Perimeter security post 9/11

Posted: 16 September 2005 | Chief Alvy Dodson, Director of Public Safety Manager, DFW International Airport | No comments yet

In this exclusive article Alvy Dodson relates his department’s strategic thinking behind managing the perimeter of an 18,000 acre site against terrorism.

In this exclusive article Alvy Dodson relates his department’s strategic thinking behind managing the perimeter of an 18,000 acre site against terrorism.

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) is situated on more than 18,000 acres of land approximately twenty minutes drive from the city centers of Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas. A fifty-mile radius, referred to as the DFW Metroplex, is home to approximately five million people and DFW Airport is the major aviation facility for North Texas. Airports Council International (ACI) ranks DFW Airport as the world’s third busiest airport both in passenger traffic and aircraft operations. The 31 year old airport has just completed a new two million square foot; twenty-eight gate International Terminal with a new secure elevated passenger transportation system connecting all five terminals.

The opening of the new International Terminal D moves all of the international services into one facility, which is more than twice as large as any of the other terminals. The responsibility of providing public safety (police, fire/EMS) and security to such a large facility falls primarily to the men and women of the DFW Airport Department of Public Safety. We have had almost four years to assess and react to the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and our resolve to provide a safe and secure environment for the traveling public and our employees is unwavering.

Perimeter importance

The task of providing adequate security to such a large facility is an an ongoing and dynamic one that requires airport executives and law enforcement/security executives to balance vulnerabilities, threats, operational considerations and fiscal responsibility in an era of unstable and financially stressed airlines. It is evident to most industry professionals that providing total security to our airports is not realistic in a practical sense, but that does not prevent us from striving to achieve as safe an environment as possible.

The Aviation Transportation Security Act directed the TSA to perform numerous aviation and airport related security functions. However, it is now obvious, owing to political and financial constraints, that the TSA must focus on passenger and baggage screening as their primary function. They must also relinquish any efforts to expand into other aviation security areas.

DFW Airport, like most airports, has focused on a myriad of security-related issues in an effort to harden the facility and deter those who would consider attacking it. Immediately after 9/11, we chose to assume responsibility of AOA (Aircraft Operations Area) vehicle access gates (which had been under the airline’s control via a contract security service) in the central terminal area and shut down employee access through Secure Identification Display Area (SIDA) access controlled doors. A bold and somewhat controversial policy was implemented that required all employees to go through the passenger screening checkpoints. This process is still in effect today.

We then began an extensive evaluation of AOA perimeter security and quickly determined that improvements were needed to shore up existing fencing and overall perimeter security. The following questions were considered:

  1. How far should we go with the upgrades?
  2. What were we really trying to prevent?
  3. How much money were we willing to spend to achieve that objective?

The latter of these considerations was made even more crucial due to the financial crisis of our airline partners at DFW Airport.

We looked at our history and quickly determined that misguided individuals, either on foot or driving passenger vehicles, had breached our perimeter gates or fence line on several occasions. Each of the vehicle breach incidents involved an intoxicated or mentally challenged driver. The fence jumpers were usually juveniles out for a little adventure. Fortunately, all vehicle breaches occurred in the early morning hours when air operations were at a minimum and our officers quickly stopped the vehicles and apprehended the drivers and occupants.

Identifying vulnerabilities

Did we think that terrorists were about to use the same tactic to attack our airport? No, we did not, but we felt that the vulnerability was there and that it was prudent to consider appropriate and reasonable measures to address the issue. DFW Airport currently conducts an average of 2,100 daily aircraft operations between the hours of 0600 and 2300 and at certain times of the day several wide body aircraft are fully fueled and loaded with passengers awaiting takeoff at the ends of departure runways. That this on-going situation presents an attractive target would be an understatement to say the least.

We immediately started the quick fixes, securing manhole covers, drainage outfalls and eliminating unnecessary or under-utilized aircraft operation area gates. The gate analysis resulted in an immediate elimination of 50 per cent of these gates and we continue to monitor gate utilization with an eye towards reducing the number of access gates even further.

We then took a hard look at the practical and effective deterrence and prevention measures that should be addressed, both short term and long term. We decided to take a three-phased approach to improve the central terminal area and perimeter security. This included: deterring the casual fence jumper by installing three strands of angled barbed wire on top of our fences; installing concrete barricades at the entrances to all terminals; adding a three strand reinforced and anchored steel cabling system on the inside of the AOA perimeter fence at strategic locations; installing two types of hydraulic gate barricades at both guarded and unguarded AOA gate access points and mounting long range pan-tilt-zoom cameras on two of the FAA control towers to enhance remote AOA surveillance capabilities.

DFW Airport successfully sought Federal funding and, once completed, the projects will have a total price tag of approximately US$4.6 million. Although Federal funding is in place, the third and final phase, a US$2.5 million integration into an existing FAA Airport Surface Detection Equipment (ASDE) system currently operational at DFW, is still under consideration.

Securing the future

The implementation of the new security threat levels, specifically the measures mandated by the Department of Homeland Security for Level Orange and Level Red, caused DFW and other airports across the country to assess vulnerabilities to terminal buildings and parking garages to combat perceived threats of large vehicle improvised explosive devices. Not only were the close-in parking structures and terminals evaluated for structural integrity, we also addressed vehicles traveling the unrestricted public roadways through the airport. To prohibit vehicles from entering the central terminal areas and evading established vehicle inspections under level orange, we installed post and cable obstructions between the service roads and the two main access airport roadways. This project not only improved overall security, it also served to reduce parking revenue loss to the airport.

Our next major consideration is the addition of some form of biometric technology to the existing access control system. We have been waiting patiently for several years for direction on this matter from the Transportation Security Administration. However it has become apparent that waiting for a National system, such as the Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) program, to guide us toward a unified and integrated system is not the correct path for our airport.

Therefore we have chosen to implement our own analysis and operational testing of available technology in order to determine the most effective and efficient upgrade to our DFW access control systems. When we become comfortable with an operationally successful biometric technology integration into the system, we will re-evaluate the need to continue our procedures to physically screen SIDA badged employees.

The entire issue of airport security in general – and perimeter security in particular – must be approached in a holistic manner by airport executives. We have embraced a management philosophy at DFW Airport that requires the appropriate stakeholder partners to provide the necessary input and coordination. This approach has allowed us to ensure that the appropriate perspectives are part of the process from project start to project completion.

Our country and our allies throughout the world are in the middle of a struggle with those who will do anything to destroy our governments and our democratic way of life. As law enforcement and security managers, we have no choice but to work harder and smarter than those who would do us harm. The implementation of proactive yet fiscally responsible security measures is a challenge that none of us can ignore.

Chief Alvy Dodson

Chief Alvy Dodson is the Director of Public Safety at DFW International Airport and has been with DFW for over 26 years. Responsible for an annual budget of $40,000,000 and a staff of 472 employees, he is one of the founding members and a past president of the Airport Law Enforcement Agencies Network (ALEAN). He has served as Chairman of both the Airports Council International NA Public Safety and Security Committee and the Airports Council International World Standing Aviation Security Committee.

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