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Airport security is a technique employed to ensure that an airport and its aircraft are free from crime. It attempts to prevent and mitigate possible threats, and potentially unsafe situations from penetrating the airport perimeters. Airport security reassures the travelers of their safety while at the airport, or during transit. It also helps protect the state from terror attacks at the international border and transit point. Aircraft and other airport infrastructure are expensive and have to be protected. An attack on an airport would lead to an economic down fall.
According to Belger (2001), the main aim of aviation security is preventing harm from aircraft, passengers, and airport crew, as well as supporting national security and fighting terrorism. This is by helping the state to fight terror, which is only possible by enforcing the counter-terrorism policy. Airport security is usually enforced by a state or the resident country, and is usually done by a special agency that protects all airports. For instance, the Federal Police of Australia is responsible for security maintenance at major airports, while in the United States, airport security is controlled at the state level.
Huay (2007) states that, according to the International Civil Aviation Authority, the Chicago convention (annex 17), it is each state’s responsibility to ensure the safety of its passengers, crew, ground-personnel and the public from acts of unlawful interference with civil aviation. This is the reason why all nations and their states are conscious of what happens at their airports.
There are numerous reasons why airport security is highly enforced, but the major reasons are to prevent terrorism; prevent illegal substance from entering the country; and ensure the safety of passengers. To enforce airport security, various measures have to be undertaken. The following are major techniques and security guidelines that have been implemented in major airports to enforce and ensure security.
Passenger and Luggage Screening
At airport entry points, metal detector technology is used to screen passengers for metal objects. Metal detectors provide an efficient method for preventing weapons from illegally entering the airport. They enable security personnel to locate the source of a signal on the body, or on luggage. Smaller hand-held metal detectors also come in handy in locating metal objects on an individual more precisely. When a metallic object is detected, a signal is sent to an alarm system which on the other hand causes a beep of varying frequency, depending on proximity of the metal object to the detector. Some airport security systems have advanced imaging technology to enhance the screening process.
Carry-on luggage also undergoes the baggage screening. This is usually done through X-ray examination; physical search; or chemical test (testing for chemicals using Explosive Trace Detection equipment). In some airports, a solution has been put in place to install explosives detection system, which will be effective in curbing terror threats in airlines. This mechanism ensures that no explosives and weapons have access to the airport facility. Vehicles entering the airport must also undergo screening to prevent any possible threat.
Personal Identity Verification
Advanced technology has been implemented in airports to curb the possibility of insecurity, and to eliminate minute weaknesses in airport systems. Employees, aircrew, and passengers undergo personal identity verification. This is by scrutinizing legal identification documents at airports. The use of biometrics is essential to enhance the identification process by comparing the results of biometrics to information previously stored in national data banks. This system involves enrolling passengers, aircrew, and employees to a national identification system for data comparison.
Employees are also limited to areas they can access within the airport by requesting for authorization and are required to produce access rights to such. This requires the use of biometric technology. Some of the biometric systems used include fingerprints, hand geometry, voice and face recognition. This ensures that certain employees can only access specific areas, while others access different areas.
Some airport security uses a techniqueusually referred to as the "human factor." This involves isolating and interrogation of travelers based on their race and origin. For instance, in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, security personnel use racial profiling to isolate those with Arabic appearance, with bias on names and/or physical appearance. However, all passengers regardless of their appearance and origin are questioned to give reasons for traveling to Israel, and some more general questions regarding their trip with the aim of finding inconsistencies.
Neighborhood Protection and Surveillance
It has become the responsibility of airports to ensure security in public within and around the airport. This is essential in ensuring the security of both the airport and the aircrafts. Surveillance cameras are fitted within the airport environs to monitor for questionable practices that pose a threat to the security of the airport. These cameras are then controlled internally, and peculiar behavior is reported to the authorities for investigations. Thermal cameras can be used to facilitate surveillance during the night when normal lighting is impossible.
The airport also deploys security personnel to protect the surrounding neighborhoods and residential areas to keep criminals and terrorists at bay. These are plain clothes police officers and special agents who monitor the activities of residents for suspicious behavior.
A fiber optic perimeter intrusion detection system is another advanced security measure that has been utilized by some regional and international airports in the United States. Such a system allows the airport security team to identify, locate and detect any kind of intrusion attempted on the airport perimeter. This has the effect of ensuring real-time and immediate notification of intrusion; allowing the security personnel to be able to assess the threat, track movement and engage necessary security procedures to counter it. For instance, Dulles International Airport and U.S. Military JFPASS are examples of airports that have already utilized this type of intrusion detection system.
