Provide Secured Access For Airports

May 4, 2017
Getting the right mix of policies and procedures in place can enhance security while minimizing queues.
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Sixteen years after 9/11 and the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), airports are still working to balance passengers' desire to have a hassle-free experience with the need to guard against all potential threats.

On Nov. 1, 2013, a gunman opened fire in Terminal 3 of Los Angeles International Airport, killing a TSA officer and injuring others. And on Jan. 6, a gunman opened fire in the baggage claim area of Terminal 2 at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, killing five people and injuring six others.

A bomb attack at Brussels Airport on March 22, 2016, killed 32 people and three of the bombers, with more than 300 others injured. Another bomb attack happened at Turkey’s Istanbul Atatürk Airport on June 28, killing 45 and injuring more than 200 others. These attacks have airports around the world on high alert, constantly working on plans to ensure the safety of the traveling public.

Orlando airport has seen many changes over the past 16 years, as have most all airports in the U.S., said Brian Gilliam, director of security at Orlando International Airport. "The challenge has been and continues to be the never-ending attempts to plug security vulnerabilities and respond to new security threats," he said. "Our airport was originally built to move people and baggage as quickly and efficiently as possible, but now we must try and achieve that goal while layering on more and more security processes and requirements."

The Los Angeles Airport Police works closely with TSA and has established requirements to implement security background checks for airport and airline employees, said Rob Pedregon, the public information officer for the Los Angeles Airport Police Department. "Through this process, initial and recurrent background checks are made. This Secure Identification Display Area (SIDA) badging process is conducted prior to granting unescorted access to any sterile area of the airport," he said.

Together with TSA, the Los Angeles Airport Police conducts random screenings of employees as they enter restricted areas, said Pedregon. "For unpredictability, these screenings vary in times and locations."

The Los Angeles Airport Police has a dedicated unit to enforce TSA rules and regulations, said Pedregon. "The Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Unit independently and collaboratively conduct audits of employees and vendors," he said. "They work hand in hand with planning and construction to ensure that any additions or changes are within aviation security guidelines and work to reduce access to critical areas when necessary."

Los Angeles Airport Police conduct random vehicle inspections at airport access points prior to entering the Central Terminal Area, said Pedregon. "These vehicle checkpoints, called Operation Safe Entry, give us the ability to mitigate threats before they enter highly populated areas," he explained. "Like our random screening of employees, they are conducted at varying times and locations for unpredictability."

Los Angeles International Airport has enhanced its perimeter fencing and is in the process of replacing and installing new bollards throughout the airport to mitigate incidents like the tragic event that took place in London in 2005, said Pedregon.

Orlando airport interacts with TSA on a daily basis to ensure that stated goals and objectives are adhered to and that both sides are getting the most from our collective efforts, said Gilliam. "We have worked side by side with the TSA from the first day they arrived at our airport. The Greater Orlando Airport Authority has provided space and access to technology to help them perform their tasks while providing world class service."

Like LAX, Orlando also employs a layered approach to security. "[This] allows multiple strategies to be deployed that will address many different threats simultaneously," said Gilliam.

One such layer is Orlando’s approach to the insider threat, said Gilliam. "We are one of only three airports nationally that conducts full employee screening to ensure the significant employee population remains in compliance with all security processes," he said. "Probably the single most significant process that the authority put into place was the requirement of full employee screening. This was not and is not an inexpensive program to maintain, but we feel it is probably the one of the most important security processes at Orlando International Airport."

When it comes to federal and airport funding, the biggest bang for the buck has been spent on CCTV feeds, equipment and training, said Pedregon. "We hold monthly `Trunk Top Trainings' with all of our local, federal and airline partners and conduct scenario-based trainings," he said. "These trainings provide each entity with an understanding of who will be responding, what their responsibilities will be and what resources are available in a multitude of circumstances."

Orlando has dedicated personnel that take the funding needs expressed by various departments at the authority and look for ways to maximize the available grants, cooperative funding and other sources of capital to obtain the best return on investment., said Gilliam. "I will again point to our Full Employee Screening program as the biggest bang for our buck, but we also have invested considerably in technology, some of which was supported by federal funds."

One of the biggest challenges we face in balancing the need for safety and ensuring a good passenger experience is by far convenience and efficiency, said Pedregon. "LAX has seen a consistent increase in the number of travelers and vehicles that pass through our airport annually," he said. As the passenger and cargo numbers increase we are tasked with finding new ways to increase and enhance security without compromising our guest experience."

It is always a balancing act, said Gilliam. "We try to go above and beyond in providing what we call the `Orlando Experience' that elevates our customer’s experience at the airport to the extent that the safety and security measures seem minimized and less intrusive or cumbersome in their overall experience," he said.

LAX is using technology, during critical incidents, to ensure the safety and security of the traveling public by providing real-time communication and information through the use of electronic messaging boards, the Nixle subscription messaging service and a wireless emergency notification system that has the ability to ping all smartphones in a specified area with a message, said Pedregon.

"We’ve also incorporated a text to 911 service where the public can text a message directly to our dispatch center," he said. "This service could be especially useful in a situations when speaking isn’t possible or prudent like in a shelter in place situation."

Orlando does not discuss specific security technology or tools, said Gilliam. "But it is a multilayered approach that utilizes technology, physical infrastructure and human assets in the overall methodology," he said. "Without going into too much detail about our security processes and technology, I can say that we believe in a layered approach to security. We have invested large sums of money in perimeter surveillance and detection technology, CCTV, communication advancement and improvements, and the use of explosive detection K-9s."

The future of airport security is now, said Pedregon. "Every day, changes are being made to expedite the screening process. New technology is being added to screen multiple passengers at the same time," he said. "The use of TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry have added to the efficiency."

LAX is undergoing a $14 billion construction project that includes an automated people mover that will have connections to light rail, parking structures and a consolidated rental car facility, said Pedregon. "This project will substantially reduce the number of vehicles in the Central Terminal Area. By far, we see the future of airport security as a form of community-based policing," he said. "Our employees and passengers are the added eyes and ears to our layers of security."

Flexibility will be the ongoing challenge because as threats change, so must airports' approach to mitigating those threats and trying to be proactive in our efforts instead or simply reactive, said Gilliam. "Technology will play a significant role, but human factors and elements will always play a vital role in securing our airports," he said. "It is expected that there will be increased use of technology not only in the terminals, but at the beginning of the passenger ticketing process.

"The more we know about the traveling public prior to their visit to the airport the better we can protect ourselves," he said. "And I think you will see much more security training being offered to all airport employees. Airport employees are our frontline defense against threats to the airport and the more they are trained on what to look for and how to report and respond to threats the safer we will all be."

About the Author

Benét Wilson | Senior Editor