Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What In the Heck Does That Person Do: TSA Bomb Appraisal Officer (BAO)

BAO is an acronym that has been appearing more and more in TSA related news stories and blog posts. So what does BAO stand for?

a) Branch Artery Occlusion
b) Best Atomic Orbital
c) Best Available Option
d) Bomb Appraisal Officer

While “c” is the best available option, if you chose “d” you are correct. A Bomb Appraisal Officer is another TSA position that you may or may not have heard of. Some of you may have even been fortunate enough to meet a BAO after your bag triggered the suspicion of one of our officers.

What does a BAO do and what experience must one have to become a BAO? To answer these questions and more, Richard, a BAO at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, (CVG) stepped out of the shadows to shed some light on his critical position.

Blogger Bob: So what is a BAO? Tell our readers a little about the day in the life of a BAO.

BAO Richard: BAO is an acronym for Bomb Appraisal Officer. All BAOS serve three primary roles.
1. Workforce Training. This is where we are expected to focus the majority of our efforts. BAOs are charged with finding effective ways to share their expertise and years of real-world experience with the workforce. We build simulated explosive devices and run them through the screening process to show the workforce what the terrorists are doing and what they are capable of. This is challenging in that no two airports or groups of TSOs are exactly the same. It is incumbent on the BAOs to find effective way to do this, regardless of the challenges.

2. Conduct Advanced Alarm Resolution (AAR). When the conventional alarm resolution process has been exhausted and the alarm has not been resolved, the BAO is to be called. At his point, the BAO is responsible for resolving the alarm, with zero margin for error.

3. Serve as the TSA subject matter expert liaison for law enforcement and bomb squad partners. BAOs speak both TSA and bomb squad languages. This is important during a critical response event. In addition, it is not uncommon for law enforcement and bombs squads to request technical assistance and advice from BAOs for incidents at the airport as well as those unrelated to airport operations.

Blogger Bob: Tell our readers a little about your experience prior to the TSA.

BAO Richard: My personal experience came from 21 years in the US Army with 19 of those years as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician. I then spent 5 years as a contractor/instructor for the US Department of State Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program (ATAP) training and certifying Bomb Technicians for allied countries around the world. Essentially, I have been doing bomb disposal response or training for the last 29 years.

Blogger Bob: Do other Bomb Appraisal Officers share a similar background as yours? What kind of experience do you need to have under your belt to become a BAO?

BAO Richard: Typically all BAOs have a very similar background. We’re “Bomb Guys”. Either as a military EOD Technician or as an FBI certified Public Safety Hazardous Devices Technician. TSA has established as a minimum requirement that all BAO candidates have been a Certified Bomb Technician from either of these two programs and served a minimum of 3 years as a technician in a Bomb Disposal Unit. All BAOs are interviewed, tested and hired based upon their experience, background and understanding of the terrorist threat. Nationally, if you add it up and divide by our numbers you are looking at an average of 17.5 yrs experience, per BAO across the board. That is an incredible amount of expertise at TSA's fingertips.

Blogger Bob: Before BAOs, how did TSA handle situations with possible explosives? How have things changed since Bomb Appraisal Officers came on board?

BAO Richard: In the old days (2 years ago) the only safe procedure was for the TSOs to contact the local Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs), evacuate the terminal and wait until a Bomb Squad arrived and cleared the item. These evacuations cost the aviation industry millions of dollars annually. More importantly, the increased security risks inherent in evacuations are significant. The presence of BAOs available to TSOs prevents unnecessary evacuations and minimizes disruptions in service and risks to all. Adding BAOs to the resolution process allows a Bomb Technician trained individual the opportunity to look at the item, look at the X-Rays and make a “more knowledgeable” determination of whether the item is dangerous and whether the terminal should be evacuated or not. Since implementation of the BAO Program, BAOs working with the TSOs have responded to and safely resolved thousands of alarms at their airports over the past two years.

