In the control tower at Logan International Airport, an operator sits in front of an oversized computer monitor. On the monitor, the airport tarmac below appears through the eye of a thermal imaging camera as a landscape of muted greys punctuated by the blinding white of a jet engine's exhaust as a small passenger jet slowly taxis to a terminal.
As the operator manipulates a joystick, the camera pans up and out, looking for intruders on the expanse of Boston shoreline that defines Logan's border.
The thermal imaging camera and the software that run it are part of a new test program at Logan to find technology that toughens the airport's perimeter security by automatically detecting intruders, according to Dennis Treece, director of corporate security for the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), the state agency that runs Logan, as well as a number of other air and sea ports in the state.
The source of two of the four flights involved in the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, Logan has recently undertaken a number of security initiatives and positioned itself as an early adopter of security technology. In addition to an inline baggage screening system, Logan installed a document authentication system to verify the documents of potential employees and has tested a number of biometric authentication systems, according to Massport.
On this overcast Tuesday morning not much is happening along the 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers) of beachfront bordering Logan's runways.
Still, Glenn McGonnigle, president and chief executive officer of Atlanta-based VistaScape Software, is brimming with excitement as he talks to reporters gathered around the console, gesturing first at the shoreline visible through the control tower window and then at the computer monitor.
"It's the perfect security guard," McGonnigle said.
VistaScape's SDMS (Security Data Management System) physical security integration software is a key component of the system being tested at Logan.
Coupled with infrared cameras from Flir Systems of Portland, Oregon, the SDMS software analyses a continuous stream of video images from the cameras atop Logan's control tower.
Algorithms built into the software identify abnormal movements or objects, which are then displayed graphically on a standard PC running Microsoft's Windows operating system, alerting airport personnel of potential security violations.
"We're applying IDS (intrusion detection system) concepts for networks to a real-world place," McGonnigle said.
Instead of a network perimeter, the software is charged with monitoring a state-mandated 250 foot (76 meters) "arrest zone" and 500 foot (152 meters) "security zone" that extend from Logan's borders, McGonnigle said.
The system is trained to ignore false positives such as waves, shore birds and airplanes, leaving it to focus on spotting unauthorised or suspicious persons on the airport's borders, he said.
Among other things, that will mean sorting out potential attackers from a community of fishermen who assemble at low tide to harvest shellfish from the shore, Treece said.
In the test program, the SDMS software manages data from only one infrared camera that covers a small slice of the airport perimeter. A fully implemented perimeter security system would likely require "tens of cameras" mounted at key points in the field and covering the full 360 degree circumference of the airport's perimeter, McGonnigle said.
Each camera can identify and track the movements of up to 50 simultaneous threats, which appear as white tracer lines superimposed on a static satellite image of the airport facility. That information can then be relayed to Massachusetts State Police troopers equipped with wireless PDAs (personal digital assistants) in the field, he said.
"The software can identify if there's a security threat, but also what it is and where," McGonnigle said.
The camera can also zoom in on intruders, providing "forensic quality" images that could be submitted in court as evidence of wrongdoing, according to Treece.
While little of that functionality was evidenced Tuesday, Treece was enthusiastic about the possibilities of the permieter defense technology.
"There are a lot of great uses for this kind of thing," he said.
While guarding against the remote threat posed by terrorists, the cameras will help Massport stay on top of more mundane intruders such as graffiti artists and, possibly, rats in some of the tunnels beneath the airport facility.
As opposed to using security personnel or police to watch the beach, the new system operates equally well day and night, rain or shine.
"This is designed to save manpower, saving us from having soldiers or police line up shoulder to shoulder along the beach," Treece said.
Unlike humans, the infrared cameras never blink, get the flu or "have to go to their daughter's soccer game," Treece said.
The VistaScape technology test is the last of five perimeter security technology tests that have been conducted at Logan over the past few months, he said.
The other tests involved technology similar to VistaScape's but were less "visually exciting" than the VistaScape and FLIR system, Treece said.
After the conclusion of the VistaScape test, Massport will put together its final requirements for the perimeter security system and create a formal request for proposals.
Treece declined to provide information on the agency's budget for the system, saying that Massport will ultimately pick the system that is "the best fit at the best price."
However, Treece envisions other applications for the system that is selected. In all, Massport manages more than 53 miles (85 kilometers) of perimeter across all its properties, and perimeter security systems are needed at the agency's other airports and sea ports, as well as at Logan, he said.
Massport hopes to have the new perimeter defense system up and running at Logan by the fourth quarter this year, Treece said.