In the last few weeks, airports around the world have been forced to take action to help safeguard against the spread of Ebola. Screening programs are being introduced to quell public concern and reduce the risk of people exhibiting symptoms from entering the country without further testing.
A person can incubate Ebola for many days before exhibiting symptoms. But once a person has been diagnosed, time is of the essence in retracing his or her contacts with others. Accurate and timely information can help to assess the broader risk to others, and more importantly keep the disease from proliferating further.
Of course, in an airport environment, one source of vital information is the flight manifest. But what about the people who may have come into direct contact with the subject after that? What about the official who greeted the person at border control? The on-site coffee shop worker who sold him an Americano and a sandwich? The bureau-de-change operator who exchanged currency for him? The driver and 75 passengers on the bus he took to the parking garage?
According to Jamie Wilson of NICE it would be virtually impossible to retrace the person’s footsteps without trawling through hours and hours of CCTV footage, especially for a large sprawling airport where CCTV cameras are everywhere. How would an investigator know where to look, or even what they were looking for? It would be quite literally like searching for a needle in a haystack.
“Using technologies such as NICE’s Suspect Search, it’s possible to locate a person of interest, and retrace his or her movements across a surveillance network in minutes,” says Jamie. “Those results can then be viewed on a map with links to related video footage showing other individuals the person came into contact with as well.”
The Ebola threat is still evolving, but it’s very clear that airports will have a critical role in preventing this deadly disease from spreading across borders. As news reports have shown, it isn’t likely to be fool proof, but airports can and should use every tool at their disposal to help control and contain the threat.