In the past 10 years there have been approximately 268 perimeter breaches at airports around the country. People have climbed over fences, crashed their cars through gates, and some have even managed to climb onto jets. Most of these incidents occur with people who wanted to take a shortcut, are lost or disoriented, or are intoxicated. None of the breaches have included terrorism, but the threat is still there.
How does this happen?
Since 9/11, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to upgrade fencing, cameras and detection services. Many airports have miles of fencing that use radar or security cameras, but these systems need to be watched by human personnel or new technology that incorporates intelligence monitoring, otherwise they are completely ineffective. Intelligence monitoring electronically will signal when large objects (humans and not small animals like a squirrel) are moving near the perimeter.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is responsible for screening the passengers and baggage, but individual airports are responsible for securing the perimeter of the property. The airports do so by using security officers and airport police. Airports are supposed to report any breaches to the TSA, but the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that not all were reported. In addition, GAO found that the TSA had not conducted vulnerability assessments at 87% of our nation’s airports, a test that every airport is supposed to complete.
Is it an Issue?
Airport officials insist that their boundaries are secure. They believe that if a person breaches the perimeter and is immediately caught, it proves that the system works.
One airport administrator said, “Show me the body count, and we’ll build a fence.” This appears to be the general consensus around this issue. None of the breaches have been linked to terrorism at all, so they don’t feel there is a problem. Former TSA director John Pistole said, “Overall, people should feel confident that terrorists and bad guys aren’t able to exploit it, recognizing it’s not a perfect system.” But the threat is still there. If intoxicated citizens are able to breach the perimeter, it gives the alert to terrorists (who typically plan attacks months in advance), what is possible.
What can be done?
There are many more security measures that airports could pursue, but all come with great expenses. One option would be for the federal government to help provide more sophisticated alarms and cameras. They would also need more patrols and immediate response if an alarm goes off.
Another option is for the TSA to conduct more thorough vulnerability assessments at all the nation’s airports. The TSA needs to be careful, however, because just fining and punishing airports creates an adherence to the rules rather than acceptance of those rules. It would display the TSA as a meter maid just handing out violations, when instead, airports need to buy into the security measures and be committed to limiting the breaches.
Ideally, federal investment increases research and the TSA continues to improve so that gradually airports are able to reduce their vulnerability.
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