Small municipal airports that serve communities near major metropolitan areas may not have appropriate security measures in place. These municipal airports have not received the same scrutiny or funding as major airports. Regardless, small airports face challenges and risks similar to larger facilities.
Additionally, vandalism, petty theft, and commandeering of an actual aircraft are incidents for which administrators at smaller airports need to strategically plan. Every airport (small or large) does face some similar threats, but as all facilities are not the same smaller airports require unique security measures. There are several factors to consider when planning that include, but not limited to, geography, demographics, budget, and facility design. All are integral components which must be examined in light of proposed prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery measures.
This paper will discuss multiple areas that an airport security administrator in charge of a municipal airport must examine in regard to contemporary threats. It will also discuss current and proposed security measures and safeguards for smaller airports as well as the hierarchy for administrative responses.
The events of 9/11 placed terrorism at the forefront of the minds of many Americans. One cannot dismiss the possibility of another terrorist attack on United States soil. The use of aircraft for carrying out acts of mass destruction, killing civilians and severely disrupting an economy has proven a fruitful tactic for the enemies of democracy.
Although, September 11, 2001 served as a catalyst for the pioneering of new methodologies for anti-terrorism and securing airports, there are still great strides that need to be made. A functional, yet universal and adaptable concept regarding security procedures for large and small airports must be established, maintained and frequently reevaluated.
Much of the current success for elevated, refined security measures and advancements in technology for larger airports can be attributed to the United States Federal Government and the development of the Department of Homeland Security. Their mission to prevent, minimize, respond and recover from catastrophic incidents has materialized in the airline industry through the Transportation Safety Administration.
However, security at small & community municipal airports have not received the same amount of attention or federal funding. Larger, commercial airports have received the vast majority of attention; this is mainly due to passenger volume and smaller airports being privately owned and in many cases self-reliant for revenue and maintenance. As of yet, smaller municipal airports have not been successfully compromised and the potential for sensational nationwide devastation is somewhat limited. Because the United States continues to makes strides in improving security conditions at major airports, we must recognize that terrorists may already be assessing softer targets like commuter airports.
One of the most common threats that municipal airports face are small crimes which have the potential to escalate quickly. The number one threat facing a community airport is the theft. Theft can range from equipment to fuel. Sources of threats can be internal, domestic or foreign. Since September 11, 2001 security administrators have re-prioritized their threat assessment to include theft of a small aircraft.
Currently theft and/or hijacking of a small aircraft are one of the major concerns to owners, operators and pilots. Threats of this type generate significant risk to personnel and serious financial losses. Depending on the motive of the intended thief or hijacker, theft of a small aircraft also presents a danger to the general population and surrounding communities. With manifold consequences in mind, airport security is strongly motivated to protect life, property and prosperity. It is in the best interest of owner/operators to devise measures that will prevent misuse of their aircraft (International Council of Aircraft Owners, 2005).
Criminal mischief, sabotage, and vandalism are also threats that community airports must counter. In dealing with these threats, one must consider mechanical and functional destruction and not just the cosmetic damage to a façade or loss of replaceable equipment. Accessibility restrictions to aircraft storage and maintenance areas can be difficult to impose and enforce in multiple circumstances. Existing controls imposed at airports must do their utmost to deter theft and criminal mischief as well as sabotage to operating equipment (International Council of Aircraft Owners, 2005).
After the tragedies of September 11, 2001, the American public questioned not only the events of that day, but also the circumstances leading up to the successful terrorist operation. Questions such as:
These types of questions appeared on every television station, newspaper and radio broadcast in the United States for months after attacks. Airport Administrators are now realizing the potential appeal for misuse of smaller airports and their vulnerability to criminals and terrorists. It has become apparent that procedures for background checks of employees, instructors, students, pilots and passengers is an evident way to reduce risk and ensure the integrity of an airport and its operators.
