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JOHN WAYNE AIRPORT : Cameras on Watch at Airport

September 04, 1990|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott , a free-lance writer based in Santa Ana , writes frequently for The Times.

If in your wanderings around John Wayne Airport you get the feeling you're being watched, don't feel paranoid. You are.

The extra eyes are part of a sophisticated system that allows security to keep track not only of passengers and others temporarily in the airport but employees.

Look up on nearly any large wall in the terminal and you'll see video cameras recording the scene below. Multi-lens cameras, similar to those that peer down on the gambling tables in Las Vegas casinos, hang from the ceiling of the baggage claim area. And closed-circuit cameras are positioned in the parking garages and on the airfield itself.

The images they record are seen on monitors in the central control room.

One of the most sophisticated parts of the system keeps track of the comings and goings of airport employees. Each employee is issued an identification card with a magnetic stripe, similar to the one on a bank ATM card, that is electronically encoded uniquely for them. To go through any door that leads to a "sterile" area (any area on the airplane side of the passenger security checkpoints), employees must insert the card into a slot, where it is read electronically and compared to data in a central computer.

The computer will unlock the door only to authorized employees. Others will be greeted with an alarm that automatically alerts security. Closed-circuit cameras will track unauthorized people throughout the airport, and the time of the attempted entry at each door is recorded.

Passengers going to their planes walk through metal detectors. There are six of them on either side of the second-floor balcony.

But there was a security glitch: Two stairways were designed for passengers going down from the second level to the baggage carousel. If a person were to try to ascend those stairs, it would mean entering the "sterile" side of the security checkpoints, bypassing the metal detectors.

Here is where a bit of irony overtakes the highly sophisticated security system: Officials abandoned the high-tech approach in favor of a human solution. Security guards posted at the top of each staircase will turn away anyone climbing up those stairs.

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