Silicon Valley Offers Tech Fix for San Jose Airport Security

Congressman Eric Swalwell is calling for more security at San Jose Airport after a teenager hopped the fence to catch a flight to Hawaii and NBC Bay Area’s undercover investigation exposed other potential security weaknesses.

Silicon Valley’s technology expertise may offer a viable-and close to home-solution for possible security weaknesses at San Jose Airport, according to Congressman Eric Swalwell who represents the 15th district (which includes most of Alameda County). Now, he’s calling for action.

The Congressman, who serves on the House Homeland Security Committee, toured the airport earlier this month after a teen hopped the fence to catch a flight to Hawaii weeks earlier.

NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit also exposed that a single swipe of a badge allows a variety of airport workers to bypass all security through backdoors, getting them directly in the terminal in a matter of seconds. Other airports across the country include additional checks before a worker can get past the gates.

Friday, a summit of six tech companies, led by Congressman Swalwell, will hold a press conference to demonstrate potential airport security solutions for airports to test out.

“I think it’s appropriate that the tech world can probably solve this problem,” Congressman Swalwell told NBC Bay Area.

“The story definitely raises concerns that someone who is actually not the employee-ID cardholder could be coming through the secure area,” he said.

The Congressman told NBC Bay Area Thursday he believes there needs to be a check on employees entering secure areas- whether it be a camera, a guard or biometrics.

He says San Jose airport has security cameras covering 1,000 acres, but the challenge is to actually monitoring that space.

“Right now human eyes are not verifying who is coming into the airport and TSA does not require that,” he said. “I think that’s something that we owe to the traveling public.”

The congressman said TSA standards need to be increased to better account for potential threats, but in the meantime, technologies should be utilized to enhance security at all entrance points and the perimeter.

“It’s not that San Jose isn’t following the rules, it’s just that the rules, I don’t think, contemplate the real threats that exist,” he said, “I think we need to change the standards and embrace new technology.”

GPAC Systems is one of those technologies. Used by local police departments and government agencies, the integrated system uses layers of motion sensors combined with cameras and an alert system to secure properties from airports to businesses. 

“When anyone transcends those sensors, they get an alert,” said GPAC System’s owner, Sahid Sesay. “You don’t need someone sitting there watching.”

Sesay runs the company out of his garage in the East Bay and will be part of the meeting Friday.

He says his technology can increase response time to perimeter trespassers, like the stowaway teen, by alerting officials prior to the actual breach, through the layered detection system.

“You’re ahead of the curve,” he said. “Hopefully you stop the guy before he jumps the fence not after he jumps the fence.”

His own house has the technology and sent an alert and video of the NBC Bay Area crew when entering his garage.

“The airport needs to do whatever it can with the budget it can to protect against the vulnerabilities that exist,” Congressman Swalwell insists.

He says he hopes four to five airports will participate in a pilot program to test the technologies and determine which are most efficient and cost effective.

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