With the pressing concern of advanced terrorist attacks employing weapons of mass destruction, the attraction of small aircraft as a target cannot be ruled out. The ability of small aircraft to spread chemical weapons could potentially be as severe as an attack on a nuclear power plant. Terrorists may not be able to buy or steal a nuclear weapon at a small airport, but opportunities exist for terrorists to use aircraft as a tool to assist in their sinister plots.
For example, a terrorist may contemplate some type of nuclear terror stratagem. It could involve attacking a nuclear power plant using a small plane to breach perimeter security and then be used as a guided missile to reap destruction and chaos. It is important to keep in mind that an attack on a nuclear power plant may transpire whenever someone with a terrorist mindset hijacks a commercial airplane or charters a private one. A private plane could be easily filled with conventional explosives (Nykolyshyn, 2006).
Recent studies conducted over the past several months by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), have shown that structures housing reactor fuel in United States nuclear power plants will be protected against the release of radiation even if struck by a large commercial jetliner. State-of-the-art computer modeling techniques have determined that typical nuclear plant containment structures, used fuel storage pools, fuel storage containers, and used fuel transportation containers at United States nuclear power plants would withstand these impact forces despite some concrete crushing and bent steel (Nuclear Energy Institute, 2002).
Nonetheless, if terrorists were able to acquire an aircraft and attempt to crash into a nuclear power plant, it raises further suspicions and fears of their capabilities and tenacity./a> An IAEA spokesman once claimed that current nuclear power plants were never designed to withstand an attack by “a large jumbo jet full of fuel”, and prior to 2001, the likelihood of such a crash was never considered high enough to be included in safety regulations (Bunn, 2001).
Further vulnerabilities that small airports present for criminals and terrorists are the lack of federally mandated security and technology measures. Often people are able to slip through the cracks or “go under the radar” without drawing attention to themselves. Criminal organizations have been known to use small community airports to transport and smuggle illegal immigrants, drugs and other illegal contraband. These risks are major concerns for Airport Administrators. This is especially true near the southern Border/Coastal States.
According to the Tennessee Airport Information Center (2005), a Cessna aircraft carrying six undocumented immigrants, including the pilot, took off from Fullerton Municipal Airport in California but was forced to land at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, after running out of fuel. The plane crossed the country picking up undocumented Brazilian citizens in Boston on the way to Atlanta. It was the second time the pilot −− an illegal immigrant whose legally registered plane appears on Federal Aviation Administration records −− had flown undocumented immigrants. The flight identifies potential security vulnerabilities of small private and municipal airports, which often conduct little or no screening of small planes (Tennessee Regional Information Center, 2005).
One of the principal changes is requiring a background check for a private pilot’s license. According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (2008), a candidate is now required to submit the following information for a background investigation: Full name, gender, current address and five-year address history, date and country of birth, and citizenship information.
Security at small community airports can be very costly. In order to cut costs, community airports typically use outside contractors for their security. One such company is Navigance, which boasts a comprehensive physical security solution by integrating technology to security systems while mitigating risks. Their technological innovations create security systems that can deliver a revenue stream for airports by providing secure wireless broadband communications and remote monitoring serving both tenant and transient customers (Navigance, 2007).
Many small airports have no security at night. Control towers, if they exist, often close for business at 6 or 9 p.m. Security fences are uncommon, although some airports are beginning to recognize the new threat environment and are constructing fences accordingly. Lack of security seems to fit the freewheeling world of private aviation, which nearly collapsed when the federal government banned many private flights for weeks after Sept. 11 (Dotinga, 2002).
As augmentation to fencing, community airports must consider using cameras as another layer of protection for perimeters and surrounding areas. To remain current, security upgrades must include wireless digital cameras with a three-week archiving system (minimum) and a state-of-the-art wireless access control system for vehicle gates.
The cost is not overly prohibitive. Integrators often re-sell the products as part of larger, turn-key package. Therefore these system prices do vary. Ballpark figures can be in the range of $2,000 to equip a single gate or door with an access panel and reader. And depending on an airport’s configuration, one panel can control up to four gates/doors. A monthly, per-panel “network access” fee, usually costs less than $100 and keeps each one tied into a central monitoring station and data storage repository (Broderick, 2003).
