Improving Airport Security
Current Security Measures
Airport security has dramatically increased since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. All passengers must now pass through metal detectors and have their carry-on luggage x-rayed. In addition, passengers must take off their shoes, jackets and belts before passing through security. Liquids are also highly restricted. Despite these measures, there are still vulnerabilities in the system that could be exploited by terrorists.
Weaknesses in Current System
One weakness of airport security is that screening procedures are not standardized across all airports. Some airports use advanced imaging technology for scanning passengers, while others still use traditional metal detectors. There are also inconsistencies in how thoroughly bags are searched and how passenger watch lists are utilized. These gaps could allow prohibited items to slip through security.
Additionally, current security practices focus largely on screening passengers and their carry-ons. More attention needs to be paid to airport employees, who often have access to sensitive areas without going through security checks. There have been multiple cases of airport workers using their credentials to smuggle drugs and other illegal contraband. Extensive background checks should be standard for all airport employees.
Recommendations for Improvement
Here are some recommendations for improving airport security:
– Implement new scanning technology – Advanced imaging scanners create a 3D image of passengers to better detect hidden objects. This technology should replace traditional metal detectors.
– Increase randomness – Security procedures should incorporate more random checks of passengers and their bags, rather than relying solely on watch lists. This makes it harder for terrorists to discern any weaknesses.
– Enhance employee screening – All airport employees should undergo criminal background checks and be rechecked periodically. Random drug testing and bag searches should also be conducted. IDs and credentials must be verified before allowing access to restricted areas.
– Centralize security databases – A single unified database of passenger watch lists, employee records and incidents could help connect the dots on potential risks. This data should be available to all airports.
– Train for active shooter scenarios – While quite rare, attacks by armed assailants in airports should be included in security training. This would help improve response in such an event.
The Importance of Vigilance
While technology and procedures are important, human observation also plays a key role in identifying suspicious behaviors and items. Airport security staff should remain vigilant and attentive at all times. Travelers likewise need to stay alert and report anything unusual. Maintaining a high level of vigilance is critical to preventing attacks in the constantly evolving threat landscape.
Airport security has made tremendous strides since 9/11, but gaps and vulnerabilities remain. Implementing advanced technology, increasing randomness, enhancing employee screening, centralizing data, training for active shooter scenarios, and maintaining vigilance are key steps toward improving security. With the lives of millions of passengers at stake, airport security must continue to evolve to stay ahead of those who wish to do us harm.
Integrating Security into Airport Design
In addition to procedural changes, the very design of airport terminals can be modified to improve security. Access to sensitive areas should be restricted through the use of biometric screening rather than keys or access cards. Doors to the tarmac, luggage handling facilities and control towers should only grant access after verifying a person’s identity through fingerprint or facial recognition.
The layout of the terminal should also be structured to provide natural barriers and limitations on foot traffic near restricted areas. Bollards, natural vegetation and other unobtrusive obstacles can be erected to discourage pedestrian access without impeding normal passenger flows. Architectural features like partial walls, pillars and curves in walkways can hide CCTV cameras and security patrol routes as well.
Check-in counters and security checkpoint lanes should be modular and reconfigurable to allow for randomization of traffic flows. Security personnel should have the ability to rapidly change queue assignments and checkpoint locations with minimal disruption to passenger processing. This makes it impossible for ill-intentioned individuals to probe checkpoints for weaknesses ahead of time.
Limiting Access to Airport Restricted Areas
Access to an airport’s restricted areas like the tarmac, cargo facilities, catering and maintenance should be limited to only essential personnel through biometrically controlled doors. The credentials of all employees regularly working in restricted areas should be re-verified on a random basis.
Visitors to restricted areas should be required to pass an enhanced background check and be escorted by an authorized companion at all times. Their access credentials and movements should be closely monitored for the duration of their visit.
Airport security can be enhanced through crowdsourcing intelligence from airport staff and the traveling public. Secure mobile apps allow employees and passengers to voluntarily submit tips, photographs and reports of suspicious activity. This creates a trained network of human sensors that can augment traditional security operations.
App users are provided guidelines on how to identify and report suspicious behaviors. All submissions are anonymized to protect the sources. Expert analysts can review crowdsourced data for clues that may have eluded normal security protocols.
The app also serves as a two-way channel, allowing security operations to send out alerts on persons of interest or heightened threats. App users would know to be extra vigilant about reporting anything related to these known risks.
A crowdsourced security app leverages the observations of vigilant insiders and travelers to detect threats missed by technology and procedures alone.
In addition to randomizing security checkpoints and staffing as mentioned earlier, airports can introduce unpredictability in other aspects of terminal operations. Flight schedules, gate assignments, aircraft parking locations, delivery truck routes and other daily routines should be varied as much as feasible. Known patterns and repetitive activities can assist surveillance by bad actors. Increasing operational unpredictability forces them to start fresh each day.
A robust and responsive reporting system allows airport security teams to stay ahead of new threats. Routine sweeps can uncover concealed tampering or staging for malicious purposes. Maintaining heightened vigilance and willingness to deviate from fixed routines will keep terrorists off balance.