High-Flying Project Management

The nationwide roll out of an advanced airport security communication system offers lessons for any technology upgrade across a diverse portfolio

By Michael E. Duffy  

As part of the effort to assure secure air travel since Sept. 11, federal security directors (FSDs) have been appointed to oversee federal security operations in commercial airports nationwide. Their mission requires secure, reliable and robust communications capable of moving large volumes of data quickly. More than a year ago, efforts began to provide the information technology communications that underpin FSD operations. The plan was to give at least an initial analog capability, quickly provide digital capability and work to deploy fiberoptic cable and other technology over time. The vision embraces secure communications that move video, audio and other data in real-time to provide security preparedness, monitoring and response.

When the program began, the new FSDs had not been appointed; indeed the Department of Homeland Security did not exist. Even so, plans were in the making to give FSDs a jump-start on operations in the 50 states and U.S. territories by putting into place the infrastructure essential to their near-term and longer-term communications functions.

Getting off the Ground

Since then, these capabilities have been rolled out at more than 400 sites under an information technology managed services (ITMS) contract. The effort required that input from local operations staff and owners be factored into a national roll out while keeping the overall program reasonably standardized. Keeping the security program on track —assuring that both facilities and IT needs were met as well as addressing schedule and budget requirements — required a sharp focus on project management. Indeed, the program shows the crucial role of effective project management when it comes to managing complex technology roll outs in uncertain times.

The top three concerns of airport security are passenger screening, baggage screening and secure information technology — both to monitor systems and to pass information with greatest speed. The ITMS roll out addresses the third point: providing communications connectivity to federalized security operations in airports. That same local area network/wide area network (LAN/WAN) provides the means for secure communications up and down the chain of command of the Transportation Security Administration.

The installed LAN/WAN completes the horizontal and vertical communications network using primarily coaxial and fiber-optic cabling. It lets FSDs “see” what’s going on in virtually all aspects of the federalized secure environment at commercial airports, including security screening checkpoints, training areas, break areas, and within and between offices. Ultimately, these communications will provide an IT backbone to conduct and monitor federal security operations at all U.S. commercial airports.

Getting the work done proved to be a complex process. At the start of the project, staff teams began to survey airport sites, both on-site and off-site locations, to gather information and plan the facilities deployment. The goal was to try to deploy the IT solution as quickly as possible.

Under the circumstances, this was hardly routine work, especially after Sept.11 and the push to make airports more secure. What’s more, the legislation creating the new Department of Homeland Security had not been passed by Congress; no capital investment could be undertaken until DHS appropriations were legislated and signed into law.

This created a practical problem: Development of the IT network could proceed as part of the operations and maintenance function, but work on the facilities in which the IT network would operate could not move forward. The risk was a potential failure to integrate interior fit-out completely with ITMS. Imagine perfectly designed LAN/WAN components humming confidently on the bare floor of an office. By contract, this was an acceptable outcome. But no client would have accepted this result, and the team set out to avoid it.

Basics of IT Facilities Delivery

In any effort to integrate IT infrastructure as part of a comprehensive delivered solution, two primary components need to be addressed simultaneously. First, the facilities planning must embrace the functional requirements and security demands of the IT system. Second, LAN/WAN designers must design a solution that properly achieves full functionality.

Achieving those goals wasn’t going to be easy. Jon Mathiasen, president and CEO of Capital Region Airport Commission in Virginia puts it this way: “When anyone designs or builds at our international airport in Richmond, we want them to make sure that they do three things. Their work has to be part of the integrated fabric of our infrastructure that is designed for tomorrow, not just today. The facilities must function to design standard and be maintainable without extraordinary effort when compared to the function played by them. Finally, and most importantly, no matter what the infrastructure is, it must contribute to a satisfying and superior travel experience.”

A major challenge was to plan preliminary facilities deployment before a definitive requirements document or final specifications had been prepared. The initial work had to facilitate the follow-on, site-specific LAN/WAN design. It also had to produce schematic documents to support eventual facilities planning, including coax/fiber cabling, low- and high-voltage power, and HVAC.

As part of the initial work, a facilities-planning survey checklist was developed. This checklist was designed to be comprehensive enough that it would likely cover any final requirements; the idea was to avoid repeated trips to more than 440 locations.

The checklist was a way to get work started, but it soon became evident that there were problems with that approach. For one thing, it was difficult to get timely answers to all the questions from local owners. What’s more, the results of the survey effort were erratic. Finally, the checklist did not produce information that could be used to plan both the IT network and facilities.

An additional difficulty was that the ITMS contract was structured as an IT services contract with little in it relating to base facilities design and construction. This complicated the planning effort in several ways. For example, the LAN/WAN designers would need specific information that could be best represented in basic facilities schematic drawings, not checklists. And local jurisdictions each would have a different standard and process for submittals, review, and permitting that had to be addressed.

Course Correction

It was essential to streamline the facilities build-out process. There’s an old aviation adage: “If you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen one airport.” That was true in this project. The project had a global requirement with unique local constraints, such as permitting, codes, standards, approval and coordination. It was essential to address the differences between sites in the planning stage.

To meet needs at both levels — a standardized approach that would address local requirements — the elaborate checklist was replaced with a new baseline deliverable: a succinct two-page memorandum of key information and seven required attachments, mostly drawings.

That standard drawing set included the demarcation location, the FSD offices, the main distribution frame locations, the security screening checkpoint, and other significant points to be connected in the LAN/WAN design. All drops were accompanied by pulled-cable length annotations and all drawings were produced in CAD. Shareware was provided to those who wanted to review the documents but who did not have or want CAD software.

Furthermore, a simple one-page contract annex included base facilities-related survey, design, build-out, and scheduling information.

This baseline deliverable provided a standardized format and accommodated the differences between sites: The documents to be provided were standardized while differences between sites were summarized in the two-page memo and attachments. This strategy also made it easier to use this initial information to develop schedules within the program’s life-cycle activities.

The resulting schematics were sufficient to undertake LAN/WAN design and to bid the facilities build-out. The CAD backgrounds with voice/power/data drop symbols also facilitated final space planning and interior fit-out. In short, the new approach solved the problem of linking the LAN/WAN and facilities designs. The schedule that arose from the initial effort integrated predeployment, base facilities, LAN/WAN design, deployment and turnover to provide comprehensive program visibility.

The facilities that were built met local code, were standard at the mix of local project sites and essentially similar to work nationwide. That standardization increased system reliability, made for more uniform system performance, and reduced operations and maintenance requirements.

Lessons Learned

This national roll out holds useful project management lessons for any effort involving the upgrade of technology across a diverse portfolio. Among the key lessons learned:

  • Functional requirements and minimum specifications should be determined as early as possible.
  • A standard baseline deliverable that fosters both facilities build-out and LAN/WAN design should be developed. That deliverable needs to be tailored to reflect on-site requirements, local codes and unique considerations related to individual sites.
  • Local permitting requirements need to be addressed properly.
  • Components should be standardized where possible to minimize follow-on operations and maintenance costs.
  • Final payment should be conditioned on record drawings and signed acceptance documents.
  • Those who plan and integrate IT technology need the benefit of facilities experience on their team to be able to achieve plug-and-play capabilities without a hitch in the process.

From a project management perspective, the streamlined site surveys were key. They could be completed in days so that LAN/WAN design could commence in earnest while facilities build-out proceeded on an independent timeline. This approach advanced LAN/WAN design and facilities build-out simultaneously. The concomitant scheduling allowed key resource managers to see where their finite resources could achieve optimum results. It was also a useful tool to present program updates for top management and for the federal government.

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  posted on 2/1/2004   Article Use Policy

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