Airport Security

Krues8dr writes: I heard a little while ago on Z95 (95.1 FM) that they’re no longer allowing people to be dropped off at the front gate of the C’ville airport. Apparently, all traffic is now routed through the parking lot, except for employees and rental car returns.

Paranoia, or realistic?

8 thoughts on “Airport Security”

  1. I would have to say a little bit of both. It’s not paranoia if they’re all out to get you … since we are at war … A little bit of inconvenience is a small price to pay, and one can only hope that the inevitable impatience of a few will be ignored and/or overcome by open-minds…

  2. We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it – and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again, and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore, either.

    –Mark Twain

    Most of these “security” measures (many of which, by the way, flow down from the Federal DoT, and are not locally conceived) derive from people’s need to be seen as “doing something” when they believe they are under a microscope. Whether the measures make any substantive contribution to security is not relevant, so long as they are a visible reminder to the public that “steps are being taken.” Now, I’ll be the first to admit that security almost always comes at the price of inconvenience, but what people need to understand is that not every inconvenience results in increased security. Whenever we consider security measures we need to ask ourselves three questions. What threat is this measure meant to prevent, how likely is that threat, and how well will the measure actually prevent the threat in practice.

    Presumably the latest restrictions (as well as the closure of the short-term parking lot) are meant to counter the threat of car bombs. Is this a credible threat? Well, we have had car bombings before in this country, but the bombers have invariably chosen targets other than airports, which would seem to indicate that airports per se are not very high up on the list of car bomber targets.

    Will the restrictions eliminate the threat? If the goal is to eliminate the specific threat of bombing KCHO, then probably, yes, it will. The open design of KCHO’s long-term parking lot makes it a poor candidate for a car bombing, but what of other airports with large parking garages? Surely a car bomb that goes off in a busy and crowded parking garage is going to cause horrific damage irrespective of whether the bomb is close enough to damage the air carrier terminal. And airports are not the only (or even the preferred) targets for bombing. Sporting events, office buildings, and shopping centers all have greater potential for causing casualties. Thus, if our objective is preventing car bombings in general, instead of just those at one particular place, then the security measures are a dismal failure.

    That brings me to my second point, which is that much of the scrutiny being directed at airports and air travel is misguided; it’s a case of fighting a battle that’s already over. Airplanes were involved in the attacks on the Twin Towers, and so we pay careful attention to air travel security, which is entirely correct; we don’t want a repeat of the same scenario. However, having closed up the most glaring loopholes in air travel security, we now proceed to examine airports more and more minutely, obsessing over more and more far fetched scenarios and addressing them with less and less effective measures. Eventually the returns in added security diminish to the point that additional measures do more harm than good. Not only do they inconvenience people for no real security benefit, but they also divert attention away from real and addressable security concerns elsewhere. The next attack, when and if it comes, likely will not involve airports or aircraft at all, and no doubt the planners of those attacks are laughing in their sleeves as we bark furiously up the wrong tree.


  3. I work in an office within the Airport Operations Area, and without question security has been beefed up considerably in the past week. Indeed, you can no longer stop your car in front of the airport to let a passenger off, or to pick somebody up. Yesterday afternoon, I was dropping off a pilot, and both of us have AOA security clearance, and the cop who knows both of us even had the bomb sniffing dog check out my car. They are taking no chances, and even the most baby-faced airport cop here (and they are almost all rather young) displays a level of seriousness I’ve never seen before.

    While this might be eligible for placement in the “closing the barn door after the horses escaped” file, it is a prudent move, and necessary. Our adversary has specifically charged his fanatical minions with disrupting our way of life, mentioning in particular our nation’s transportation infrastructure, including specifically air travel and major bridges. While Dulles or LAX might be preferable and more logical targets, one expects that security there is even tighter.

    These people are fanatical homicidal maniacs, but they have proven not to be stupid homicidal maniacs. Whatever they do next, they’ll follow the path of least resistance.

    It is important to note that in at least one case, the weapons (knives, box cutters, whatever) that were used in a hijacking were not brought into the air transport system through Boston’s Logan Airport, but through the security (or lack thereof) at the Portland, Maine airport. Once those terrorists entered the system in Portland, neither they nor their belongings were checked again when transfering in Boston. For that reason alone, it is essential that security here be as thorough as it is anywhere.

