Public accessibility, the high profile nature of airports, the opportunity to create major operational disruption and the mass gathering of people makes the landside of an airport an attractive target for terrorism.
There are, of course, a number of mitigating measures that can be implemented to address the threat from attacks in the public areas of airports. These include additional layers of security, such as visible patrols, appropriate building design features and increased surveillance.
However, the primary layer of security – intelligence and timely information sharing – remains the most powerful tool that governments have to protect their citizens wherever they are, be it at work, in their homes or while travelling.
Better by design
Where intelligence fails to stop an attack, design features can be implemented to provide better protection from landside attack, and to encourage the disbursement of people arriving at the airport. This area of work is relatively new, and best practices can be gathered from leading airports.
Physical measures to mitigate the impact of an attack might include the separation of drop off zones from the terminal building through zone design and use of pedestrian concourses, restricting access to the front of the terminal with physical barriers such as bollards or plants, ensuring that traffic cannot wait close to the building (fast drop off only) and the use of shatterproof glass and blast proof materials to reduce impact and injury.
The human factor
Equally important is the human factor, providing both staff and passengers the motivation and means to recognise and report suspicious articles
This might include reminding passengers and visitors to be vigilant and report unattended baggage or suspicious behaviour, and providing security awareness training for all staff (both airport and non-airport employees, including those not involved directly in security).
The presence of regular high visibility patrols of public areas by airport security, police or other law enforcement agencies can be a means of both detection and deterrence. Law enforcement patrols can use detection dogs effectively in landside areas to identify explosives without affecting passenger flows. Specialist behaviour detection officers can also be beneficial.
Removing queues from airports
However, an alternative approach is to remove the attractiveness of the target. Without queues and crowds, an attack on an airport can still have economic and logistical impact, but cannot cause mass casualties or target specific populations.
The rapid movement of people quickly and efficiently through airport terminal buildings to reduce gatherings and crowds can therefore be of significant benefit.
At the same time, a lack of crowds makes the job of surveillance and patrolling much simpler, adding to the security benefit. No one solution will address the issue of queues and crowds; often there are many inter-linked elements that need to come together.
Key drivers of change
A number of key areas have been identified as drivers for change and in many cases these are dependent on each other, such as process improvement for identity management, which needs a combination of regulatory change, the use of automation and the better use of data.
There are already many initiatives that identify self-service solutions throughout the passenger journey, including check-in, bag drop, self-tagging, re-booking and boarding processes.
Greater use of automation for processes such as the collection of biometrics, automated document verification and payment of departure taxes would enable processes to be implemented at remote locations, off-airport or using mobile technologies.
Arguably greater emphasis should also be placed on either automating and eliminating processes or moving them away from the airport completely. Remote/mobile check-in and printing baggage tags at home already provide examples of this and perhaps one day there will be no need to use any on-site check-in technology.
Another area where technology is starting to play a key role is in the provision of timely information for passengers. Knowing security wait times in advance of travel courtesy of mobile applications, for example, can actually change the way people behave at airports.
And this type of technology offers further opportunities to streamline passenger journeys and subsequently the habits of airport visitors. Knowing the approximate time it will take passengers to get from their arrivals gate to kerbside, for instance, could enable those picking them up to arrive at the airport/terminal at a more appropriate time.
Discouraging non-essential visitors
Another area where possible improvements could be made might be to try and reduce the number of non-essential visitors entering terminal buildings. Providing alternative areas and processes for taxi drivers and tour guides, for example, might discourage them from going inside the terminal building.
The pre-booking of ancillary services such as taxis and hotels may also offer opportunities to address crowds in arrivals halls by pushing better information to customers on arrival at their destination.
Rules and regulations
Naturally, regulation plays a key role in the elimination of redundant steps in the passenger journey. Areas for consideration will be the removal of the need for physical document checks prior to security, the elimination of departure controls (immigration), alternatives for passport control using biometrics, and the automation of departure tax payment in countries where it is still required.
Regulation will also need to allow for the wider use of passenger data, intelligence and information sharing between agencies, countries and with industry to facilitate automated solutions and streamlined processes.
Measures that may be considered redundant should also be reviewed as they contribute to delays and thus airport crowding.
None of these solutions can be implemented by any one entity; collaboration will be needed by airports, airlines and regulators for all of these elements to fall in to place.
A combination of physical infrastructure, a strong security reporting and awareness culture, visible and comprehensive patrolling and reducing crowds can all help to address the threat of landside attack.