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Changing Checkpoint Technology Requires Design Evolution

Changing Checkpoint Technology Requires Design Evolution

By Mark Schuette, PE, LEED AP

Lines are still long. Belts and shoes still must be removed. Everyone from children to the elderly is still being patted down. Yet, the airport checkpoint is still not what it needs to be. In fact, International Air Transport Association (IATA) statistics show throughput remains low at 149 passengers per hour compared to a pre-9/11 high of 350 passengers per hour.

Airlines struggling to stay competitive continue to cut labor costs with technology deployments at ticket counters and gates. Different versions of self-service kiosks have been tried, cast away and then tried again. The seemingly endless string of airline consolidations puts higher demands on a terminal and its systems, while the need for more power and rerouted communication can be arduous.

A downside of the rapid advances in technology is the need for a physical facility to support those rapid changes. The generational lifespan of a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening technology is three to five years, and terminal operators can no longer rely on coring new holes in the floor to supply power and data to a field of devices.

Products and design and construction methods need to adapt to this high churn rate to make it easier to reconfigure checkpoints, ticket counters and self-service kiosks.

New Technologies in an Ever-Changing World

New technologies are being developed, tested and auditioned virtually continually by manufacturers, with select cases studied by the TSA. Checkpoints of the future could have one new look or myriad deployments. X-ray machines could give way to computed tomography explosives detection systems at checkpoints. Boarding pass readers will be developed and surely go through several generations. Shoe scanning machines may even be added to the check-in process.

Last year, IATA previewed three 20-foot, specially designed tunnels last year that could allow passengers to continue walking while being checked for assorted and sundry items. This would be a major shift in thinking and checkpoint design. Laser sensing and facial lie detection machines add to the potential palette of technology.

Terrorists threats are ever-evolving, and so too must technology and detection systems.

Electrical Considerations

Electricity makes the world go round, and it certainly is needed for all equipment required at a checkpoint, ticket counter or kiosk. However, when it comes to retrofits, it seems it is never located where you need it to be.

The typical new circuit work order looks something like this:

  • Remove that circuit back to the first convenient pullbox or all the way back to the panel board.
  • Remove the conduit through the floor to the pullbox.
  • Rework the conduit to a new location.
  • Core drill at the new location.
  • X-ray the floor, and route the new circuit through the new poke-through assembly.

With the number of redesigns evolving technology requires, completing work orders like this would create continually disrupted checkpoints with time-consuming and costly projects.

Track busway has been used to provide flexible retail lighting environments and data centers for years. Track busway would keep the retrofit work above the floor and in the vicinity of the equipment. Because retail areas and data centers are both high churn, it leads us to believe that track busways could be a viable option; however, the challenge would be making it architecturally pleasing.

Low-profile access floor is another product used elsewhere that could be adapted to a checkpoint or counter. These products are only a few inches in height and would require a gradually sloping surface. Durability would certainly come into question, but the strategic use of these products would allow power and communication cable to be re-routed with minimal difficulty or disruption and no new holes in the floor. Ticket counters were moved out to accommodate explosives trace detection machines, then pushed back when in-line systems were developed. Each of these changes adds holes.

In office spaces, when a lot of churn is anticipated, demountable, moveable walls are often deployed. Power and communications are routed behind removable panels used in lieu of gypboard. Plug-and-play electrical systems are available and can eliminate the need for a licensed electrician to be present during the move. These systems would allow a checkpoint to grow if new equipment or additional components require more space.

Each of these products will need careful consideration, but unless the goal is a Swiss cheese-looking floor slab, something new and different needs to be done from the facility standpoint. Technology is not and will likely never be stagnant, and therefore it is impractical to think a terminal can remain status quo.

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