Down to Earth

Airports move on from post-9/11 panic

One of the first reactionary attempts to bolster security after 9/11 occurred at airports. Immediately after air service was reinstated, the public saw uniformed Marines armed with M-16s at every security checkpoint, concrete barriers at each entry point, security guards ransacking passengers’ luggage and, of course, taller fences going up around airfield perimeters. As with most things in life, an unexpected event usually generates an unexpected— and sometimes irrational— response. Such was the case with the nation’s aviation facilities.

A federal mandate specifically related to the airport property perimeter ensured all perimeter fencing was at least 8 feet high. Millions of dollars were poured into raising existing chain-link fences from 6 or 7 feet high to the new requirement of 8 feet. Although chain-link fences deter intruders slightly, they can be penetrated in seconds with a pair of pliers, so adding a foot of height was a complete waste of money. If anything, the new height requirements took pressure off the bottom of the fence, making it easier to climb under or cut through.

This, among other reactionary moves, bled much of the available resources away from the more pragmatic, functional and performance-driven security measures that are surfacing today. Leading the way in a move toward upgrading both the aesthetic and functional performance of its property is the Ontario, Calif., International Airport.

A Strong Investment
As a part of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), Ontario airport used an in-house support team to develop the design basis and contract administration for its new perimeter fencing. Collectively, the team decided to use an ornamental palisade design in all public access areas to improve the appearance while increasing deterrence against intruders. Because the project was federally funded, the products had to meet Buy America Act guidelines and pass a stringent inspection of the manufacturing process.

The site was a focus for the LAWA network because it took volume pressure off Los Angeles International Airport. To accommodate the increase in traffic at the facility, LAWA decided to invest in the property instead of taking the traditional route, which would mean budgeting for the expense of meeting minimal requirements for the proposed security upgrades.

The airport’s team chose the Ameristar Impasse ornamental fence product for public spaces. Around the balance of the perimeter, 10-foot chain link was used on top of a concrete knee wall to impede vehicle entry, combined in a layered approach with surveillance technology to develop a “deter, detect, delay, deny” system for the airfield. Adding the 10-foot-high Impasse ornamental fence to the public areas increased the budget of the project by 4.2 percent but yielded a significant benefit in creating a beautiful campus for the airport’s customers and employees to enjoy. The fence also maintains a barrier that clearly deters anyone intending to breach the perimeter.

“It’s like beauty and the beast,” one of the ramp managers said. “It really dresses the place up, but at the same time makes me feel more secure. Everybody knows you can get through a chain-link fence pretty easily. This new fence is going to make it a lot harder to get through.”

The fence’s 15-year warranty against deterioration of the coating or corrosion played a large part in supporting an extended life cycle, which minimized the exposure for future maintenance expenditures. The open architecture design allowed for future electrical conduit runs, which otherwise would have to be trenched and buried, costing up to $25 per foot and limiting accessibility for maintenance. The same open rails also could accommodate concealed intrusion detection sensor systems for which Impasse has been designed and tested.

Achieving Balance
Other airports around the country have demonstrated a similar strategy with regard to their air traffic control towers. At most facilities, the tower is visible to the public and is the most critical asset. Impasse has been chosen numerous times to demonstrate an appealing look for airport visitors, yet provide delay and deterrence factors against intruders in an effective way. There is not a fence system made that will completely prevent someone getting through, but the Impasse product has proved to be a dramatic improvement over previous products used—like chain link with barbed tape and wire— which are not much more than ugly boundary markers.

The culture of the United States demands airports maintain welcoming public spaces, a free and open environment and, above all, a safe and secure atmosphere. Balancing increased security measures and wide open spaces is difficult, but can be accomplished with means demonstrated at the Ontario airport and other aviation facilities around the country.

The Marine with the M-16 who stood at the security checkpoint has been replaced with less obvious, reasonable measures that deliver more effective security for airline passengers. Ugly fences providing little more than perceived security, demonstrating an environment at the nation’s airports that closely resembles a prison, are fading into the past. It is key to make the right investments on any property, balanced with a proven enhancement to the security platform. How to do it has been defined by others. When to do it can only be determined by a security professional.

This article originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

Barry Willingham is the vice president of security and specified products at Ameristar Fence Products.

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