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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Four experts in transportation safety and counterterrorism gathered Thursday for a panel discussion on the technologies and strategies designed to protect tomorrow’s travelers. The panel was moderated by Dr. Chris Reynolds, Dean of Academic Outreach & Program Development at American Military University.
Patricia Cogswell, Acting Deputy Administrator, Transportation Security Administration, opened a half-day conference in Arlington, Virginia, with a keynote address. She told the audience of business and government executives that current security measures at the nation’s airports have significantly reduced the chances of lapses in pre-boarding passenger screening and at checkpoints.
However, “what we are seeing now is that radicalization in place works just as well,” Cogswell said. “It’s not someone who wants to get into the plane. It’s someone who just wants to get into the unsecured public areas at airports for a mass casualty attack.”
As a result, TSA’s mandate now includes much more than just searching for guns and knives in checked luggage. The threat environment has expanded to include subways, train, pipelines and public areas at airport terminals, each of which poses problems of their own. You can’t scan everyone who enters the subway, Cogswell noted. TSA’s guiding principle, she added, is “Not on Our Watch.”
The subsequent panel consisted of officials from:
- The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- APUS partner TSA
- Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
- The Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority (MWAA)
The panel was unanimous in singling out cybersecurity and biometrics as the two primary drivers of transportation security.
Noting the increasing reliance on technology and especially biometric algorithms, Dr. Reynolds observed that “innovation almost always begins with the private sector.” He then asked about the role higher education can play preparing young men and women for jobs like TSA, the federal organization which partners with APUS to educate its agents.
Goutam Kundu, MWAA Senior Vice President of Technology and CIO, spoke of the difficulties of adding biometric applications at all U.S. airports, leveraging what individual airlines are doing, while confirming travelers’ identities within two to three seconds.
By deploying biometric advances such as facial recognition systems, “airlines are seeing boarding times cut in half,” Kundu said. In addition, by increasingly combining the airlines’ own ID information with government-supported technology, he predicted “the official death of the boarding pass” is not far off.
Kundu acknowledged that there is a constant need for technical talent trained in the latest advances in biometrics, algorithms and cybersecurity to fill the ranks of law enforcement agencies including TSA and airport security officials.
Cybersecurity a Recommended Course of Study for Jobs in Transportation Security
Cybersecurity was the recommended course of study. “We have to have the capability in house to use it,” said John Wagner, Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations, CBP. As advanced technologies take over the rote roles of TSA agents, such as pat-downs, the workforce will shift to other needs and capabilities. “We have to train our people for that option,” Wagner said.
As an example, Dr. Reynolds cited American Public University’s partnership with TSA’s Institute of Higher Education. The two-year-old partnership provides quality, career-relevant academic programs for up to 20,000 TSA employees at 147 U.S. airports.
Jonathan McEntee, Acting Director, Border, Immigration and Maritime Security at DHS, outlined the unique way his department tests new facial recognition technologies. DHS uses citizen volunteers in check-in scenarios staged in a vacant warehouse.
“We have to have these [public-government] partnerships because of [federal] budget constraints,” McEntee explained.
Chris Barnett, Vice President and CTO at Noblis, a strategic science and technology solutions company, predicted facial recognition as a screening tool will be commonplace in airports within the next five to 10 years, replacing the unpopular body scans. “People are becoming more comfortable with biometrics,” he said.
Would You Allow the Prime Minister of Britain to Board a Plane without a Security Scan?
The event ended with a lively presentation by Scott Johnson, TSA Federal Security Director at Washington-Dulles International Airport. He recounted how his staff recently prevented an intruder who tried to rush across the tarmac toward a parked aircraft.
Johnson also revealed how VIPs like the visiting British Prime Minister and his staff were escorted to the gate bypassing normal security. Using that standard, he asked the audience if they would do the same for other VIPs he cited.
The audience gave most of them passes, too. But their entourages had to join the security lines like everyone else.
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