Panel tackles airport security

The 2002 Silicon Valley Blue Ribbon Task Force on Aviation Security and Technology

A task force charged with reviewing current and emerging technologies to improve security at the San Jose, Calif., airport has released a report that could have national implications.

The report, submitted June 17 to the city council and the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA), focused on promising technologies that could address passenger convenience, security and cost, said John Thompson, chairman and chief executive officer of Symantec Corp. and chairman of the task force, which was convened by San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales and U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.).

Although the group's first objective was to improve security at the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport — named for the secretary of the U.S. Transportation Department, who is from the area — Thompson said local officials want TSA to select the airport as one of 20 pilot program sites to receive funding for such security measures. TSA officials have already decided to study security procedures at about 15 airports.

The other 428 airports around the country also could adopt the recommendations, Thompson said. "I think what's good about this report is that it frames the problem and gives a prescription in application areas as opposed to just running on about technology, retinal scanning, biometrics, and on and on and on and on," he said.

"What we concluded was that technology certainly can be applied to the issue of protecting the airports.... But it is [as] much about process as it is technology," Thompson said. "How do you respond when there's an incident? That's not technology. That's as much about having policies and practices that are well articulated, well understood by everyone involved and rigorously adhered to."

The report was divided into three broad areas, with technologies highlighted for each area. The areas are:

n Creating a trusted or validated facility by applying technologies to secure the perimeter of the airport, its buildings, and access in and out of certain sections.

n Creating a trusted employee program using appropriate clearances and authentication. Such a system also could be applied to a "validated passenger" program, Thompson said.

n Creating a trusted network. "Airports today operate somewhat in isolation and somewhat on open or unsecured networks," he said. "And so there's a need to create a way to link airports and information about what's going on in an airport onto a digitized network."

The task force looked at current technologies to help "mitigate or solve the problem today as we know it," he said, "and then we looked at concepts or technologies that are further out that require further exploration for which someone might want to have an ongoing vigilant look."

To do this, the report recommended a research and development focus within TSA, DOT or another appropriate agency "so systems don't become stale," he said.

Cost is another critical issue, he added. "Much of what happens in an airport is controlled and funded by the local authorities from a security point of view," he said. "And so before we as a task force would mandate or suggest [that] these technologies could work, somewhere along the way the process needs to be made clear as to where the money's going to come from to ensure that we do in fact improve the security of the airport."

Airport security has emerged as an important issue, not just for safety reasons, but also for economic ones. Industry analysts predicted that airlines would lose $6.5 billion in the 12-month period following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to the report. At San Jose's airport, lucrative international routes were dropped, concession and parking revenues fell, and security costs increased.

"If we address the security issue properly, it'll return the confidence of the flying public," Honda said. "When people move back to air travel, it will re-energize the economy."

TSA and other agencies involved with security will probably help cover the costs of airport security, "but the government cannot carry all the costs itself, and that's why public/private partnerships are going to be critical," Honda added.

"If we can't figure out a way to get the flying public back in the San Jose airport, it's going to have a huge, huge impact on the [local] economy," Thompson said. "We've lost a number of significant international flights as the airlines have [cut] back. We know that every time we lose a flight to, let's say, Taiwan from San Jose, it has an annualized impact of over $300 million, and so it has an economic issue to our community."

Task force members included executives from the technology and airline industries as well as representatives from higher education, law enforcement and the federal government. The task force held a public hearing that drew about 75 participants and received proposals from more than 40 companies.

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Making Flying Safer

A task force convened by Mayor Ron Gonzales of San Jose, Calif., and U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) has recommended several technologies to improve airport security.

For validated workforce security:

* Biometric authentication via an identification card and digital certificate technology.

* Management software to automate scheduling, skills management and access control.

For a validated facility:

* Digital video monitoring using a standard networking infrastructure so images can be stored, accessed and shared in real time.

* Inspection certificates with Global Positioning System transponders on all authorized vehicles so their movements can be tracked throughout the facility.

* Biometric authentication system within aircraft limited to pilots, flight attendants, maintenance workers and other authorized personnel

. For a validated communications infrastructure:

* An integrated digital system for real-time communications, data sharing and enhanced security among organizations.

* A virtual private network connecting all devices — video cameras, biometric scanning stations and baggage-scanning systems — and encrypting communications among them.

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