Safer Skies Starts With Stronger Airport Security

Security Industry Association’s Mickey McCarter addresses airport stakeholders on the importance of improving airport security.

In December 2014, authorities arrested two men who smuggled guns on Delta Airlines through the illegal use of airport employee access credentials at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.

The case prompted a review by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which does not itself screen airport employees but provides guidance to airports so they can do so. The Airport Security Advisory Committee (ASAC), a council of private sector advisors, published a report in April providing 28 recommendations for TSA and airports to adopt to improve access control for airport employees.

This and other developments in policies guiding airport security measures have produced more opportunities for integrators to enter the market, experts said during a panel discussion at June’s SIA Government Summit in Washington, D.C.

ASAC member Christopher Bidwell, vice president of security and facilitation at the Airports Council Int’l (ACI), said the committee, prompted by criminal activity, delivered “28 recommendations geared to enhance the security not only of travelers, but we also looked at it from the perspective of what we need to do to enhance security in both addressing terrorism and criminal activity.”

Airports go above and beyond TSA security requirements in general, Bidwell acknowledged, but each airport is unique and requires a specific site security plan. Moreover, expanded employee awareness helps to address insider threats.

RELATED: How Important GSA Changes May Impact Security Integrators

Charles Chambers, senior vice president of the National Safe Skies Alliance, said his organization would now strive to update airport baseline performance standards annually in conjunction with the release of the ASAC recommendations. These performance standards provide airports with maximum flexibility to choose security technology that best fits their need for perimeter security, access control and personnel surety.

“Airports have been thinking about improving perimeter security and access control as well as tracking employees on site,” Chambers said during the discussion panel.

The twin release of the ASAC report, final report of the ASAC’s Working Group on Airport Access Control, and Safe Skies performance standards, along with other recent developments, will likely spur activity in the airport security marketplace, Chambers said.

“Now that means while this market can be slow at times, this is a prime time to look,” he said.

He encouraged integrators and manufacturers to let Safe Skies know what products are available so that the organization could continue to communicate that information to airports.

“Much of the most innovative technology that is going to be applied at airports actually comes from outside the aviation sector. It’s being developed for the financial community, defense community, medical community – other communities,” Chambers said.

SightLogix CEO John Romanowich said during the panel that for airports to establish stronger perimeter security, they must become more focused on who is inside that perimeter. Once airports establish an effective container around their perimeters, they must then turn to assessing the nature of the threats within the volume of that container, Romanowich said.

“If you can do that, you can start to lock that down and start to control what is happening around the aircraft,” he said.

Initial and recurring employee vetting is a big challenge for TSA and airports, panelist Timothy Wang, an assistant to Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., emphasized. To assist, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are looking for ways to make TSA leaner and more efficient, and thus free up more resources to invest in security solutions, Wang said.

Airports have responsibility for their individual security programs, and a challenge to one airport is not a challenge to all airports, Wang stated. Still, airports operate in an environment where various employees may use different credentialing programs such as Secure Identification Display Area (SIDA) credentials for service workers and the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) for transportation workers. Harmonizing disparate programs such as SIDA and TWIC into a single program would facilitate information-sharing and produce efficiencies, and therefore potentially address security challenges.

Mickey McCarter is manager of communications for the Security Industry Association.

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