which results in reduced ticket sales. But, the site owner and event organisers also have a responsibility to all the people entering that site and they are obliged to take reasonable steps to assure the safety and security of the people attending.

Roger adds: “There has to be a minimal delay between the person presenting their credentials and access being granted. By carrying out ticket checks and security screening simultaneously, you’re making sure that your security technology is easy to use and doesn’t interfere with the flow of people, which avoids long queues of angry people. As well as processing people quickly, the security system also needs to deliver to the site owner the maximum level of assurance that a high level of security screening is being carried out. It’s great that companies like IDL recognise that they have a role to play in this development, designing their security gates in such a way that they can easily integrate with a whole range of different technologies.” 

Tony continues: “For me, the really successful security processes are ones which are almost invisible to see and the users hardly notice them. Clunky, slow or awkward to use security systems will be subverted as people don’t like to have their lives interfered with or things made difficult. For IDL, the ability to already seamlessly integrate our range of high throughput, pedestrian access control gates with other leading security technologies is a huge advantage. We’re looking forward to working with other partners on new developments in this area.”

To summarise, in the past there seems to have been two inhibitors when it comes to securing crowded spaces such as sports stadiums:

  1. The fear that whatever it is you’re trying to protect will be interfered with by your deployment of security processes and cause inconvenient delays for users, resulting in lost ticket sales as people don’t want to queue for a long time to attend a football match, for example.
  2. some screening technologies can currently deliver 100% assurance that people don’t represent a major threat, for example they aren’t carrying an automatic weapon or a suicide belt, but a smaller threat such as a pocket knife may not be detected.

We believe that selecting the most appropriate system to secure a crowded environment is about striking a balance between the level of required security and the speed at which you need to process people. In an ideal world you would want the highest level of assurance with the highest level of throughput. By developing integrated solutions like those described above, a better balance where you maximise both is starting to come around, but it’s up to companies such as IDL to work with partners to make this happen.

When carrying out security screening in busy environments, there is another major consideration, this being what to do in the event that something serious is discovered. This is something we’ll cover in a future article and share it from our monthly newsletter.  If you have any thoughts on this matter or would like to be involved, please contact Tony Smith