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Home > ARFF > ARFF: Developing Proven Tools to Manage and Deal with the Airport Building/Terminal Bomb Threat Or Lone-Wolf Related Emergency, Part 1

ARFF: Developing Proven Tools to Manage and Deal with the Airport Building/Terminal Bomb Threat Or Lone-Wolf Related Emergency, Part 1

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By Wesley Long

What Is Risk Management in the Context of Transportation Sectors?

In an effort to identify potential risks associated with your airport being a potential target of terrorism, we need to understand risk assessment and management as it best pertains to our industry. Identification, analyzation, evaluation, and treatment of risk is the management of risk. When applied appropriately, risk management is and should be the first form of mitigation tactic considered to ensure both disaster risk reduction and a streamlined recovery process. This cannot be successfully done without a proper assessment of organizational vulnerabilities. For airports, that means MANY things. You are already potentially working to mitigate against weather, irregular operations, financial concerns, construction, regulations, improvement planning—the list is inexhaustible. Running an airport is anything but, and on top of everything, we have to consider various types of terrorism mitigation to the best of our ability.

Some types of risk we need to consider are financial, operational, perimeter, and strategic:

  • When we look at financial, we are considering the cost of claims and liability.
  • When we look at operational, we are considering loss of manpower and services.
  • When we look at perimeter, we are considering local or global events through weather or politics, as an example.
  • When we look at strategic, we are considering change management, airport reputation, and even social media.

We could talk about the application of risk management for the rest of this new year, but let’s take a just a second to discuss risk control. This topic is relatable to every aspect of airport operations—from vendor requests to bomb threats. Is it possible to apply risk control to terrorism? It’s easier, to a point, than you might think. We can apply all four major risk-control mechanisms to a single agency just as an example.

  1. Avoidance of known loss causing activities which aligns with the question: how can we avoid an active shooter?
  2. A reduction in loss frequency, which aligns with the question: how can we lower the amount of insider threats?
  3. A reduction of loss severity which aligns with the question: how can we lessen the impact of an IED?
  4. Contracting out some of your organization’s responsibility, which aligns with the question: how can you add layers of legal protection between you and a disastrous event?

Airport Security, in its various forms—staffing, show of force, access control, and background checks of employees and contractors—can answer all of these questions related to risk control.

I encourage you to think of the other ways you can identify and lessen the various vulnerabilities that exist at your airport, as we know each comes with its own issues. The more ways you can implement risk control, such as airport security, the more you can add additional layers to your risk management approach, which offers stronger protection to your organization through better protected or mitigated vulnerabilities.

Identifying Potential Risk of Your Airports to Be the Next Victims of Terrorist Attacks

Why airports? Why aircraft? These potential locations offer many human targets in one location. That’s one reason, but there is another: media coverage. Such a terrifying event; loss of life; and display of normal life in chaos, pain, and death is heavily covered by media, which spreads the terrorist agenda, ideology, and fear like a virus. That is generally the ultimate goal of terrorist organizations. The damage caused by this psychological warfare may not yet even be fully known.

Not-So-Fun Fact

The first act of air sabotage involving commercial aviation occurred on October 10, 1933. That’s hard to fathom, but it goes to show you that where there is the capability for advancement and innovation in technology, there is also the capacity for disaster.

Succesful hijackings have become increasingly more difficult to complete because of a reactionary response in aviation security measures. Airport bombings have become more prevalent as a reactionary response from terrorist organizations and are still a considerable threat, made evident by the 2016 bombing of Brussels airport, part of a complex coordinated attack with the Maalbeek metro station in which 32 people lost their lives. Complex coordinated attacks are the current flavor for massive loss of life in the name of terrorism.

What we can trace through history is the back and forth between us and them. What do I mean by us and them? They are the bad guys. We’re the good guys. They, for a variety of reasons—theological, political, financial, or reasons yet to be discovered—try to get through our defenses and sometimes succeed. Then we change our game plan and put another strategy in place. They try to get through our defenses again and fail. They regroup, rethink, and try a different approach, and this time it succeeds. Then we change our game plan again. On and on this goes, so maybe we need to shift the paradigm and focus on what could be next and not necessarily only what is probable.

It is especially difficult for the good guys in this regard, because as we’re trying to focus on mitigation of the next big threat, we still have to prepare for previously successful attack tactics. Foresight; future planning; and a radical, actionable change in our approach to airport operations and security are what is needed for the future of disaster mitigation.

Six vulnerable potential terrorist targets were identified in 2010 by Alex Kingsbury, a staff writer for U.S. News World Report. I am going to show you how your airport is at risk if ANY of these areas are targeted by terrorism. First on the list were military bases. Some of your airports may be near a military base or even share an airfield with one. This automatically puts you at risk. I have worked at several military airbases around the world that shared commercial traffic, terminal, and cargo operations.

Next up are rail and metro systems and chemical plants. Now we are beginning to see a logical pattern here. These are so far not targets of opportunity or symbolic; they are all strategic in nature. What else do they have in common? At this point, all of these vulnerabilities can be found at or near cities and can all impact the local airport. Number four on the list is natural gas, which could impact any major fuel delivery system, such as the small to massive fuel farms located at airports.

Next are dams, still a strategic target, but how could it possibly impact airport operations? Apart from being in a flood zone, an attack on a dam would do several things, one of which is impact traffic and emergency response within the community, which could impact airport operations. Also, flights may be grounded because of a rise in threat alerts after the attack. Last are bio labs. If known or unknown pathogens like Japanese encephalitis or pleuropneumonia are loose within your community, you can be guaranteed air traffic will stop while quarantine protocols are put in place and the threat sufficiently dealt with.  This can take as much time to clear up as it takes to recover from a bombing, for example.

Perhaps this is what the terrorists want to begin with when selecting their targets. When you are the aggressor, it is easy to move community-driven resources around the map by how and why you choose your targets. Thinking about secondary targets and beyond are where we need to find ourselves. Terrorists are more and more frequently using a multiple-target strategy to incite fear, scatter law enforcement, and disrupt normalcy.

Coming In Part 2: Understanding the Difference Between Lone Wolf, Terrorism, and LEDs

WESLEY LONG works at the Glacier Park International Airport as the fire chief, operations director and is a certified emergency manager, certified professional manager, ACE trusted agent, and Airport Security Coordinator. Prior to the 13 years he has worked at GPIA, he spent 10 years as a firefighter in the United States Air Force, spending six years in the Pacific Rim and four in Space Command.


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