(CNN) — A man wearing women’s clothing breached a fence and walked onto a runway at Newark airport on Christmas Day in the second apparent failure of a multimillion-dollar detection system designed to protect New York-area airports, authorities said Thursday.
For most of the day, the police department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said there was no visual evidence that the intruder scaled one of its high-tech security fences. Thursday night, however, police said that cameras captured images of the trespasser and an alarm was triggered. They said they were investigating the actions of the person who monitors the cameras.
The union representing port authority police officers as well as a law enforcement source said the trespasser scaled a fence and ran across two runways to Terminal C.
The intruder was identified as Siyah Bryant, 24, of Jersey City, who was charged with trespassing and released.
Newark Liberty International Airport as well as other New York-area airports are equipped with a Perimeter Intrusion Detection System, or PIDS, manufactured by the Massachusetts-based Raytheon Co. According to Raytheon’s website, the mission of the $100 million system is “to detect, assess and track intruders attempting to gain access into exterior secure areas.”
The system includes ground surveillance radars, video cameras with motion detection and “smart” fencing, according to Raytheon’s website.
In a statement Thursday night, Port Authority Police Chief Louie Koumoutsos said investigators were reviewing “why it took an unacceptably long time for officers to locate and take into custody a suspect who was being held by an airport employee.”
“After a daylong review of video from the airport, it appears the PIDS security system worked as designed, as an alarm was signaled and the cameras captured an image of an individual coming over the fence,” he added. “The investigation is now focusing on the actions of the operator who monitors the camera and the alarms. The investigation will continue until we have answers regarding this matter.”
Paul Nunziato, president of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association, which represents airport officers, said Bryant first scaled an eight-foot exterior fence and then a 10-foot, high-tech fence equipped with motion sensors and CCTV cameras before walking across the two runways.
Nunziato said the PIDS system generates many false positives and that some cameras don’t work properly in dark areas. “Sometimes when it rains, when the wind blows,” he said, “the system shuts down.”
The union official said the system did detect an intruder who scaled a fence at John F. Kennedy Airport last week but the suspect wasn’t apprehended until 10 minutes after being detected by PIDS.
“If the system worked properly we would have caught the guy as he’s climbing the fence,” Nunziato said.
A law enforcement official, who is not authorized to speak publicly about the case, also told CNN that Bryant allegedly climbed a fence to get to the runway.
Bryant told detectives he got spooked while in a car with someone and tried to get away, the official said.
At no time were any planes in danger, the official said, adding that investigators were trying to determine what happened.
Also on Christmas Day, police in Phoenix arrested 49-year-old Robert Bump after he allegedly ran onto the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, police said. Tower officials saw Bump climb over a fence and run onto the tarmac and taxiway.
A Southwest Airlines plane was on the taxiway, Phoenix police spokesman James Holmes said. The pilot shut down the plane’s engines when told the man was approaching. Bump, who appeared intoxicated, struck the plane’s engine with his hands before heading toward the terminal, where he was arrested.
Deborah Ostreicher, deputy aviation director at the Phoenix airport, said Sky Harbor some years ago decided against installing PIDS fencing because it was costly and unproven.
“The technology was not something we felt was worth investing in,” she said. The airport instead relied on layers of security, including barbed-wire fences, cameras and the eyes of airport workers. “It was extremely expensive and not something we felt was warranted.”
In August 2012, the PIDS at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport failed to notice a man who walked onto a runway, authorities said.
The man, who was arrested after being spotted by an airline employee, told police he was on a Jet Ski on Jamaica Bay adjacent to the runway and became stranded, according to the Port Authority.
The man climbed onto the tarmac from the water, but the airport’s security system did not detect him.
Nunziato said the authority resumed regular police patrols along the perimeters of airports after that breach.
Jeff Price, an aviation expert and professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said the intrusion detection technology has been used around prisons and military bases for a long time but was relatively new to airports.
“In this case, you’ve got older technology that’s proven in certain areas, but now you’ve put it into a new environment, a new dynamic,” he said.
“And this is something that’s gonna take some time.”
There are no fixed standards for the systems because the federal Transportation Security Administration doesn’t require them, Price said.
“These systems are not perfect,” Price added. “This is technology and anything mechanical, anything electrical, anything built by the hand of man at some point has a failure rate. So you can’t just rely on one layer of security, and our system does not. … We can’t rely on one layer of security. We have to continue to have a multiple layered system.”
Security in and around airports, as opposed to gates and planes, is handled by local authorities, not the national Transportation Security Administration. All airports, however, report their security plans to the Federal Aviation Administration.
In 2012, the TSA was criticized for failing to report, track and fix other types of airport security breaches adequately, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.
The report said the TSA “does not have a complete understanding” of breaches at the nation’s airports.
The report was requested by the late New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg after a series of breaches at the Newark Liberty International Airport, including a knife bypassing TSA screening, passengers walking around security checkpoints and a dead dog transported without being screened for explosives.
The TSA responded to those incidents with “corrective action,” according to the inspector general, but not all the problems received the same treatment.
The TSA took action to fix only 42% of the security breaches documented at the Newark airport, according to the report.
“There’s no consistency because there is no clear guidance on what to report and when to report,” Charles Edwards, acting inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security at the time, told a congressional hearing. “One of our recommendations is that they have to have a comprehensive oversight program where they provide clear guidance on how each of the airports need to be reporting and then TSA needs to follow through.”
Most of the incidents examined occurred in 2010, and the report said since then efforts to fix security breach vulnerabilities have improved.
Five other large U.S. terminals were visited by inspectors for comparison, but the airports’ names were withheld from the public report.
Of the six airports visited, records were found detailing efforts to fix the causes of 53% of the breaches.
Newark was the lowest-scoring. The highest-rated airport reported corrective action in 88% of the breaches.
In 2010, Haison Jiang, 28, of Piscataway, New Jersey, was arrested on a trespassing charge after allegedly triggering a security breach at the Newark airport.
Security video from the incident showed a TSA officer who left his post unattended a few minutes after he asked an unidentified man to stay behind the rope line. Moments later, the man ducks under the rope and walks the wrong way through security to greet a woman, prompting a security breach that shut down Terminal C for hours and forced the re-screening of thousands of passengers.
CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz, Alexandra Field, Morgan Winsor, Ronni Berke contributed to this report.