Good lighting deters criminal activities. This is because most crime activities are planned for in the dark, especially at night, when the possibility of being witnessed is not probable. When there is proper lighting, natural surveillance is also enhanced, and instills confidence in users and passengers. Usually, most people are afraid of the dark night, but with proper lighting, anyone would walk in confidence. Airports therefore have supportive power equipment that enable them to run uninterrupted throughout, and have back up power systems in case of failure of the main power supply. Some airports even have their own power generation systems, isolated from the national grid; which enables to run at all times of the year, reliably and efficiently.
Trained police are also used in line with the metal detectors and other screening dynamics to facilitate the process of explosive detection, and among other purposes, drug detection. These dogs are also used trained to observe peculiar behavior of humans, such as uneasiness, and alert security personnel of such. The dogs also come into play in tracking criminals by easily spotting them.
Airport Security Enforcement authority
Different countries and states have different airport authorities that help ensure tight security at airports. These may include hired private police force dedicated to the airport; special unit of the local police department trained for airport security and deployed in airports; the local police department assigned to the airport for normal patrol operations; the military; and airport protection unit. Other security personnel may include Security guards and Paramilitary forces.
Challenges Facing Airport Security
Security has always been the major challenge at all border and transit points in a given country. An airport is usually the best and preferred method of transport for international destination. Therefore, a balance between security; and privacy, service efficiency and effectiveness is a fundamental area of research for a viable, marketable solution. The following are some of the challenges experienced by airport security.
Increased Security Cost
Optimum security requires expensive infrastructure and advanced technology. The cost of purchasing infrastructure and these technologies is very high. Change is dynamic, and for a security system, this has always to be the case since perpetrators of evil deeds tend to become more sophisticated, with the aim of beating the system. Therefore, airport authority has to keep changing security equipment, and installing new ones to prevent threats. For instance, in his statement, Belger (2001) says that, at the time of his speech, Federation Aviation Authority (FAA) had spent $445 million in the past five years, and they were planning to spend $293 million in the following fiscal year (2002) on explosives detection system equipment. This is a huge expense for a single facility, for the purposes of security.
Security Screening Procedures
The amount of time taken in screening procedures greatly increases the amount of time passengers spend at the airport (waiting), due to extended buffer time between arriving at the airport, procedural screening and other security procedures, and getting on a flight. Airport personnel, pose as a threat to the airport security system, since they can easily bypass security procedures, due to the level of trust they have from the management authority. Therefore, employees and crew can bring weapons on-board, which is a great security threat.
Cargo screening systems are not fully reliable by themselves. This is because explosives and dangerous weapons can be concealed in cargo and result to catastrophic results. Cargo section is usually understaffed and thus, the number of inspectors required to oversee cargo screening process is low, making the process partially unreliable and the airport authority also fails to verify the self-reported data submitted by screening participants. Also, there is no technology approved to screen large containers of cargo, suggesting the need for an alternative approach to screening such cargo.
Low cost carriers pose a threat to major airports due to poor screening procedures. Their poor security procedures force them to be barred from entering major airports, causing inconveniences to travelers. For instance, most African airlines are considered low cost and poor and thus do not have direct access to the United States borders. They have to go through airports in the European Union or some in the Asian region. This is an expensive undertaking, but necessary. It is an inconvenience to the passenger, who is always conscious of the time taken to travel to a specific destination.
Security and Airport Operations and Facilitation
The balance between security, and the airport operations and facilitation is usually imbalanced. This is because one area cannot be left unattended, and both have to be done concurrently, failure to which serious repercussions will be met. The security of passengers is the first thing to be considered before boarding a flight. On the other hand, the operations of the airport have to be facilitated to be work in line with the existing system without inconveniencing the passenger, or exposing the passenger to threats. The balance between the operations and security are therefore supposed to complement each other for efficient services to be delivered.
Security Personnel Training
The cost of training new security personnel is also high; because of the equipment required for training. Security personnel require specialized training on the areas of screening, combat, and using the various security equipment deployed at the airport. For instance, different personnel have to be trained to control surveillance equipment, others on combat and firearms, and others on screening equipment. The loyalty of an individual is also hard to determine, and thus the pledge to serve and protected can just have to be accepted and believed.
The security of an airport is an expensive undertaking by a state. However, it is important and is a requirement because of the role played by any airport in a country or state. It is the international gateway for international travels and cross-border transactions. The country therefore has to be in full control, determining who can enter and who can leave. The security of an airport guarantees the safety of all people, and thus, revenue earned from border transactions is guaranteed; for instance tourism and custom taxes on imports.