Airport Public Area Security Management

Captain LaPonda J. Fitchpatrick (Retired), ACE, SHRM-SCP
February 26, 2019

By its very nature of facilitating the freedom of movement and the sharing of ideas between diverse peoples, aviation remains a lucrative target for terrorists and others that seek to do harm or call attention to a political or personal agenda. The threat environment of aviation and the tactics deployed to circumvent the security systems, measures and procedures we put in place are ever changing. With the success of passenger screening and other in-flight protocols implemented after 9/11, non-secured, softer targets in the aviation environment are being identified by terrorists and others to carry out their destructive and disruptive plans.

The terrorist events that occurred at the Istanbul and Brussels airports in 2016 are a tragic example of catastrophic events occurring in the non-secured public areas of the airport terminals. They are reminiscent of the attacks on the Rome and Vienna Airports in December of 1985, where terrorists also used automatic weapons and explosives to carry out an attack that took several lives. These events are not unknown to US airports either; the two shootings in the public areas of LAX bear this out. Combating these threats require airports to know their areas of vulnerability and risk and mitigate them by developing comprehensive and planned approaches to law enforcement and security patrols. Examples include the use of high visibility patrols, tactical teams, K-9s, undercover activities, increased real-time video surveillance and other technologies. These strategies are essential in deterring, detecting and defeating terrorism-related and other criminal activity.

Supporting these internal strategies is the knowledge that most commercial airports are multi-jurisdictional, there may be additional resources available that have a role in airport security. This can include city, county, state, federal and private security agencies operating within the airport and surrounding adjacent areas. Those who patrol adjacent parking lots, rental car centers, hotels, and cargo facilities are great partners in securing your airport. Consideration of airline passenger processing procedures, TSA security practices and airport design should also be a part of an airport's mitigation strategies. By working with these capable partners in the development and implementation of additional risk mitigation and patrol strategies, it can further lessen threats and harden the target your airport presents as a part of the larger global aviation system.

To learn about these strategies, working with multi-jurisdictional partners and more, come to the AAAE Airport Law Enforcement Officers (LEO) Training School, May 7-9, 2019, in Alexandria, VA. For more information, contact Rod Valiant at 703.797.2529.