Friday, December 19, 2008

TSA Outside of the Airport

Next month I will celebrate my 7th anniversary with TSA and the one constant over these past years has been the added elements of responsibility. What started as concentration on aviation security after the attacks of 9/11 has evolved into a web of security tools and partnerships that span all modes of transportation, local and state governments and stakeholders near and far.

While this may be seen as a “puppy post” by some, I thought it would be helpful and informative to let you all know that we are about more than just the TSOs and the FAMS you always hear about.

For instance, we get lots of questions about why this or why that in a foreign country. The fact is, TSA is responsible for implementing and enforcing security standards in domestic airports, that’s about 450 airports in our country. We work with our foreign partners to harmonize measures. For instance, approximately 80 countries are on the same regime for liquids. Flights from foreign countries to the United States must adhere to our security standards. TSA has security representatives in 19 countries around the globe. These individuals are responsible for working with local governments and carriers, US and foreign, that fly to, from or over the US to ensure they're complying with regulations.

The agency is working aggressively with our U.S. Coast Guard colleagues to complete the enrollment of all USCG-credentialed mariners and all personnel requiring unescorted access to secure areas of Maritime Transportation Security Act regulated vessels and facilities into the Transportation Worker Identification Card program. With an estimated 1.2 million people to enroll, TSA has already signed up more than 700,000 mariners and is well on the well to meet the nationwide compliance date of April 15.

The original compliance date of September 15 was extended to April 15 as a direct result of collaboration with port officials and industry, and realigns the enrollment period with the original intent of the TWIC final rule. The original compliance date was based on an 18 month enrollment period scheduled to begin March of 2007. The beginning of enrollment was suspended and the first port (Wilmington, DE) began enrolling workers in October 2007. This allowed for less than one year to enroll more than 1.2 million workers.

While nationwide enforcement is being realigned to April 2009, several ports have already complied and several more will become compliant in the coming months.

In Transportation Sector Network Management or TSNM, we lead the unified national effort to protect and secure a wide range of our nation’s transportation systems. TSNM covers highway and motor carriers, maritime, mass transit, pipelines, freight rail and general aviation.

As our Web site states, “every day, the transportation network connects cities, manufacturers, and retailers, moving large volumes of goods and individuals through a complex network of approximately 4 million miles of roads and highways, more than 100,000 miles of rail, 600,000 bridges, more than 300 tunnels and numerous sea ports, 2 million miles of pipeline, 500,000 train stations, and 500 public-use airports.”

How do we help? Well, essentially through grants and other supporting programs. Unlike aviation security, TSA is not charged with providing the physical security itself but with coordinating and regulating it. So we work with our industry partners and develop tools and exercises that help each “Sector” become more secure and therefore more safe.

For instance, recently TSA worked with local authorities by funding an exercise with a goal of being able to safely and predictably stop a transit bus remotely. Why would we want to stop a bus? Transit buses could be appealing to terrorists because of their unprecedented access to large population centers, critical infrastructures, etc., so stopping a bus might occur if the bus was hijacked by terrorists or was stolen for use as a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED).

The system, developed in coordination with TSA and industry, uses cellular communications and patches into the existing safety controls on the bus to restrict speed and activate the brake system on the bus to bring it to a safe stop and opens the doors for unobstructed access by law enforcement. The commands are received at the speed of texting, giving law enforcement a way to predict, and therefore choose, a location to stop the bus. This is just one example of things TSNM is doing to make all modes of transportation more safe.

Of course one blog post is not enough space to write about the dozens of proprietary K9 teams now charged with screening cargo, the hundreds of rail inspectors working with industry to enhance the secure infrastructure of that system, the men and women of TSA working to shore up general aviation or pipelines or subways or on and on.

I just thought that while so many bicker and argue about shoes or coats or laptops, thousands of folks at TSA are doing good work that keeps Americans safe each and every day.
So I hope you are as intrigued as I am about the work this agency does, because I would almost bet, you never even knew we did some of the things we do. I know I didn’t.


EoS Blog Team