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SAFETY & SECURITY Last modified on October 15, 2018

Staying two steps ahead

ACI’s new handbook on landside security is in response to today’s landscape of ever-changing terrorist threats, writes ACI World’s head of security, Nathalie Herbelles.

Airports and their partners are constantly innovating to improve security. Initiatives such as Smart Security, for instance, focus on enhancing the passenger screening checkpoint, a crucial layer of airport security with a high impact on passengers’ experience.

The screening process is predominantly focused on protecting aircraft: in making sure that no prohibited item can be taken on board and used to carry out an attack.

Today’s reality, however, is that terrorists are not just looking at carrying out sophisticated attacks, but also more achievable ones on soft targets in public areas. These may cause fewer casualties than destroying an aircraft, but they require less planning.

Examples of landside attacks at airports have come at Brussels, Istanbul–Atatürk, Moscow-Domodedovo and Glasgow. The methods of attack – vehicle ramming, explosives, guns or knives – follow similar patterns to attacks on crowded places in cities like Paris, Berlin, Nice, Toronto and London.

New ICAO Standards to address landside risks

As part of its security strategy, ACI World advises authorities on the adoption of new security rules, helping to shape them and ensuring that changes are proportionate and effective.

In 2016, ICAO decided to amend Annex 17 by upgrading its two Recommended Practices on landside to the level of Standards, making them mandatory for States. ACI welcomed this change as it was an appropriate response to the changing threat landscape.

Annex 17 now requires that States establish security measures to protect landside areas from attacks. But what are ‘landside areas’? And how should we determine their boundaries at the airport and outside of the airport perimeter (access roads, for instance)? According to ICAO, this is for each State to define.

Another challenge is that government agencies or companies may be responsible for different parts of landside security measures. For example, the airport might be responsible for patrolling the perimeter, while local law enforcement may be responsible for patrolling the railway station under the airport. Annex 17 requires that States co-ordinate landside security measures between all relevant government departments, agencies and other entities, clearly identifying each one’s responsibility.

ACI’s new Landside Security Handbook

ACI World’s mission includes promoting airport excellence – helping members build and maintain strong security. We do this by collecting best practices and sharing guidance material with airport members.

To help them make sense of landside threats and their new regulatory obligations, in April 2018 ACI released a handbook on landside security. It provides hands-on advice on how to:

  • Assess the risk of landside attacks
  • Prevent and deter attacks
  • Set clear responsibilities between the different players
  • Be prepared for, and respond to incidents
  • Recover and communicate, and
  • Build a strong security culture.

As every airport is different, the handbook provides examples and options for different operating environments. Airports want their landside facilities to be open and accessible for travellers, well-wishers and staff, with a variety of attractive commercial offerings and services.

Infrastructure investments now often include large-scale projects located in the airport environment. An example is Singapore Changi Airport’s new Jewel complex – which will include a hotel, retail, dining and an entertainment complex to attract neighbouring communities and travellers.

Each State and airport should develop its own risk assessment and keep it up to date with new threats. The ICAO Risk Context Statement provides useful inspiration (and a possible methodology), assessing the global risk of landside attacks as ‘medium-high’.

This is second only to an attack via an improvised explosive device (IED), which are still deemed to be the preferred method of attack for terrorists.

Mitigations put in place in the landside should be carefully balanced against their impact. The ideal situation is where security is built in to the airport design, because retro-fitting improvements could be much more expensive.

Features such as smart landscaping, blast resistant structures, curved access roads and bollards can help prevent, minimise or even deter attacks. The handbook devotes a section to this important topic.

Landside areas are different from the security restricted area, so the same measures do not necessarily apply. Nonetheless, several States still require that everyone is screened before entering the building – also known as the ‘front of house’. This may create new vulnerabilities because people having to queue to get inside the building represent a target for attackers.

In other words, the solution may only transfer the risk as opposed to treating it. Should screening be considered necessary, a better approach may be to screen in a random continuous manner – making sure that queues are minimised.

The same principle should apply throughout the landside. Congestion in public areas creates the potential for mass casualties. This is another reason for encouraging the use of self-service options for passengers, whether through mobile boarding passes, home-printed baggage tags, self-service bag drop points (like the one pictured above in Singapore Changi’s new Terminal 4) and check-in kiosks.

Airports and airlines are working together – both individually and collectively, through ACI World and IATA – to process people through the landside check-in and baggage-check system faster, reducing their vulnerability to landside security threats.

Generally, a range of mitigations can be introduced that achieve a high security outcome without forcing everyone to stop – this can be a combination of patrols, explosive detection dogs (EDD), CCTV monitoring and behaviour analysis.

Ultimately, one of our best security defences against landside attacks and other risks is awareness and security culture. Staff and travellers who are aware and alert to the threat of attacks will report incidents, breaches and activities of concern.

While some practical steps can help us prevent and discourage landside attacks before they happen, the Landside Security Handbook encourages airports to mitigate their impact when they do happen, prepare their response and bounce back, resuming full operations.

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Training and APEX in Security

To bring these best practices to life, ACI World offers training as well as airport reviews, known as the Airport Excellence Programme (APEX).

Under APEX in Security, ACI co-ordinates and dispatches an ACI Security Review Team of experts to a host airport, with the goal of improving security in specific areas of interest. A review will usually include a wide range of security key areas, including landside security.

Longer term

Terrorists will continue to change and modify their methods and approaches to try and circumvent the best efforts of governments, security services and airports. We must be two steps ahead of them in anticipating and planning to mitigate these threats. This means making sure that airport security is sustainable and can withstand the test of time. Currently, our focus is mostly on protecting the aircraft – ensuring that all persons and items getting on board are screened. As an industry, we must ask, is this the right focus? Or should the airport become the focus, building and increasing security through different layers at different points?

In the future, the measures airports implement in the landside could be used to determine the intensity of screening later in the process. For instance, security could start outside of the airport, with baggage being picked up and screened remotely.

A stand-off portal picking up traces of explosives in the check-in area could affect whether a passenger should be screened more, less or differently at the security checkpoint.

How they are screened would also be affected by their risk score, calculated through data like the advance personal information they provide when booking a trip. In effect, the checkpoint could become the smaller layer of an onion.

We are starting to have discussions with our airport members and with regulators and partners around the world. Setting an audacious vision for airport security, which adapts to risk and protects infrastructure as well as flights, is something ACI has committed to delivering in 2019 – and it promises to be an energising journey.

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