Caution Flags: Former BWI director turns consultant and raises concerns about airport security

Dec. 8, 2003

Caution Flags

By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director

Former BWI director turns consultant and raises concerns about airport security
ANNAPOLIS, MD - David Blackshear has served at airports in New Orleans, Richmond, and Baltimore, as well as time with the state and highway departments of Louisiana. Today, he serves as the public sector business development director for Johnson Controls, Inc. It is a position, he says, that affords him the opportunity to raise security concerns directly to airports as well as the chance to do something about them. Johnson Controls, based in Milwaukee, provides control systems for HVAC (heat, vent, air conditioning) systems as well as integrated security solutions for airports. Acquisitions of SCIENTECH Security Services and that of Cardkey have heightened its array of solutions available to airports. Blackshear recently sat with AIRPORT BUSINESS near his home outside Annapolis. Here are edited excerpts from the interview. On the current state of airport screening ... "Does the substitution of the government program vastly enhance security from what the airlines were doing? No. The machinery is the catch. Given what TSA was charged with doing by Congress, I would say they've done as good a job as a government agency could do with checkpoint screening. It begs the question, could the private sector do that equally as well or better?"
On baggage screening ...
"Baggage security is a horse of another color. I really believe that in the aviation business that the private sector is more readily equipped to deal with the changes that take place. The government is responsive to Congress, and Congress takes a long time to make changes. Aviation changes weekly - hourly sometimes. So I think with a private sector force it would be easier to confront the threat than a government force."
On the British approach to securing airports ...
"I went to work for Northrup Grumman for about three months while they were preparing their proposal to get the EDS contract that was eventually given to Boeing. One of the things that Northrup did was they brought the Brits in. Now, the Brits are the only people in the world that have any concentrated, concerted security processes. "BAA had privatized most of the airports, and the government said to the private enterprise, you better get this stuff straight. And so they did. And what the Brits told me was, they tested everything. They bought every machine known to mankind, testing to see if they could create a functional system. They reported to me that it's basically impossible; without profiling, it can't be done. "The Brits feel like you have to have some sort of calculated process where you really approach the highest level threats and you devote most of your resources there. Congress, of course, being new at this, says, no we're going to do everything the same way; it's all cookie-cutter."On his greatest concerns related to airports and security ... "I worry about the overall comprehensive security problem; I'm afraid that we've missed the biggest potential threat. Checkpoint security and hold baggage are designed solely to protect the airplane. That's all the government in this country has ever done: protect the airplane. And with the exception of the foolish 300-foot parking rule, they really have done nothing to secure an airport. "How many people do you reckon can get into any comparable airport terminal in the lobby on a given day? How about 3,000? Or 15,000? "I have two real problems, both of which are why I'm working with Johnson Controls. The first is, the airport itself is unprotected. In the U.S., there is basically no security on the perimeter of any airport. They have a fence; that's all. Almost no perimeter detection of any kind, electronic or otherwise, and virtually no CCTV observation of the perimeter. "And, I think the biggest risk to our buildings is not explosions, but poisonous gases and biological agents, which could be easily released in any part of an airport and the person could just walk away. Based on how heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems work, they take air and instantaneously move it around the building. You could literally take out an entire airport with chemical agents. There is no protection for that; there are no plans for that; there are no response plans for that. "One of the things I'm trying to encourage Johnson Controls to do is look at why we can't take the control systems that are in airports and at least set up isolation areas where if somebody released some agent in Concourse A, maybe the people in Concourses B, C, D, E, and F wouldn't have to suffer that fate. "Johnson Controls does most of the environmental control at the Pentagon. They have a full-time staff and command center whose job it is to keep the air healthy and cool or heated. When that airplane hit the building and set it on fire, smoke was spreading everywhere. That little control center was able to do something they hadn't anticipated doing: to close a lot of dampers; pressurize certain areas; start evacuating by negative pressures in other areas. "You could easily do that in airports. It wouldn't be any major expense; it would just be a question of rethinking the systems you already have. You can use conventional technology, but you have to think operationally."On general aviation security ... "General aviation, I think, is in serious trouble. You have to think like a government agent, and when 9/11 hit you'll remember that general aviation was entirely grounded. "Most people in general aviation that are based in an area are easily vouchable for, to the point they certainly aren't terrorists. So it seems you can create a database on individuals, and based on that information I'll give you a card and ask for three PINS: the first PIN is when you go through the fence to wash the airplane or work on it I can record your passage and your intent, and when you leave I'll know. PIN number two says, I'm going out to my airplane and leaving. PIN number three is to alert officials of a problem. "Now when the Secret Service calls the GA airport, I can tell him within seconds how many based aircraft we have, how many are here, and how many have left."