Airport perimeters vulnerable, Says Former DOT Secretary

 - April 3, 2013, 3:10 AM

Airport perimeters are the weak links in the nation’s aviation security efforts, warns former Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, now a vice chairman with Hill & Knowlton Strategies.

The ease with which anyone can penetrate an airport perimeter may shock those familiar with today’s elaborate security inside terminals, Mineta wrote recently in an op-ed article for The Washington Post. In Philadelphia last year, a driver crashed through a gate and onto a runway. There were similar “near-catastrophes” in Miami and Dallas, he said.

“Last month, robbers dressed as police officers boarded an airplane in Brussels and nabbed $50 million in diamonds,” Mineta asserted. “The break-in was a snap: The criminals cut a hole in the airport security fence and drove through it.”

If a pickup plows through a chain-link fence and onto a runway, the driver could be a teenager acting on a dare, an unemployed worker with a vendetta or a disturbed soul who hears voices. Or he might be a terrorist. Security officials would not know immediately, nor would it be clear whether the incident was isolated or part of a coordinated attack.

Mineta says airport perimeters are the weak link. “America has the technology to monitor intruders at and even beyond an airport’s edge, but too many airports are behind the curve,” he writes. Then there’s the sheer geographical scale of the challenge. The average midsize U.S. airport covers 2,500 to 3,000 acres, with a perimeter of approximately 15 miles. That’s a lot of ground to cover.

Unlike terminal security, which is managed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), airport perimeter security is decentralized. The TSA assesses vulnerabilities, but each of the country’s 450 commercial airports budgets and manages perimeter security on its own. That’s a lot of decision-makers with different points of view.

According to Mineta, these factors have barred concerted action on airport perimeter security. “Our concentrated focus on terminal security has orphaned equally important needs at the edge of airports,” he wrote. “As Rep. Bill Keating [D-Mass.] has observed, it’s like ‘locking all the doors on your house, but leaving the windows open.’”

Comments

matt's picture

I've got a better idea. Lets just shut down aviation completely! Then there will be no "security holes" to worry about!

To many idiots with time on their hands.

Tim Bradshaw's picture

The costs to mitigate this unlikely risk doesn't warrant the funding required. Sounds like a security consultant is trying to drum up business.

Art's picture

I have every bit of respect for the editorial views of former DOT Secretary Mineta , whose Cabinet-level post during and after 9/11 gave him extraordinary insight to some of the problems facing aviation security... except, apparently, one: In talking about TSA, he stated “Unlike terminal security, which is managed by the TSA...”, which is totally wrong. TSA has no law enforcement powers, and provides only screening of passengers and baggage for explosives and dangerous items; airports are responsible for the planning, design, purchase, procurement, implementation, operation, maintenance, surveillance, patrol, police staffing, enforcement and general public safety and security of the terminal, the perimeter, and both airside and landside facilities. TSA only establishes regulatory performance requirements that are purposefully generic because each airport’s requirements are unique, and each airport’s budgetary constraints must be measured against dozens of competing priorities, including a risk-based analysis of threat and vulnerabilities. Everyone agrees there is not, nor can there ever be, 100% security against every possible threat at every door and gate and along every meter of fence line. Certainly there are occasional breaches at every level, although they stand out by their absolute rarity; welcome to the real world. But TSA also requires each airport to provide law enforcement resources to handle those issues as they arise, because TSA itself is not equipped, trained, or authorized to do so.

Art's picture

I have every bit of respect for the editorial views of former DOT Secretary Mineta , whose Cabinet-level post during and after 9/11 gave him extraordinary insight to some of the problems facing aviation security... except, apparently, one: In talking about TSA, he stated “Unlike terminal security, which is managed by the TSA...”, which is totally wrong. TSA has no law enforcement powers, and provides only screening of passengers and baggage for explosives and dangerous items; airports are responsible for the planning, design, purchase, procurement, implementation, operation, maintenance, surveillance, patrol, police staffing, enforcement and general public safety and security of the terminal, the perimeter, and both airside and landside facilities. TSA only establishes regulatory performance requirements that are purposefully generic because each airport’s requirements are unique, and each airport’s budgetary constraints must be measured against dozens of competing priorities, including a risk-based analysis of threat and vulnerabilities. Everyone agrees there is not, nor can there ever be, 100% security against every possible threat at every door and gate and along every meter of fence line. Certainly there are occasional breaches at every level, although they stand out by their absolute rarity; welcome to the real world. But TSA also requires each airport to provide law enforcement resources to handle those issues as they arise, because TSA itself is not equipped, trained, or authorized to do so.

Stephen Nemiroff's picture

The cost to provide a fully integrated perimeter intrusion detection system to mitigate this risk would cost LESS than the cost of ONE 24hr screening point over a 3 year period. Considering the life of a "Senstar" system lasts 20-25 years, it's really a no brainer.

Show comments (5)