Security Expert Urges Increased Security at Toronto's Pearson Airport

Roaming armed police officers and dozens of sniffing dogs need to be deployed at Pearson International Airport, an expert on aviation terrorism says.

Putting these measures in place not only would make passengers feel safer, but also would send a strong message to would-be terrorists, Gunnar Kuepper said yesterday.

"You need to show the bad guys that you're doing something and if (they) try anything (they're) going to get caught," said Kuepper, chief of operations with Emergency & Disaster Management Inc. in Los Angeles, which advises private and public organizations.

Kuepper, who addressed a group of attorneys at the Association of Trial Lawyers of America's annual conference at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto yesterday, also said Pearson officials are too secretive about the airport's security.

While Kuepper believes Toronto is likely a low terrorist target, he said after the conference that it was "absolutely essential" for airports such as Pearson to have a heavy and highly visible police presence.

Kuepper's comments come in the wake of a report in April from federal Auditor General Sheila Fraser, who said there continues to be "serious weaknesses" in Canadian airport security screenings post 9/11, despite improvements in explosives detection.

"One of the things that criminals and terrorists and suicide bombers have in common is they don't like police because they're on a bad mission," Kuepper said in an interview. "Police interfere with their plans. They try to avoid police. The presence of police makes them go away from their target.

"Look at the heavy police presence in the New York subway system since the London bombings. People may not like it. Some people do. But it sends a strong message to the bad guys."

No officials with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, Peel police or the RCMP will reveal how many officers regularly patrol Pearson's terminals.

Connie Turner, spokeswoman for the GTAA, said Pearson has been on "increased vigilance" since the London bombings and insisted Pearson's normal security measures were "higher than" at other airports.

"From our operations, very little would happen that we wouldn't be on top of immediately," Turner said. "Our security is quite visible in the terminals. No question about that. We have terminal officers, police, K-9 units on regular patrols. We certainly are well staffed in terms of security at the airport."

However, during a 40-minute walk through the public areas of Pearson's Terminal 1, the Star saw just two uniformed Peel police officers - one each on the arrivals and departures level - and one dog with its handler. There was no visible security staff in the journey from the parking area to the terminal.

Kuepper said he has no idea whether Pearson is safe or unsafe when it comes to preventing terrorist attacks because airport officials won't share their security measures and procedures with his group.

"They keep things to themselves," Kuepper said. "We do a lot of safety, emergency response and security audits of airports both informally and formally, but Pearson has never been very open. I don't think they appreciate the opportunity of having third parties looking at their procedures and policies."

Turner said Kuepper was correct in his assessment as far as Pearson not sharing its security procedures.

"We don't normally release what we do for security measures ... why would we?" Turner said.

Some information is public. When Terminal 1 opened in 2004, officials said as many as 10,000 surveillance cameras had been installed as part of the facility's state-of-the art security measures.

As well, every piece of luggage placed on a plane is fully screened through a multi-step scanning system that combines manual and electronic surveillance with X-ray and bomb detection equipment.

But Kuepper said Pearson needs to be far more open with its security measures.

"If you want to have a really comprehensive security system, you need to also involve society and the public," Kuepper said. "Absolutely, some things need to be kept secretive. But you need to also show the public, and the media, that your airport is safe and secure.

"Like New York is doing with it subway system, where police are checking bags and looking in every car."

Kuepper is also head of the International Association of Emergency Managers for the southwestern United States, a non-profit educational organization that has worked with the U.S. government. He said his organization is often invited by airport industry officials to discuss security measures.

"We had a meeting in April in California where we talked about tactics and emergency response and rescue procedures and every major airport in Canada had a representative there except Pearson," Kuepper said. "But exchanging ideas and seeking information is all part of being proactive in protecting and serving the public."

Turner said she didn't know why Pearson chose not to attend the California conference, but insisted Pearson representatives regularly attend other conferences worldwide.