Security is still a challenging goal to meet because of accessibility
- By Bruce Czerwinski
- Jul 01, 2017
Airports are the nation’s most highly secured public
facilities. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government
has spent billions of dollars protecting airports
and planes. Scanners, metal detectors, guards
and no-fly lists have done a remarkably good job at
stopping terrorists from turning airplanes into weapons.
Yet airports are still a major security challenge. Major hub
airports openly welcome more than 200,000 passengers daily and
large areas of all airports of any size remain easily accessible to
Domestic and foreign terrorists have caught on and now target
those public, less-secure areas. Long lines of people throughout
the front half of an airport offer easy targets.
In January 2017, a lone gunman needed less than 90 seconds
to kill five people and wound six more at the Fort Lauderdale –
Hollywood (Fla.) International airport. Another 53 people were
taken to the hospital for injuries suffered in the ensuing panic.
The shooter, a former national guardsman, checked a gun and
ammunition before boarding a plane in Alaska. He collected it in
the Fort Lauderdale baggage claim area, went into a restroom to
load the weapon and came out shooting.
The answer to keeping these areas safe incorporates the same
best practices used to secure other facilities, such as hospitals and
stadiums that attract large crowds.
Protecting the Perimeter
Perimeter security is the first line of defense. The best place to
stop intruders is before they reach their targets. Many airports install
perimeter fencing with fiber optic sensors. Light is sent down
the length of the cable and sensors analyze the light’s behavior
to detect intrusions. The system can interface with software controlling
video surveillance cameras and other devices to help first
responders formulate a response to alarms.
Fencing should be set in three-foot deep trenches—then filled
with concrete—to prevent anyone from digging their way into the
airport property. Any trees near the barriers must be removed so
they cannot be used to climb over the fence. Waterfront airports
can take advantage of anchored and floating fences consisting of
stainless steel rope and the same fiber optic cables.
Terrorists also use vehicles to deliver an explosive payload.
Specialized fencing incorporating the same type of steel cable used
to stop fighter jets on aircraft carriers can halt a 15,000-pound
truck traveling at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. This type
of fencing is given a K-rating, a measure of how much kinetic
energy—or speed plus weight—it can resist.
Gates can be fortified to withstand a high-speed vehicular
impact and should be designed so airport police can open them
after remotely verifying the identity of the driver and passengers.
Video intercoms are ideal here as they allow security personnel to
safely view and have two-way conversations with drivers. If the
visitors are approved, the gate can be opened with the touch of
a button. A card reader can be either separately mounted or embedded
in the video intercom to allow employees to use a cardkey
to enter without assistance.
Other measures, such as bollards—sturdy concrete blocks or
barriers—can stop vehicles and protect terminal entries and pedestrian
pickup points from taking a direct hit. Bollards can be
designed to serve as planters or benches to blend into the airport’s
A few countries have even set up security perimeters several
hundred yards from the terminal to inspect incoming vehicles.
Those with suspicious passengers or contents are directed to a
designated site for more thorough inspection.
Outdoor Emergency Stations
Parking lots and garages may not be a typical terrorist target, but
they are the site of sexual assaults, robberies and thefts. Emergency
stations offer assistance and an immediate connection to
airport police. Stations are typically topped with a bright blue
light making them easy to spot from a distance. Once the station
is activated, the light begins to flash, drawing additional attention
to the site. Built-in audio intercoms immediately connect worried
patrons with airport police.
Stations equipped with video intercoms provide police with
real-time video. Intercom cameras activate when a call is placed
from the station or when called by the master station typically
housed in the security command center. Mobile apps allow an
officer to use a smartphone or tablet to remain in control of the
system while on patrol. The units can also be integrated with existing
airport surveillance cameras for a broader view.
Emergency stations offer several other advantages, can be
scaled up to 5,000 or more units, which may also include indoor
emergency stations and intercoms.
Video surveillance cameras provide airport police with real-time
views of the facility. Recorded video is useful in reviewing incidents
and identifying criminals. Numerous studies have shown
just the presence of cameras is enough to deter many criminals.
IP-based cameras can connect to the airport network and be
monitored by multiple departments such as police, customs, fire
and paramedics, baggage and operations.
Cameras need to be positioned at all public and employee
access points to provide video of everyone entering the airport
grounds and buildings. They should also be installed at check-in
areas, boarding gates and along terminal corridors. Light-rail or
other modes of transportation between terminals require cameras,
as do baggage claims areas. Cameras providing views of restricted
areas help ensure only authorized personnel gain access.
Indoor and outdoor signage throughout reminds people they are potentially under surveillance.
All sensitive areas, such as ramps and operational
areas, restricted from the public
require access control. These areas, known
as Security Identification Display Areas
(SIDAs), may use keypads or card readers
and video intercoms to limit access to only
authorized employees. In some areas, electronic
beams may alert police to someone
entering hallways leading to restricted areas.
Highly secure areas, such as tarmac entries
and security command centers, may
require a second identity authenticator.
Typically, this would be a biometric reader
using iris, fingerprint or facial recognition
All employees should carry a proximity
cardkey with a photograph serving as
identification. These should be worn anytime
the employee is working on airport
property. Simple or complex rules can be
applied to each employee record listing
those areas, times and days a person is authorized
to enter restricted areas. Badges
may have a different colored stripe further
indicating access privileges.
Video intercoms can also limit public
access to interior offices such as executive
management, storage facilities, computer
rooms and the security command center.
The lack of a mass communications plan
can lead to public confusion and panic.
During and immediately following an
emergency, real-time information is vital
to calm people and control the situation.
This information must be available
throughout the entire facility.
With the addition of speakers and
horns, wide-area paging is possible using
an airport’s video and/or audio intercom
Having an active shooter plan is also
vital. All airport employees, from air marshals
to volunteer information assistants,
should engage in regular drills to prepare
for the worst. During an emergency, passengers
and visitors look to those individuals
In late April 2017, a South Florida congresswoman
announced plans for legislation
to improve first responder communications
and worker training as well as require
all airports nationwide have mass evacuation
plans. Many politicians and security
experts were critical of officials’ response to
the Fort Lauderdale shooting. Thousands
of passengers were held on the airport’s
tarmac for six hours with little or no information.
Some sat on planes for hours.
The activities of some airport workers
have drawn attention. A February 2017
report, “America’s Airports: The Threat
From Within,” by the Congressional
Homeland Security Committee majority
staff, reported many of the 900,000 U.S.
airport employees can bypass security
measures typically experienced by passengers.
Increased gun and drug smuggling
and other security breaches linked
to employees are raising concerns about
insider threats. Airlines and airport personnel
needing access to secure areas
should be held to the same stringent standards
Layers of Security
Everyone recognizes the need for strict
security at the nation’s more than 3,300
public-use airports—about 450 of which
are under federal supervision and control.
Congress has passed laws and TSA and industry
organizations have developed policies
regulating aviation security.
The sheer numbers of people in a busy
airport and the potential dangers from a
lone wolf or team of terrorists make securing
an airport one of society’s biggest
s’s security challenges. Yet, at the same
time, airport security needs to be managed
with the same basic approach as any large
commercial or government facility.
The highest degree of security comes
from layers of security—integrated components
each enhancing the performance
of the total system.
The security industry is working on
new tools—or layers—to get people
through checkpoints faster. Better scanners
will have a higher throughput, while
allowing passengers to continue wearing
their shoes, belts and light jackets. Other
equipment will detect liquid explosives
and other dangerous materials.
As terrorists look for ways to beat security,
our industry must continue working
with federal, state and local officials
to make the airport experience pleasant,
convenient and most of all safe.
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Security Today.