When developing a plan for perimeter security, there also needs to be a great deal of consideration for access roads leading up to alternate parking. Alternative parking will offer entry/exit points for access onto the main airstrip. The alternate entry/exit points should be located on both sides of the airport. They too need to be secured by some type of fencing and gate and should not be used for daily activities. The purpose behind the alternate parking lot entry/exit points should be reserved for emergency vehicles and contingency use only.
Currently, very few small airports have the resources to secure and protect its parking areas 24 hours a day. One security feature that small airports should implement is the ability to identify both employees and visitors upon arrival and departure of a facility. According to Thomas W. Wathen; “Protecting life and property frequently requires that you identify employees and visitors entering and leaving the premises you guard” (1989, p. 141).
First one would start by confirming that employees and visitors are cleared for access onto the property by verifying their identification. Security personnel should record and track the employees or visitors time spent on the grounds as well as their intentions. Random and routine searches can offer security and work as a deterrent for theft and criminal mischief.
Secondly, to help protect people and the facility, an airport should ensure extensive lighting exists not only on the exterior and interior of the building, but on parking areas, gates entry/exit points, on all access roads leading to the facility, and at security enclosures.
Security lighting is an inexpensive and effective preventative measure against intrusions or other criminal activities. This type of lighting aids security personnel in the detection of intruders and works as a deterrent. It also promotes a feeling of safety among staff and visitors. Lighting should not be limited to night; lightning should be able to turn night into day (Broderick, 2003).
Thirdly, all parking areas should be equipped with overlapping video surveillance that is continually monitored and recorded. A municipal airport should be able to install a relatively small number of cameras to achieve complete coverage of parking and other public areas.
Last but not least, a small airport should consider the feasibility of employing security officers to patrol the parking area as well as inside and outside the perimeter of the facility. The physical presence of a guard, even if conducting patrols at random intervals provides yet another layer of protection.
There is optional security equipment that can be utilized to augment security and barriers already addressed. Physical security can contain features such as motion detectors/sensors and laser light beams. Although this may enhance the detection of an intruder and alert security for a faster response time, there are drawbacks to the use of these types of security sensors.
One major drawback to these additional security measures is cost effectiveness. Prior to implementation, considering a total cost approach when budgeting for an overall safety and security plan is paramount to success.
The second drawback is the reliability of such devices and their room for marginal error. For example; movement of wildlife and debris blowing in the wind could cause numerous false alarms. This in turn, can tie up human resources that could be better utilized in other areas rather than responding to false alarms.
All doors and storage facilities should be equipped with some type of pass card readers. These pass cards take the place of keys, and serve to identify and track personnel and visitors. This is the surest way to maintain an accurate head count for the number of personnel in a facility at any given time. Pass cards also work as a deterrent by restricting access into protected areas. Within a guarded facility, this is important based on job function, personnel needs and responsibilities.
Information garnered from pass cards can be recorded and maintained for a determined period of time for auditing purposes. If an employee forgets or loses the pass card, then they must inform security at the gate and be issued a temporary pass card for the day until filling out the proper forms for a new one with human resources.
Additional advantages to pass card readers are; upon the termination of an employee, their old card can immediately be deactivated. If one finds their lost card it can be reactivated at that time. In the long term, this will reduce the expense of re-keying locks in the facilities and obtaining company property back from an employee upon termination. It also prevents the risk of employees making duplicate keys.
All visitors and vendors will also be required to check in at the security gate and be issued a temporary pass card with limited controlled access. Those who own storage garages for their personal airplanes will be issued a pass card to their own storage facility upon the granting on their signed contract and background check with the facility.
The pass card identification system presents multiple security solutions for preventing and eliminating vulnerabilities. They work to immediately increase security and reduce future expenditures. Although more expensive, adding photographs to access cards provides an even greater level of security.
