The San Jose International Airport Perimeter Security Breach – Not the First and Probably Not the Last

By April 25, 2014 Aviation Security

av-sec - smallNow and for the next few days, everybody will be talking about the miraculous survival of the teenage boy that flew 51/2 hours from San Jose, California to Maui, Hawaii in the wheel well of a jet airliner.

A lot will also be said about the fact that in order to get into that wheel well, the boy snuck undetected past all the perimeter security measures of a major US airport.

When both the relief and the furor subside, what will most likely remain is the sad reality that, in contrast to the ultra-tight security inside America’s airports, perimeter security in the same locations still leaves much to be desired; and even more unfortunate is the realization that, most likely and most unfortunately, not much will be done to remedy the situation.

Historically, this has been the case. It turns out that the San Jose perimeter security breach is but one of a long list of similarly embarrassing and potentially dangerous breaches:

During Christmas eve of 2013, two major airport perimeter breaches took place: one at Newark Liberty International in Newark, New Jersey, and the other at Sky Harbor International in Phoenix, Arizona.

According to a CNN report: “The breach at Newark exposed a failure of a $100 million Perimeter Intrusion Detection System (PIDS), designed to protect New York City area airports. The Phoenix fence hop was the fifth in a decade at that airport.”

CNN continues to tell us that, “When Siyah Bryant, 24, allegedly mounted the barrier at Newark Liberty International Airport, it went unnoticed for a day. On Thursday, a review of security camera footage revealed his ascent, according to Port Authority police.”

This belated detection was alluded to by TAL Global’s CEO,  Johnathan Tal, in a recent interview with NBC anchorperson Brian Williams (see first video item below).  Johnathan explained that most CCTV cameras currently installed around many US airport perimeters are essentially “investigative tools”, designed for after-the-fact analysis, not as real-time detectors and protectors.

In August 2012, the same PIDS failed to deliver, this time in New York City, where a person swam three miles from his disabled watercraft in Jamaica Bay and came ashore in front of John F. Kennedy International Airport. He then climbed a fence and crossed two runways, all without the PIDS spotting him. He was eventually detained after flagging down an airport worker.

And there’s more:

In July 2012, a pilot named Brian Hedglin used a rug to cover the razor wire at the perimeter fence at Utah’s St. George Municipal Airport. He then climbed the fence and attempted to steal a SkyWest Airlines jet.

While none of these incidents may have created potential threats to travelers, they surely expose the relative ease with which people, even without malicious intent, can breach airport perimeter security.

Congress and US airports personnel are quite aware of the perimeter security shortfalls. According to congressional testimony from Mr. Rafi Ron, an airport security consultant and former director of security at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, “most of our airports today are still not protected by an operating perimeter intrusion detection systems [sic]. In other terms, we don’t know when a breach occurs.”

So what about the future? Will the multiple breaches combined with the congressional testimony prod somebody to do something to remedy the situation?

A Frost & Sullivan research report published last year indicates that: “U.S. airport perimeter manufacturers — makers of fences, gates, sensors and cameras — will likely face a steep drop in demand over the next several years.”

Is that really the direction airport perimeter security should go?

What you think?

Click below to watch a detailed report on the young stowaway’s odyssey and the security gaps it exposed.

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