    It’s safe to say that the old tried and true box cutter ploy will never work again – passengers faced with that scenario will fight like hell to either take out the hijackers or ensure the plane crashes away from a population center. But what else might terrorists try? I don’t know, but I do know that the overwhelming show of security and force will make it unlikely they’ll be successful in doing something on a commercial airliner.

    The next attacks may indeed be as far removed from air travel as possible, but that doesn’t mean we should shy away from ensuring the safety of our air travel system. It’s going to be extremely tight for quite a while, but I imagine that once the FAA has had an opportunity to try some things out they’ll be able to provide the same level of security with decreased delays.

    It’s important to note that we’re at war, and for the first time in almost 200 years the enemy is definitely among us. He’s been scouting us out on the ground for years, and he probably knows our weaknesses as well as we do, if not better. Airport security isn’t even close to being the only area where security is being stepped up, but it is the most visible, and because of the potential for disaster in the event of a breakdown, it’s going to be the most vigorously attended to.

    While it’s all well and good to imagine the terrorists laughing at us as they pull off their next act in a different direction, they would be laughing even harder if they were able to attack us again using our own commercial guided missiles.

  4. I’m not quite sure why Z95 said that, because that’s definitely not the case. I just drove right up to the baggage claim along with two other cars on Sunday and saw no evidence of any new rules or regulations in place now other than an empty county cop car parked nearby. Things seemed just like they always have up at CHO, so if there are any new rules that are supposed to change that, they’re not actually being executed.

  5. Ok, so if someone shows up in a cab they have to walk from the parking lot up to the terminal. But if they show up in a car bomb, they’ll pull up to the terminal anyway, and blow up the security guy who’s job it is to tell people not to pull up to the terminal. Great! Why dont we just put up a sign that says “Car bombs are prohibited”. It’ll work just as well. I’m sure suicide bombers will do anything to avoid getting a ticket.

  6. The next attacks may indeed be as far removed from air travel as possible, but that doesn’t mean we should shy away from ensuring the safety of our air travel system.

    Agreed. What we do not agree on is whether or not the new measures do anything at all to ensure safety. I contend that they do not. The terrorists would not have been hindered in the slightest had these parking restrictions been in place on 11 September because parking near the terminal wasn’t necessary to their plan. Moreover, if a second round of terrorists want to detonate a car bomb at an airport, they will be able to, and at some airports they won’t even have to violate the parking restrictions to do so; a bomb in one of the large parking garages found at big airports will do as much, if not more, to disrupt air travel as a bomb delivered right to the front steps of CHO.

    Many of these measures are panicky attempts to create the illusion of perfect safety, but an illusion is all it is. By all means, let us screen carry-on and checked baggage more carefully for dangerous items, and let us prohibit dangerous items like straight razors that were previously allowed as carry-ons. But enough with the pointless inconveniences that don’t actually contribute anything to security. Answer truly, did it really make you feel safer when authorities removed all the plastic butter knives from airport concessions? Let’s use some common sense here.

    It is, as you note, important to remember that we’re at war, but remembering that we are at war does not mean that we should discard all reason and act out of panic.


  7. Agreed – panic (and irrationality) can be very bad things.

    I think a lot of this is a case that the institution of “airline security” received a very, very black eye on September 11. I think they’re doing everything they can think of right now because they really have no idea what’s next, and for all I know somebody has received some intelligence pointing to an act that the new measures are designed to prevent.

    In addition, it’s worth pointing out that the government does use CHO to practice touch-and-gos with Gulfstreams and a 757 that regularly pull duty as Air Force 2, which may for some reason call for a higher degree of security (just a guess). And those practice runs are ongoing – they had some yesterday. Fortunately, nobody has decided to post armed guards on Earlysville Rd or at Chris Green Lake, shich would be optimal launching points for a Stinger missile.

    The inconveniences don’t really bother me at this point, because unencumbered access to airports never made much sense anyway. However, I’m hoping the use of National Guard troops is only temporary, because they are neither trained for law enforcement nor hired because of their ability to deal with the public.

    Yeah, they are definitely doing some silly things right now, and the whole butter knive matter doesn’t even approach the top of that list. Here’s hoping that as things settle down (and they will) the powers-that-be will take a step back and begin to adjust what they’re doing to better balance security and sanity.


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