OR Tambo International Airport. File picture: Tiro Ramatlhatse
OR Tambo International Airport. File picture: Tiro Ramatlhatse

Security compromised at OR Tambo

By PHALANE MOTALE Time of article published Feb 14, 2016

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Johannesburg - Security at OR Tambo International Airport was compromised for months while the electronic perimeter monitoring system was switched off for upgrading and replacement, it has been revealed.

The Israeli-made electronic-fence detection system at the airport in Kempton Park, Ekurhuleni, had to be switched off because it was malfunctioning and giving false alarms.

OR Tambo is the busiest and biggest airport in Africa.

Airports Company SA (Acsa) chief executive Bongani Maseko confirmed that Acsa had put out a tender for a new perimeter intrusion detection system, which will be deployed around the perimeter of the Joburg, Cape Town, East London and Port Elizabeth airports.

“Yes, the existing system has been switched off. But despite this, we have been confident that the measures currently in place are adequate to enable us to deal with any security matters.

“Patrols have since been stepped up and no incident of intrusion or otherwise was reported,” he said.

Maseko added that the new technology will be more affordable and integrated. It will include motion-detection cameras.

Acsa spent nearly R80 million upgrading perimeter security at a number of South African airports prior to the Fifa 2010 World Cup tournament.

The airport perimeter-security technology normally includes physical fence lines, closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras, intelligent-video surveillance, command, control and communications (C3) centres as well as inter-operable network solutions.

Currently, perimeter fencing, which includes a concrete wall, is already in place at OR Tambo and Acsa is looking for an ICT solution.

OR Tambo is the priority airport because of the valuables it processes, but the new security system will also be rolled out in Port Elizabeth, East London and Cape Town because of the number of informal settlements around those airports.

While it is a security measure, it is also a safety measure to prevent children from getting hurt on airport runways.

Airport perimeter-intrusion detection technology includes fencing systems that determine boundaries, deter casual intruders, control access and create delays in the event of intrusion.

A recent report by researcher Frost & Sullivan says a proactive approach is being adopted to install integrated security solutions that will be inter-operable with new emerging technologies, as well as legacy security systems. Hence, large system integrators are making a foray into the security market and forging partnerships with smaller niche companies to offer airport operators greater benefits, the report says.

“The perimeter still remains a vulnerable target for terrorism, which, as history has shown, is highly adaptable,” it notes.

“As a result, increased funds allocation is expected towards new technology and protection initiatives, especially in countries witnessing the largest influx of airline passengers.”

While terrorism is currently not an overwhelming concern in South Africa, crime is. Cash-in-transit robbers and gangsters have regularly targeted OR Tambo Airport in the past. Media reports suggested robbers gained access to the airport because of poor access control and poor perimeter security.

In June last year, the death of a stowaway on a flight from Joburg to London again raised concerns that South African aviation security did not conform to international standards.

An international inspection of South African airports, the findings of which were used in drafting the National Aviation Safety Plan, identified critical deficiencies.

These included inadequate screening policies and an absence of designated security officers at major airports.

Upgrades to emergency command centres and revisions of contingency plans were also needed.

The doomed stowaway hid, with a second stowaway, in the undercarriage of a British Airways aircraft and fell to his death as the flight approached London’s Heathrow Airport.

The second man who was admitted to hospital with injuries, has since been identified as a Zimbabwean national.

In August 2012, a man who scaled the Cape Town International Airport fence was found dead in the landing gear of a BA plane when it landed in London the next morning. Doctors concluded he had frozen to death.

In recent times, there have been six recorded cases of people entering restricted areas - five at OR Tambo and one at Cape Town International Airport. Five were caught and the sixth died while stowing away on a flight.

Sunday Independent

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