Monday, March 24, 2008

Layers of Security

By this time, most of you are getting pretty familiar with what TSA does on a daily basis. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve likely heard us mention layers of security. It’s a term we use a lot but it’s a lot more than just a catch phrase, it really is what we do.

Throughout my time at TSA, many analogies, metaphors and comparisons have been used to describe the layers. Some stick, some fall by the wayside. One way of describing it is like the combination to a lock. One correct number won’t get you access, all have to be correct. Today, I thought I’d take you inside the “layered security approach” for a closer look at what we do.

Each time a passenger boards a flight they’re subject to up to 20 of these layers. I know what you’re thinking…we’ve got the checkpoint, metal detector, screening process, etc but what else?

Before you ever step foot on an airplane, TSA intelligence officials have worked with their counterparts throughout the federal government and its international partners to determine any threats to aviation security. Concurrently, TSA collaborates with CBP and the Joint Terrorism Task Force on threats and security issues. TSA also leans heavily on relationships with local law enforcement. Their work around the airport is vital to successful security.

In addition, passengers are checked against no-fly lists and crews vetted. All of this occurs before the passenger ever reaches the airport.

Once at the airport the other layers of security begin to take shape. Each airport with commercial flights is required to have a TSA-approved security program. This program covers everything from the type of fencing required around the perimeter of the airport to how many police officers are needed to make sure vehicles don’t park too close to the curb. In addition to this plan, VIPR teams consisting of federal air marshals, local law enforcement, canine teams and behavior detection officers may be patrolling the area. This can occur before or beyond the checkpoint, anywhere at an airport.

Passengers entering the security checkpoint are subject to noninvasive screening by TSA’s behavior detection officers. BDOs are trained to detect involuntary physical and physiological reactions exhibited by those looking to avoid being discovered.

The passenger also hands their boarding pass and ID to a TSA travel document checker. This layer of security is relatively new, beginning in June 2007. Checking the validity of documents and the person holding them provides a significant security upgrade. Individuals with phony or suspicious documents are referred to local law enforcement for additional scrutiny.

TSA canine teams also patrol the airports perimeter and interior. These teams, composed of a local law enforcement officer and TSA provided canine, are one of the quickest, most efficient means of detecting possible explosive substances. TSA has trained and certified more than 500 teams in partnership with state and local law enforcement agencies. They’re working in 70 airports and 14 mass transit systems. TSA will certify more than 400 additional canine teams over the next two years, including teams led by TSA canine handlers that will focus on air cargo.

As previously mentioned, the checkpoint is one of 20 layers of security. Great work is done by TSOs there at over 450 airports nationwide, That said, not a whole lot of ink will be spilled here about it, we’ve done a lot of that already.

TSA also screens every piece of luggage that you’ve checked. Modern inline systems streamline the process in many airports (As demonstrated by this post). Stand alone systems are used in other airports.

The planes themselves are screened as well. Transportation Security Inspectors randomly screen planes and are also involved in VIPR teams and employee screening.

That leads us onto our next layer, which is employee screening. Those with access to the airport’s secure areas including gate workers and food service employees are subject to random screening in addition to going through thorough background checks and being checked everyday against terror watch lists.

TSA’s Bomb Appraisal Officers (BAOs) are also working to increase the strength of our security approach. BAOs were trained at one of two specialized schools and have extensive operational experience in the field as members of military Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) units or accredited law enforcement/public safety bomb squads. They perform advanced alarm resolution at the checkpoint as well as expert training. Their presence in the airport environment helps security while increasing the abilities of those working with them.

Another vital layer of security is the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS). FAMs are TSA’s law enforcement arm. They are specifically trained to work within the aircraft but their role is ever expanding. They participate in VIPR missions and are on duty throughout the airport environment.

Through the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, TSA trains and authorizes pilots and other approved flight crew members to carry a firearm aboard the plane. TSA also offers course to train other members of the flight crew to defend themselves inside an aircraft. The program, known as Crew Member Self Defense, adds an additional layer to the security system.

The hardening of cockpit doors occurred after 9/11 and provides yet another layer preventing possible attack. The vigilance of the flying public in-flight and on the ground is an important piece of aviation security. Passengers’ willingness to work with TSA and local law enforcement is crucial to enhancing security.

Check this out for a clearer, more graphically appealing view of TSA’s layers of security.

TSA EoS Blog Team