Report from the PS & S Conference – Everyone Loves Known Traveler!

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By Debby McElroy

It’s no surprise that the ACI-NA Public Safety and Security Conference in Washington had record attendance, both for the number of attendees as well as the number of airport representatives.  It’s also no surprise that the first session of the meeting covered THE hot topic in aviation security – risk-based security. 

What’s not to love about a program that offers such great potential to increase security and efficiency as well as improve the travel experience?  Airports and airlines have long supported the concept of “looking for bad people, not bad things”.  Speaking to the conference today, TSA Administrator Pistole described risk-based security as a way to “redefine (the) mission of TSA and how we execute on that mission”, emphasizing the need to “change the paradigm of one size fits all.” But, as with all security measures, the proverbial devil is in the details.

Brian Jackson, senior physical scientist with the Rand Corp., reminded everyone that the trusted traveler concept is nothing new; it is a concept that has been hotly debated since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.  The concern, which remains today, is creating a system that acts as “a fast lane” for the bad guys.  Jackson discussed the Rand’s recent study which concluded that a trusted traveler program has significant benefits for the traveling public, even with “a reasonable number of attempts” by bad people to sneak into the system.  A key strategy for program success, he emphasized, is ensuring that background check requirements be robust enough to act as a deterrent for terrorists.

Ken Dunlap, director of global security for the International Air Transport Association, called for a “smarter, faster passenger process”, given that the number of airline passengers traveling throughout the world will increase from an estimated 2.5 billion in 2011 to more than 16 billion in 2050. He noted that the “security processing time” for passengers is going down and offered IATA’s “Checkpoint of the Future” as one possible solution to the problem.  He also cautioned airport officials not to label protestors who express concerns about aviation security as “crackpots but as canaries in the coal mine”, emphasizing the need to ensure passengers understand why technology and procedures are in place.

John Wagner, executive director, passenger programs and admissibility, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, discussed the Global Entry program, which is now in place at the 20 busiest airports in the United States with almost 750,000 enrolled.  ACI-NA has long been a supporter of this “pilot program”, which is expected to be made permanent and extended to other airports as soon as a final rule is issued; hopefully by the end of the year. CBP is working closely with TSA in their development of the TSA Known Traveler program Global Entry members, along with those enrolled in SENTRI and NEXUS, are among the small group eligible to participate in the pilot tests.

John Sammon, TSA’s assistant administrator-transportation sector network management, also touted the potential benefits of risk-based security, but emphasized “this is not a club, there is no guarantee” that participants in the Known Traveler program will not be required to undergo the same physical screening process as those not participating in the program, because of the need for “a random element” .  He also reminded conference attendees that this not only includes airline passenger screening but also the “Known Crewmember” program which was recently expanded to Chicago O’Hare and Miami airports and is going well.  Sammon agreed on the need to work closely with airports as it is rolled out, given that potential changes that may be necessary in the configuration of passenger screening checkpoint.