Building Security Evaluation: Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport
Just a couple of decades ago, travelers, visitors and virtually anyone else could walk freely through the nation's airports without being challenged at any point, and security considerations were generally restricted to concerns over possible so-called "skyjackings" to Cuba, but even these were rare. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, though, all of this changed in fundamental ways as airports across the country implemented a wide range of security measures intended to prevent a recurrence of these deadly security breaches. Indeed, today, security at the nation's airports has never been stricter, and despite the time and trouble these initiatives have created for air travelers, most passengers today appear to accept these measures in stride as part of the post-September 11 climate. To determine what security measures have been taken in a specific airport facility, this paper provides an evaluation of building security measures currently in place at Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport to identify what types of lighting, fire/smoke alarms, perimeter security, internal security, access control, security response availability, are place. A diagram designating where publicly available security elements of this airport facility are located is also provided, followed by a summary of the research and salient findings in the conclusion.
Review and Analysis
Background and Overview
One of the downsides of living in a free society is that those who would threaten the nation's security interests can take advantage of these freedoms and the complacency they engender among the citizenry and policymakers alike, and this is precisely what happened on September 11, 2001. For example, according to Wallis (2003), "Those who flew the two airliners into World Trade Center towers and their co-conspirators who attacked the Pentagon in Washington and caused a fourth aircraft to crash in Pennsylvania had to know that in 2001, U.S. domestic aviation security programs fell short of the international levels. Domestic aviation security in the United States was inadequate and ineffective. There was no adequate government oversight of airport security" (p. 10).
In response to these terrorist attacks, though, much has changed in the intervening years and airport security represents a key element in preventing another such an attack today. As Wallis points out, "The events of September 11th questioned, as no other event ever could, the adequacy of airport security in North America" (p. 65). Not surprisingly, airport officials at Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport (hereinafter "BWI") are reluctant to divulge the precise nature of all of the security procedures they have implemented in the past few years, but an indication of what has been done can be discerned from the literature concerning federal mandates for international airports in the United States and publicly available information about BWI and these issues are discussed further below.
Internal security and access control
It is reasonable to posit that the airport managers at BWI have complied with the mandates from the U.S. federal government and the Aviation and Transportation Safety Act concerning general airport surveillance using direct observation as well as covert monitors throughout the airport facility and its grounds. In this regard, one of the most publicly visible security procedures that is in place and monitoring of individuals who are featured on the federally provided list of known terrorists and suspected terrorists. Therefore, the check-in desk personnel at BWI represent the front lines of security when travelers arrive at the airport. As Wallis emphasizes, "Here, staff have shown an ability to sense behavior patterns that separate a potential risk passenger from the millions of law-abiding people who use air transportation every day. This has worked well for airlines in uncovering ticket and travel document fraud" (p. 157). In fact, this front line of defense has become even more effective over the years as check-in desk personnel become practiced at identifying travelers who may not be what they seem. In this regard, Wallis adds that, "What at first consideration may seem a daunting task has been less so in practice as has been proved, not least in the case of Richard Reid. It is at the check-in counter that the security questions are asked. The responses can help the agents assess the person standing before them" (p. 157). These are especially important considerations at BWI because of the large number of passengers that are processed each day as can be readily seen in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Average number of daily passengers at BWI.
Source: Based on tabular data in Facts & figures, 2009.
The next line of security procedures is the passenger and hand-baggage screening area at BWI. According to Wallis, "At most major international airports outside of America, somewhere in the baggage-handling system, hi-tech machines are being used to screen hold baggage. Congress has allocated funds to ensure that similar systems are introduced at U.S. airports" (p. 157). Just as international airports must ensure their perimeters are protected (discussed further below), there is also access control procedures in place in the airport terminal buildings at BWI. In this regard, Wallis advises, "Airport security management must ensure there is no uncontrolled entry or mixing of incoming, possibly inadequately screened passengers and those about to board outbound flights. New airport designs incorporate this physical separation into their blueprints. Older airports may employ a guard presence or even security screening for arriving passengers" (p. 157). Empirical observations confirm that BWI has used a combination of these approaches in recent years with plans to upgrade those areas of the terminal buildings where physical separation is not currently in place.
The BWI airport facilities feature five concourses (four domestic, one international / swing); 69 jet gates, and nine gates specifically dedicated to commuter aircraft (Facts & figures). The airport terminal buildings at BWI are vast and contain 1.976 million square feet (45.4 acres) of area (Facts & figures, 2009) that are all brightly lit using both direct overhead and indirect lighting fixtures as can be seen in Figures 2 and 3 below Figures 2 and 3. Entry hall of Concourse A-B expansion at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport by Southwest Airlines and Representative Passenger Waiting Area.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, 2009.
The Maryland Aviation Administration's Department of Transportation (MAADOT) reports that, "The BWI Airport Fire & Rescue Department's Fire Suppression Division provides fire-fighting and rescue services for aircraft and other equipment, and for more than 100 buildings in the Airport area" (Fire suppression division, 2009, p. 1). The fire/smoke alarms installed in the BWI terminal buildings and support facilities are in compliance with state and federal regulations. In this regard, the MAADOT notes that, "Fire suppression and detection systems are installed in buildings and structures to ensure the early detection of fire and the activation of fire suppression systems to control or extinguish the fire. These systems also notify the occupants to evacuate the area. Examples of such systems are fire sprinklers and the fire alarm system" (Fire suppression division, p. 4).
As with most international airports in the United States, BWI is situated on a large plat of land comprised of 3,596.3 acres (Facts & figures, 2009). Protecting this enormous amount of land area also represents a formidable enterprise but this is no place to skimp on security. For instance, Wallis emphasizes that, "Perimeter security, access control, and facilities protection are all largely unseen by the public. All are vital to an airport security program and can have a direct impact on passengers" (p. 87). According to a report from Ramstack and Lively (2004), when the national security alert system increases to Code Orange, airport police routinely stop and inspect every vehicle entering the BWI grounds. Likewise, empirical observations also confirm that all access to the airport's perimeter are protected by fencing and gates that are inspected on a regular basis, as well…