Now that the media interested in evaluating airport security six months after 9/11 been heard from, the consensus is that screening personnel will make or break an airport’s security program. In reports from the New York Times, MSNBC, and even a special prepared by the Arts and Entertainment channel, praise and criticism of airport security programs is focused on the personnel who each day must process approximately two million airline passengers at America’s 429 commercial airports. And while the new security technologies being developed every day haven’t, for the most part, gone beyond the testing stage, they too will succeed or fail in improving the quality of airport security based upon how well screening and other security personnel use them.
Americans are known for looking for quick fixes, even for our most complex problems. It is also true that while we like all of the bells and whistles that the world of electronics has brought us, most of us over the age of 18 still cannot program our VCR. It should not be surprising then that while the government is purchasing explosive detection equipment that costs in excess of $1 million per unit, and we need over 2,000 units, some members of Congress, and some officials of the Department of Transportation, expect screeners without a high school education to operate that equipment effectively. Not likely when you cannot read or comprehend the instruction manual! And when it comes to the effective use of the Computer Assisted Profiling System, interrogation techniques, weapons and explosives identification, or future hi-tech gadgetry that we will be depending upon to secure our airports, there are no shortcuts for training or experience.
In the opinion of most aviation security experts, Israel offers the best model for airport security. Without question, Israel provides the best trained airport security personnel to be found for its citizens and all who travel aboard its airliners and through its airports. But even Israeli experts working in U.S. airports concede that the techniques employed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv are not fully transferable to JFK. in New York. Israel has 35 planes and 90 flights per day; there are more than 35,000 departures daily in the United States from 429 airports. America’s system has to be smarter, and its screeners need to be even better than Israel’s. On average, each day in the U.S., more than two million passengers will go through screening. Our system will need to identify the high-risk passengers from the crowd and our screeners will need to screen them expertly.
New Yorkers have witnessed more terrorist horror than any other community in American history. Not only have we lived through and proudly rebounded from the despicable acts of September 11th, we survived an earlier terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, which resulted in death and injury. On both occasions, the toll would have been much higher had it not been for the skill and courage of the men and women who serve us as fire fighters, law enforcement officers, and emergency medical technicians. Over the past six years, Kennedy Airport has had to deal with the horror of four international flights that crashed and burned not long after take-off. While none of the TWA, Egypt Air, Swiss Air, or American Airlines flights have been attributed to terrorism, we know that planes don’t fall from the sky without some human error as a cause; and the loss of a commercial airliner through negligence or accident is as egregious as if it were the deliberate act of a madman.
With the help of New York City Congressman Gary Ackerman of Queens, and the support of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, John F. Kennedy Airport is on the road to becoming the first in the nation to attack the problem of airport security with a plan which will demonstrate that America can, and will, secure its airports. The Port Authority has requested that JFK Airport be designated a “pilot project” pursuant to the airport security law signed by President Bush last November.
If the request is granted, all of the screening at JFK’s nine terminals will be conducted by former law enforcement and personnel from the tri-state area. Kennedy Airport will be the first in the nation to have law enforcement professionals, most of whom will have 20 years of experience, performing the screening functions. From former federal agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, who are accustomed to dealing with large numbers of foreign travelers, to retired Corrections personnel who can spot weapons and places for their concealment faster and better than we have ever seen, screening will be better, faster, and more courteous than we have become accustomed to experiencing. From the ranks of these former law enforcement operatives, we will bring explosives experts, emergency services personnel, foreign language skills, interrogation experience, and crowd control and evacuation expertise that will reverse the need to evacuate our terminals as we now do because of the inability to determine threat levels.
The Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center first proposed the use of experienced law enforcement personnel for our airports after the events of Pan Am 103 in 1988. Working with EBS Consultants of Monroe, N.Y., over the past few years, this concept has been fine tuned to the point where its application at JFK will make it a prototype for the nation. The project will capitalize on the years of training and community service that cannot be replicated in classrooms. It will also offer hope of security excellence for other airports across America whose retired law enforcement personnel are standing by ready to help prove that America’s airport security can be the new world standard.
This morning, I received telephone calls from a former NYPD detective and a federal agent from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Both had applied for screener jobs over the Department of Transportation’s Web site. Both were informed they were not qualified. Another retired police officer was told that he was not eligible for even the minimum salary being offered screeners by the DOT because he had earned a pension as a retired law enforcement officer. When this program was announced at press conference recently held by Congressman Ackerman, a radio reporter said that accepting this program is a “no-brainer” for government. It would appear that some in government have taken her words literally.