Another incident was just added to an already long list of recent airport security concerns and failures.
There was panic at the New Orleans Airport tonight after a police officer shot a man who attacked T.S.A. Agents with bug spray and a machete. Earlier this week there was an attempted hijacking of United Airlines Flight 1074 from Dulles International Airport to Denver. Last week we saw a woman breach airport security at SFO. Last month it was hundreds of security badges reported missing followed by reports of many vehicles bypassing security checkpoints to enter airfield grounds, and let’s not forget the gun running charges brought against of baggage handlers at the end of last year.
Over the course of the past ten years I have conducted hundreds of security operations in airports throughout the United States. One thing has remained constant: Access control onto the plane has become more strict, while access into the terminal has largely remained unchanged.
Procedure only works if you follow it every time, and while most airports have a great “policy on paper” the application of that policy is often less than prescribed. As a frequent traveler, this can is a frustrating ordeal. Despite being public facilities under government control, there is little to no uniformity from one airport to the next. While some airports are more strict than others about how long a car may wait at the curb, almost all airports allow free-reign within the terminal up to the security screening checkpoint.
I have never understood the logic of having the inner-circle of a public venue secured while the vast majority of the surrounding area was left unchecked. If you go to the White House you are screened before you enter the building, not before entering the Oval Office. If you go to Disney World you are screened at the main gate, not at the line to ride Space Mountain.
Last year’s shooting at LAX proved this to be a fatal flaw. We must understand that a magnetometer does nothing to prevent an individual from bringing a weapon into the terminal. It simply alerts security services that someone has already done so. Deep inside a crowded airport, this warning comes much too late to be effective. In fact, it’s arguably much worse.
What happened when the gunman at LAX started shooting? Everyone stormed through the screening checkpoint. What does this tell future terrorist? Be willing to sacrifice one member at the checkpoint, and the likelihood of getting others through increases exponentially.
For all of the technological advances available, nothing will ever have a more positive impact on safety than effective access control.
Airports already have significant protective barriers in place at each entrance. They are called doors. Doors are have one intended purpose: Access Control.
Access Control saves lives. A venue’s ability to pre-determine where an initiation of violence must first take place allows for a venue’s protective resources to be allocated where they will be most effective – at the point of entry!
For the active shooter, the violent act is of greater significance than their target. Therefore, likelihood of success is the single greatest factor in target selection. Airport terminals offer a higher likelihood of success, because most of their protective resources are employed inside the venue.
Police won’t argue they employ a mostly reactive approach, but protection efforts require preventative measures. Working together, safety can be certain.
Of course, changing the entire construct of an airport facility takes time and money.
So how can this issue be fixed today?
For all the talk we hear about the ominous surveillance state, there is still no greater deterrent to violence than a positive personal interaction.
Have you ever been to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport? Someone greets you as soon as you exit your vehicle.
Greeters, information providers, security guards, dogs, or police posted at all entrances – not roaming – but posted at each entrance and simply saying hello to every person who enters the facility is an effective yet non-invasive approach to access control. If someone posted sees something suspicious, or identifies someone displaying characteristics of a pre-incident indicator, immediate attention can be called to the situation. This is a much more practical application than hoping someone in a command center happens to be looking at just the right monitor, at just the right person, at just the right time.
The psychological deterrence of a simple inter-personal communication carries much more weight than the thought of “being watched” – especially when anonymity is of paramount importance to the likelihood of your success.
We must prepare today for a safer tomorrow. A practical approach to realistic threats should be our first priority. Ensuring public safety should be our first concern.