Sochi International Airport: tightening security ahead of the XXII Winter Olympics

The 7th February 2014 will mark the start of the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. This will be the first major sporting event to take place in Russia since the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Despite all the excitement surrounding the potential for new sporting records being achieved on the slopes, rinks, tracks and runs, the Games also present fresh security challenges for the organisers. Sochi International Airport is the key transportation hub serving the Games within the region and, as such, it is under intense scrutiny as it prepares to serve up to 3,800 passengers per hour at the peak of the Games’ activity. Philip Baum speaks to the people on the ground whose job it is, in Sochi, to ensure security in the air. How have they prepared for the Olympiad and what will the legacy of the Games be for Sochi?

Sochi is the first Olympic host city to be located on the doorstep of the Caucasus region, an area smouldering with nationalist and religious conflicts and frequently targeted by international terrorist cells. Against this backdrop, the Russian government has deployed state-of-the-art security equipment including drones, new high-speed patrol boats and robotic vehicles to stave off the possibility of Sochi being targeted.

Over 30,000 police officers and thousands of other security staff have been sent from all over Russia to protect the city and patrol Olympic venues while the Defence Ministry itself has deployed a Special Forces brigade of battle-hardened veterans of the Chechen wars, and other conflicts, to patrol the forested mountains forming Sochi’s scenic background.
Sochi International Airport has also tightened its security as one would expect for any Olympic host’s gateway. However, the attack against Moscow International Domodedovo Airport on 24th January 2011, in which a suicide bomber blew himself up in the arrivals hall, killing 37 people and injuring more than 180, prompted even greater investment and demanded even more resilience.

Sochi International Airport on High Alert

Basel Aero is the company operating Sochi International Airport and its Head of Aviation Security, Viktor Shesternin, is under no illusion as to the challenges the airport faces. “The terrorist attack on Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport became a kind of a reference point for all of us,” he said. “It made us rethink the efficiency of the existing security system in Basel Aero’s airports and then go out and develop a new one.”

Within a couple of weeks of the 2011 attack, Russia’s state bodies had updated legislation on air transport security. “A decree issued both by the Transport Ministry and the Government called for the tightening of security for air transport and airports, a move which eventually triggered an overall revamp of the airports’ security systems,” Shesternin said.
Sochi airport faced an even more challenging task – to upgrade its security in a way that would be sufficient not only for regular operations but also for the busy, and heightened threat, Olympic period.

In 2011, Basel Aero started cooperation with Electronika, a Yaroslavl-based company and a leader in development of integrated security systems in Russia. Two years later, in July 2013, the Sochi system was installed.

According to Shesternin, Basel Aero implemented an approach similar to those used in Israel. “We took the best practices from Ben Gurion Airport and developed comprehensive layered security programmes in Sochi that protect the airport in its entirety,” Shesternin said, adding that, “Profiling, one of the most advanced security methodologies used in Ben Gurion, is also being gradually implemented in Sochi.

“The 9/11 attack has demonstrated that even the most advanced technologies can’t ensure the total safety of any of the airport’s elements or facilities. The human factor’s role in detecting threats can’t be underestimated, so the top priority for us was to train personnel in behaviour analytics,” Shesternin said. He added that Sochi Airport was also “working closely with Ben Gurion’s security officials and Moscow-based AeroMASH-Aviation Security”, a leading Russian provider of aviation security services.

How Integrated Security System Works

On the software level, the system is operated by Electronika Security Manager (ESM), which incorporates and manages all the different elements, including video surveillance and video analytics, perimeter security, access control, fire alarms, alarm buttons and the airport’s engineering system.

 

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