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Security Breaches Are Early Warnings For Airport Executives

Early Warning Signs

Security breaches at high-profile government facilities, major airports and Los Alamos Laboratories should be an early warning sign for America's airport security executives. When undercover agents of the General Accounting Office flashed fake IDs and walked through checkpoints at 19 government buildings from the State Department, FBI and CIA to the Pentagon and Justice Department, and two airports, Washington National and Orlando International, the wake-up call was sounded. The security breach at Los Alamos strikes to the core of the quality of national security. Did the alarm wake the security executives of America's airports or, like some of their counterparts in government, did they hit the snooze button? While security breaches at Los Alamos and top-level government buildings are getting headline attention, airport security has an immediate impact on everyday life, affecting America's sense of security and the calm of the population. Millions of travelers moving through major airports need to be protected.

No single security solution will get the job done. Cameras, baggage X-ray, ID badges, personnel, training are each important, as are trained dogs, high-tech systems and other inventive means. Surveillance camera systems are so sophisticated today that no corridor, counter, parking area, runway, access point or populated public area should be unprotected by a managed video system. ID badges are easy to print and use.

Systems are only as good as the people working them, so training, enhancing employee morale, especially among security staff, is vital. The security challenge at a major airport is tremendous and akin to running police enforcement of a municipality. The entire effort calls for teamwork. From Human Resources personnel to security experts, the chain of security is only as strong as the weakest link.

The GAO, an investigative arm of Congress, examined potential security risks posed by use of stolen or counterfeit law enforcement badges and credentials. The results were astounding. At each of the 21 locations challenged, fake IDs were sufficient to gain access, without exception. Congressional reaction was immediate and critical of security methods. Media attention was instantaneous and comprehensive and the public's response was one of disbelief. Government agencies are working on improving access control, and airports should be in gear to do the same thing. The good news is that technology is in place that would have averted these security breaches. The bad news is that the systems weren't used as they could have been. With software and hardware systems currently in the market, technology can prevent access to such highly sensitive areas. The systems available simply have to be used more effectively. There are proven techniques available that can economically improve security at government agencies, airports, private businesses, schools and universities and a host of other locations. Video surveillance should be beefed up. Security personnel need continual training. ID badges should reflect the best technology. The day may well be at hand for passengers and baggage to have instant ID issued at the check-in counter to ensure that the people and baggage boarding haven't been switched.

At major airports from Los Angeles in the West to Boston Logan in the East, security is a massive job. Smaller airports also need to be alert, and many are implementing technologically advanced security systems. The tools to assist security executives in place are needed so that they can do the assignments they were given. Top management, from the chairman down, must focus and support the security efforts. As with any system coming current, the cost will be extensive. The risk of avoiding that cost could be geometrically higher. Leadership at the national level is needed to move aggressively to get our security act together before a major problem hits.

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