Blogger Bob: Have you ever had any experiences at the TSA where you thought you had a bomb on your hands?

BAO Richard: Thinking I actually had a bomb? No, but when BAOs respond, we all approach with the understanding that if the TSO has called us for assistance, then we assume a viable threat until we determine it is not. Safety first, then a methodical process for checking and determining whether a hazard is there. Understand though that if we still cannot make a positive determination the item is not a bomb, then passengers are evacuated and the Bomb Squad is notified.

Blogger Bob: With all of the shared experience of Bomb Appraisal Officers, it makes sense that they train Transportation Security Officers and share their knowledge. Can you touch more on the training side of your job?

BAO Richard: Training TSOs IS the BAO mission. Here at CVG our BAOs are on the floor, providing training approximately 6 hours of their 8 hour day. Each day, each BAO is required to build a new training device and use that device to provide a “new learning point” to the TSOs, and we provide 24-hr a day support. Our goal is to keep TSOs current on the products, procedures and practices of the bad guys, so they can better identify it when it is presented to them. Currently ongoing as we speak every TSA employee at CVG is receiving a 6 hr block of classroom instruction and demonstration from the BAOs on explosives, IEDs and terrorist methodology.

Read Transcript (txt, 1Kb)

Blogger Bob: Do BAOs go through any training even if they have extensive prior experience?

BAO Richard: Absolutely, all new BAOs are required to complete a 3 Phase training certification program. Phase-I all BAOs are required to complete Basic Screener Training (CP and CB). Phase-II is the BAO Certification and Instructor Presentation Skills Course. Since all BAOs will be spending most of their time conducting training, IPS certification is required. Then in Phase-III each new BAO is required to complete a minimum 40hr OJT course with a Senior BAO at an airport with an established and successful BAO-TSA Training program. Once all 3 phases are completed they are certified as operational BAOs.

Blogger Bob: To many travelers who don’t understand the liquid threat, they feel that prohibiting items over 3.4 oz such as toothpaste and mouthwash is insane. The baggie baffles many a passenger. How would you defend the legitimacy of the 3-1-1 program if confronted by a curious passenger?

BAO Richard: The last two liquid explosives threats have originated in Europe and targeted U.S. flagged airlines. This type of threat is not new, but our enemies are persistent and totally committed. They learn from their mistakes and then make adjustments all the time to try and stay ahead of security. Explosives come in ever changing shapes and materials to include a caulk like explosive that looks and feels just like toothpaste or Sunscreen. If we added personal hygiene products such as toothpaste to the “must be sampled” list, the lines would back up forever. It is just simpler, easier, and more logical to restrict those things in the sizes already established to minimize the risks to passenger aircraft.

Blogger Bob: Do you have any frequently asked questions you’d like to answer?

BAO Richard: The most common question we get is based upon the word Appraisal in our title….. “So, what does a Bomb cost?” :) To TSA, it would cost a lot if it makes it on a plane, but seriously, All BAOs are trained and certified explosives security specialists and what we provide is an expert assessment of the item or material of concern based on the totality of circumstances. After doing so, we determine what the appropriate course of action should be. Our focus is, training every day, and safety all the time.

I have to add that the BAOs are not stand alone security assets. While much is made of BAO expertise, we rely on the expertise of the TSO workforce in order to do our job. We are all partners with a common goal and we add an additional expert resource to the TSA’s many layers of security.

Blogger Bob: What does the future hold for the BAO program?

BAO Richard: The success of the program has driven an increasing need from the Federal Security Directors for more BAOs. Originally authorized to hire approximately 300 BAOs, TSA is now looking to add additional BAOs to expand the program significantly. Expansion provides the opportunity to train more people and nobody loves to talk about their job more than a “Bomb Guy”.

Thanks to Rick for taking the time to answer my questions. He and the other BAOs in the field are an extremely critical part of TSA’s mission and we are fortunate to be able to learn from all of their combined experience.


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team