What to consider when securing an airport’s perimeter
In May 2015, surveillance cameras at Mineta San Jose International Airport in San Jose, California spotted a 20-year-old person entering a restricted area. When approached by airport security personnel, not only did she resist arrest but they found she also wasn’t carrying identification.
At the time, it was the airport’s fifth security breach within a year. A month prior to this incident, a young man hopped a perimeter fence at the same airport, crossed the tarmac and crept into the wheel well of a Hawaiian jetliner. These stories should have you, at a minimum, asking the following questions:
- How does someone hop an airport security fence?
- Why did airport security fail to identify and apprehend the intruder before she breached security?
- Did airport officials try to prevent future breaches? And, if they did, why did their plan fail?
- What type of perimeter defence solution was the airport using? And why did this system fail to detect the intruder and alert officials on time?
- If airport executives chose not to upgrade their facility’s perimeter defences after the first breach, why did they come to this decision?
These are just a few of the many questions Mineta San Jose International security personnel (and other airport officials around the nation) should have asked in the days following the incident. After all, security breaches are unfortunately common.
Take, for example, this past April when The Daily Sentinel reported that an intruder climbed a fence at the Grand Junction Regional Airport in Grand Junction, Colorado. The trespasser informed officials she had used materials near the first fence to climb over it and then covered barbed wire with sandbags.
This begs us to ask another question: Where was airport security while the woman compromised the facility’s perimeter?
While other zones—such as airport security checkpoints—receive a sizeable amount of mainstream media attention, an airport’s outer defenses are just as vulnerable to breaches and therefore critical to protect.
Natural perimeter defences aren’t enough to protect airports
Perimeter defence protection is the first layer of resistance between the outside world, Aircraft Operations Area (AOA) and other vital airport operation areas and functions. Sure, some airports take advantage of natural barriers, such as Kansai International Airport, located on an artificial island in Osaka Bay and about 31 miles from Osaka, Japan. However, not all airports are fortunate to have natural barriers for defense. Many are landlocked and located in or near bustling cities. For example, Gibraltar Airport is stretched across a hectic Winston Churchill Avenue in Gibraltar. Airport security personnel at Gibraltar Airport, and many similar facilities around the world, must be extra vigilant when inspecting their facility’s perimeter.
Airport breaches not only put travelers in danger, they can also be very costly. Time equals money, and an intruder who shuts down a runway—or prevents even a single plane from taking off—could cost the airline thousands (or millions) of dollars in the form of solution repairs and inspections, lost customers, and fines and court fees. It’s crucial to take seriously how well a facility’s current perimeter defense is working, and understand how to upgrade it with the latest security solutions if necessary.
A small airport is even more vulnerable than their larger siblings
A recent USA Today article, citing a homeland security report, noted that the Transportation Security Administration has failed to conduct detailed inspections of the nation’s smaller airports since 2009 because it lacks the necessary resources to do so.
The source further reported that if TSA could assess commercial airports “system-wide” it may be better able to evaluate risks to access control security points and perimeters.
However, because the problem is available resources, it could take time before the TSA can conduct comprehensive reviews of every airport. Instead of waiting, smaller airports should initiate their own perimeter protection assessments and invest in security measures to fill in their facility’s safety gaps.
Story credit: Axis Communications
This article was originally published by Axis Communications, Principal Exhibition and Registration Sponsor for the Security Exhibition & Conference.