Defending Landside and Terminal Security at Airports Ieds and Other Threats … Research Paper
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¶ … aviation security is that the great majority of the world's airports were designed and built before September 11, 2001. The importance of this fact should be relatively obvious, as the events of September 11 have fundamentally altered air transportation worldwide, and continue to do so. Anyone in America taking a domestic flight from New York to Los Angeles in 2015 will be familiar with a set of slightly bizarre security procedures: passengers entering the airport departure gates will be asked to remove their shoes and send them through an X-ray machine, and will have their bags inspected for the presence of any liquids or jellies in excess of a certain small amount, more than the size of what might be contained in a ketchup packet. By the vantage point of the year 2000, these procedures might very well seem inexplicable, but they are the result of a post-September-11 paranoia regarding the potential for unusual attacks on a vulnerable target. As part of what LaFree Dugan et al. (2015) term "increasingly tight" security measures, shoes are removed because of a failed or foiled plot by Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber," in the immediate aftermath of September 11, and liquids are prohibited after the 2006 "liquid bombing" plot which was also prevented (175). In these two small instances of procedural necessity now implemented in airports, we might be tempted to see at work the principle of shutting the barn door after the horses have already run free, so to speak -- but more significantly these examples highlight the vulnerability of airports as targets for terror attack, and point to a larger issue of the difficult maintenance of aviation security in a post-September-11 world, when most of the world's basic aviation infrastructure is built according to a pre-September-11 paradigm and rationale. I would like to examine some basic issues of aviation security by considering landside and terminal security system design planning generally, and then more specifically examining the risks and possible procedural mitigation for one particular means of attacking airports, by the use of improvised explosive devices or IEDs. This close examination will, I hope, serve to explore the ways by which the issue of aviation security manages, with difficulty and ingenuity, to straddle two different paradigms of the pre- and post- September 11 world.
In considering the aviation infrastructure that existed before terrorism became a primary consideration in evaluating risk and security, we must recall that -- for most airports -- the chief design issues were ones with a basic capitalist rationale: to maximize convenience for consumers (i.e., air travellers) and therefore maximize the number of consumers who could be serviced. As a result, the traditional pre-September 11 design paradigm was one which considered the largest possible risk for an airport to be traffic jams and overall delays -- this may overstate the case a bit, as certainly various noteworthy events (the Palestinian hijacking crisis at Entebbe Airport in Uganda in the 1970s, the Lockerbie bombing in the 1980s) had made the world aware of airports and airplanes as targets for terrorism. What has changed significantly after September 11 was the nature of such terrorism itself -- before, terrorists tended to be hijackers with specific political demands (the release of prisoners, for example) while September 11 demonstrated that terrorism could become the goal in itself, by producing a large-scale spectacle of fear without any immediate political goal. Osama Bin Laden did not issue a warning to the world on September 10 that violence would result if the Bush Administration did not help Al Qaeda achieve certain objectives -- instead September 11 itself was the objective. This is important to consider because it gives some sense of what is at stake in considering airport security. From the standpoint of landside design, suddenly the chief advantage of airport design in the pre-September 11 era -- which was centralized entrances and exits with ease of access for large number of consumers -- now becomes their chief flaw, as easy access becomes a way for terrorists to approach stealthily when no advance public warning has been given to expect violence. It is only the landside portions of airports that have been designed with convenience as a feature -- by and large, the airside portions have already been designed in such a way (mostly to protect equipment and cargo from potential thieves) that makes security screening relatively easy and centralized. Landside security presents a larger challenge because of the basic issues of airport design, which before September 11 involved a focus on getting the largest number of people as close as possible to centralized entrance spaces in an airport with the greatest rapidity. This design focus becomes a design flaw in the era of surprise terror attacks. Indeed in Planning and Urban Deisgn Standards (2006), the American Planning Association offers September 11 as the reason "any security infrastructure should be integrated into the deisgn of the terminal" (297). However it is worth recalling that the great advantage here is that landside operations at an airport will (by definition) offer no access whatsoever to the aircraft itself. The issue of security becomes one in which the vulnerability of the equipment is not a concern -- instead the chief concern becomes evaluating people, and evaluating what they can bring into the terminal area, defined by the Federal Aviation Administration (2006) as "typically the one area of the airport with the most safety, security, and operations requirements" (9). As a result of this, terminal security -- which is where shoe removal and liquid inspection occur, in addition to many other measures -- is absolutely paramount in the issue of design planning, especially considering that most terminals must make use of pre-existing designs that may be less than ideal for vetting all potential security risks and threats. But overall the tactics are different in the different regions of the airport: the primary consideration for landside security is maintaining the integrity of the boundaries, and making sure the boundary between landside and airside security cannot be breached, while the primary consideration for terminal security is vetting the large numbers of people passing through the area for potential risks and threats. Landside security has less room for human error, and more dependence on actual physical structure.
To focus on a specific instance of risk and threat, however, the increased use of IEDs or improvised explosive devices in post-September 11 terror attacks is something that should be of tremendous importance for aviation security. Such means of attack were hardly unknown before September 11 -- the Oklahoma City attack perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh is a grim reminder of how damaging a vehicle-borne IED can be, and can also give some sense of the potential terroristic uses of an IED at an airport. The Oklahoma City VBIED was capable of demolishing large parts of the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building -- we can therefore understand that such a means of attack could very easily violate the chief goal of landside security, which is to maintain the integrity of its borders. While it is unlikely that any VBIED that does break through the integrity of landside security could have the effect of further terror beyond those borders -- as any terorrists who took advantage of a VBIED to get access to aircraft could presumably be detected before they hijacked or placed a bomb on an airplane -- it is nevertheless a serious threat to property and life, and could seriously disrupt operations. But it is where the landside and terminal securities overlap at airport entrances that a VBIED or IED is most alarming, perhaps because this is where the airport is most vulnerable. Smuggling an IED into the actual airport would be far more difficult, and many of the security measures (like shoe removal and liquid restrictions) are already designed to prevent this possibility. The Department of Homeland Security's fact sheet on IEDs notes that "training security guards, airport staff, and other personnel to be alert for suspicious behavior and IED indicators is the most common and best defense." This is obviously the primary way of mitigating risks, which is to be alert for what sort of behavior indicates the perpetrator of an IED attack. A second means to mitigate risk would be overall surveillance by means of CCTV perhaps with a means of digitally recognizing patterns or anomalies in what is being surveilled: certainly to breach the landside perimeter of an airport requires a vehicle or individual to behave in anomalous ways to transport the explosives close enough to the target, and meanwhile explosives can be detected through numerous means including "canine teams" (Department of Homeland Security 2007, 7). A third way of mitigating the risk of an IED attack in an airport would be to improve infrastructure to discourage or withstand such an attack -- for example, many airports are designed with vast amounts of glass windows, but of course such glass becomes an additional means of harm when an IED goes… [END OF PREVIEW]
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