Architects fight airport security threats with flexible design

Sat Jul 2, 2016 7:00am EDT
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By Alwyn Scott and Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK, July 2 (Reuters) - Gresham, Smith and Partners recently designed a screening area at Norfolk International Airport in Virginia with one major concern in mind: flexibility, so it can adapt to changing security threats.

From box-cutters to explosives to automatic weapons, the dangers for airport security evolve. So the firm created a large, open space without support columns that can be easily reconfigured to bring in the next generation of screening machines.

"We don't know what's coming next so we design for that," said Wilson Rayfield, executive vice president in charge of aviation at the architecture, design and consulting firm.

In the face of airport threats such as Tuesday's deadly attack in Istanbul, designers are asked to come to the frontline of the security challenge and achieve the nearly impossible: improve security without slowing down travelers.

The stakes are high. In Istanbul, three suspected Islamic State suicide bombers killed 44 people and wounded 238 in a gun and bomb attack. In Brussels on March 22, two Islamic State suicide bombers detonated suitcase bombs in the airport departure hall before a third struck a metro train in the city, killing 32 people in all.

Sometimes, art and function coincide. Open spaces and high ceilings can reduce the impact of a concussive blast.

Other times, designers are working to reduce congestion in non-secure areas and create more offsite checkpoints. They seek to channel passengers in ways that take advantage of high-tech sensors, cameras and facial recognition software that may help police stop assailants before they kill.

"Aviation has a lot to learn from Las Vegas casinos," said Rayfield, referring to surveillance cameras and crowd control methods that he said allow three-fourths of visitors to be identified.   Continued...