Biometric solutions to bolster security at U.S. airports

Specifically, the program aims to help CBP innovate international air entry/exit operations by:

·  More effectively using new processes and technologies to inspect growing numbers of travelers with limited airport space and staff

·  Improving technologies to quickly and easily verify the identity of international travelers during entry/exit

· Making the entire entry/exit process more secure, seamless, intuitive and traveler-friendly

Before this pilot could become a reality, POE-PS needed to understand the U.S. airport system.

“Unlike some other countries, U.S. airports were designed only for inspection of international arriving travelers not for biometric checks for outbound foreign nations,” said POE-PS Program Manager Arun Vemury. “Additionally, most airports are already at capacity and don’t have the space to build-out or expand existing inspection areas. Putting in the wrong solution could not only create longer queues and take more space, but also delay flights and displace airport seating areas and retail operations which keep the airports in business.”

With no standardized airport layout or central management organization, this task becomes even more complicated, as each airport would require an individually tailored solution. Add in the ever-present issues with limited funding, and a restructure program may appear nearly impossible.

However, S&T was built for just this type of mission.

One of the most promising ways to integrate biometric immigration checks into airport operations was to identify technologies and new operational processes that minimize floor space, infrastructure, staffing and delays.

Although the base biometric technologies are not new, they have evolved significantly in the last several years. The three most widely used applications of biometrics are:

· Fingerprint recognition

· Face recognition

· Iris recognition

Biometric systems securely record, digitize and store the unique physical characteristics that each of us possess. Using biometrics for identity verification when entering and leaving the country, for example, allows officers to quickly compare a traveler’s physical characteristics to the original data. Although driven by complex computer algorithms, the systems empower officers to recognize – at a much quicker pace – people attempting to travel under a different name and/or who pose a threat.

The use of these technologies require a significant amount of testing to ensure they can be integrated into the security approach for CBP. While a technology may work perfectly, it may not be suited for use in every setting.

S&T notes that to better understand evolving technologies and explore innovative solutions, S&T uses its Maryland Test Facility (MdTF). Located just outside of Washington, D.C., the MdTF has been instrumental in testing and evaluating the technology and processes to optimize entry/exit from U.S. airports.

“The real-world testing simulations have given S&T and CBP the ability to accurately evaluate multiple technologies and processes without negatively impacting the travelling public or putting anyone at risk,” said Vemury. “The use of the facility also helps keep costs down since we can test more things more quickly without delaying any travelers.”

More than 150 different commercial and government technologies and processes have been reviewed and tested under various conditions and configurations..

Approximately 2,500 volunteers (representing a multitude of ethnicities and cultures) assisted by playing the roles of travelers. This allowed S&T and CBP to test and evaluate biometric systems and other processes in real-world airport scenarios.

The testing S&T directed at the MdTF has resulted in tangible and actionable results.

During the assessments, S&T focused on both technology and the procedures, studying, developing, testing and analyzing findings to determine the validity of the manufacturer’s claims as well as how something works within the overall system. S&T then disseminated recommendations to CBP for consideration and potential future deployment at airports. 

Through this exhaustive process, S&T captured and analyzed important user-experience data.

The results of these evaluations have informed the next generation of technologies and how best to use that technology with future travelers.  

CBP’s partnership with DHS S&T has informed many aspects of our biometric entry/exit transformation efforts,” said Colleen Manaher, Executive Director, Policy, Program Analysis, and Evaluation, Office of Field Operations, CBP. “We are grateful for our strong relationship with DHS S&T and look forward to continuing our combined efforts.”

“Based upon the work that S&T is doing with its partners, the future of international travel to the U.S. looks even safer, more secure and surprisingly efficient,” S&T says.