As previously discussed, municipal airports typically contract out their security operations. If economically feasible, security organizations should screen and hire their own security forces. If resources are available, security officers should be stationed strategically at vulnerable points revealed by a thorough risk assessment. For example; One security officer should remain in the dispatch and surveillance office at all times.
A security officer should be stationed at the entrance/exit gate at all times for vehicle and personnel checks. In addition, an officer should be on constant interior patrol of the facility and an officer should be on constant exterior patrol of the facility. It will initially be the responsibility of the security officer to notify the proper chain of command during nature or manmade disasters. They will assess and direct response teams to the disaster and crisis sites. In turn, airport hierarchy for response should work similar to the below list:
Although municipal and private airports are regulated by policies, goals, and objectives, to an extent, they should have common standards of operation. These Standard Operating Procedures (S.O.P.) should include maintaining the safety of its travelers, support economic prosperity, preserving investment and a level of service to state, national and international markets (Bend Metropolitan Transportation Plan, electronic).
Familiarization with, and regularly scheduled training in the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) is a must as large scale incidents can quickly overwhelm the response capabilities of airports serving smaller communities. Participation in joint exercises with local law enforcement and first responders will provide the foundational principles to be employed during a catastrophic event and give the owners/operators of small airports an opportunity to examine current preparatory measures and refine protocols for incidents of varying consequence.
To conclude, municipal airports face a myriad of challenges similar to the challenges seen in large commercial facilities. Because America has yet to see a catastrophic act of terrorism involving smaller aircraft, attention paid to security at municipal airports has been minimal. Although the risks to National Security are not as obvious or as potentially catastrophic, particularly in the absence of a successful execution of a chemical or biological attack, smaller airports with limited security budgets are an attractive and softer target for terrorists who may be thwarted by improved security at large terminals.
There are many cost effective solutions available to reduce the vulnerability of municipal airports; training in NIMS and ICS principles as well as developing an understanding of how to best utilize outside resources is of negligible cost but could well prove invaluable in the face of an actual catastrophe. Unfortunately, in a time of limited resources and unlimited potential threats, it may take a successful terrorist attack to increase emphasis on the security vulnerabilities of municipal airports.
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. (2008, January 29). Government advocacy. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from http://www.aopa.org/tsa_rule/.
Bend Metropolitan Transportation Plan. (n.d.). Aviation Systems. Retrieved April 14, 2008, Retrieved from http://www.ci.bend.or.us/depts/community_development/bend_metropolitan/docs/Chapter_15_Aviation_Systems_Final.pdf
Broderick, S. (2003, February 1). No High-Wire Act. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from http://www.ultra-safe.com/RedlandsAirport.htm.
Bunn, M. (2001, October 29). Reducing the threat of nuclear theft and sabotage. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/12691/reducing_the_threat_of_nuclear_theft_and_sabotage.html.
Dotinga, R. (2002, January 8). Small airports, big problem? Retrieved April 14, 2008, from http://dir.salon.com/story/news/feature/2002/01/08/airport_security/index.html.
International Council of Aircraft Owners. (2005, January 18). IAOPA Input for ICAO Security Manual (DOC 8973). Retrieved April 14, 2008, from http://www.iaopa.org/info/security_manual.html.
Navigance. (2007). Brochure. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from http://www.navigance.com/brochure/navigance.pdf.
Nuclear Energy Institute. (2002, January 23). Analysis of nuclear power plants shows aircraft crash would not breach structures housing reactor fuel. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from http://www.nei.org/newsandevents/aircraftcrashbreach/.
Nykolyshyn, O. (2006, February 6). Summary of the book “Nuclear terrorism: The ultimate preventable catastrophe.”, Vienna.
Tennessee Regional Information Center. (2005, May 27). Illegal immigrants on flight. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from http://www.tbi.state.tn.us/TRIC/tbi_triccn_files/05.27.05.pdf.
Wathen, T. W. (1989). Security Subjects, a Primer for Protection Officers. Van Nuys: Guardian Security Publications.
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