10 years after 9/11: Are we any safer?

Despite the fact that federal and state governments have spent an average of $75 billion a year on security measures since 9/11, many American still feel unsafe.

According to a recent survey, half of Americans feel they are less safe today than they were prior to 9/11. The survey, conducted by Zogby International on behalf of Federal Signal Corporation also found that 34 percent of Americans feel that public safety is not a priority in their community and nearly four out of 10 people believe their city or town is unprepared to handle an emergency event.

As the nation remembers the nearly 3,000 people that died on 9/11, one question inevitably rises to the top of every conversation on national security; are we any safer now than we were then? The answer depends on who you ask.

Dr. Jim Giermanski, chairman of Powers Global Holdings and president of Powers International: We are certainly luckier, but as to safer, I really don’t think so. We have major weaknesses in the global supply chain that DHS and CBP have simply failed to address, such as transshipment threats and RFID usage at our ports, which amount to a very clear and demonstrated vulnerability. Even local city bomb squads have empirically demonstrated the vulnerability, acknowledged but yet unaddressed. I hope we continue to be lucky.



David Shepherd, CEO of Readiness Resource Group: It’s one of those tough questions. You can do 99 things right and then something happens and it looks like you didn’t do anything. There are a lot of things that have been implemented that weren’t there prior to 9/11. As an example, what has happened since 9/11? We never had a Department of Homeland Security before. We never had a TSA before. There never were fusion centers before. There never was a national infrastructure protection plan before. There were never sector specific plans. There really wasn’t a “See Something, Say Something” campaign where people became involved in their own safety. There are a lot of changes that have happened. The information sharing between the private sector and the public sector is huge and that is growing and growing on a daily basis. All of those things can be attributed to changes that happened after 9/11.

On the other side of the coin, there were a lot of things going on well before 9/11. A lot of people had to be concerned with natural disasters, life safety events, terrorism events, health events, and accidents well before 9/11. What are the two biggest words in English language? If only. If only I had of done this or if only I had of done that. You cannot second guess. There are so many website available now for people to go to and learn that sprung out of 9/11. If you’re not taking advantage of it, it’s back on you.

Billie Vincent, president and CEO of Aerospace Services International: Are we safer 10 years after 9/11? The easy answer is an emphatic yes. While some critics would agree with this assessment they would also ask the question: At what price to our independence and privacy? Others might disagree that we are safer pointing to uncertainties in troubled areas such as the areas affected by the so-called Arab Spring and the potential long-term adverse consequences from the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists, etc.

To each of these points of view I would note that the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with its multiple agencies dealing with aviation security, our borders, immigration, etc., have resulted in better focus on issues that affect our national safety. Considerable attention has been given by the DHS agencies to the protection of our individual liberties and privacy. We continue to have legitimate concerns about illegal immigration, and the smuggling of drugs and other contraband into the U.S. Our military has done a great job in eliminating terrorist safe havens using our elite forces and our state-of-the-art unmanned and armed air assets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa. This, unfortunately, has been at a horrendous cost in loss of personnel and some long-term damage to our defense system over the past decade. Likewise our law enforcement agencies, along with our state and local law enforcement officers (LEOs), have done a much improved job of detecting and neutralizing domestic terrorism. Our allies’ anti-terrorism assistance has ranged from wholehearted commitment to lack-luster commitment and performance.

Much, however, remains to be done in all of these areas such as continued improvement of the intelligence flow downwards from our national level to state and local LEOs. Notwithstanding the positive aspects of our improved security we will be living the consequences of the al Qaeda era for decades to come.

Lori Beckman, founder of Aviation Security Consulting and former director of security for Denver International Airport: I am hopeful that giant strides will be made in the next decade. They say aircraft modernization will escalate 25 years in the next 10, so why can’t aviation security do the same? The bottom line is we need to be able to continually move toward intelligence-driven, risk-based strategies and away from just identifying bad things. We need to develop and implement sensor technology, fully converge/integrate technology, implement reasonable biometric credentialing and referencing, and increase the layers of security through increased insider threat detection methodology such as behavior recognition programs.

We need to be sensitive to passenger human factors and growth trends, accelerate and promote innovation, be more consistent with international standards, and continually track emerging threats and provide proactive response. Further, since many experts and policymakers continue to voice the opinion that now that TSA has matured, steps should be explored to separate the agency’s potentially conflicting missions of daily aviation security operations and broad industry and internal agency oversight and regulation. The way we have always approached aviation security should be a process of the past as we move airports into the future with futuristic concepts, technology and long-term thinking.

Randy Harrison, managing director of corporate security at Delta Air Lines: Since 2001, much advancement in aviation security has been made as a result of government and aviation industry cooperation. The creation of TSA to standardize security at our nation’s airports and establish more robust and defined security standards and procedures across the entire aviation system have greatly improved overall security. Technological advancements in the areas of baggage, passenger, and cargo screening have made the industry far more capable of identifying threats. Coupling focused intelligence-gathering and sharing capabilities with the collection and use of personal passenger information under the Secure Flight and Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) programs has greatly improved the ability to identify those who wish to cause harm to the aviation sector. Hardened cockpit doors, the Federal Flight Desk Officer program, enhanced crew security training; significant enhancements to the Federal Air Marshal program and other measures implemented to protect aircraft and passengers are all components of an improved aviation security program. All of these factors have resulted in a number of instances since 9/11 where would-be terrorist attacks were thwarted.

The real questions, however, are whether we are secure enough and whether our aviation security programs are performing at the expected levels. Many have expressed concerns regarding the effectiveness and underlying philosophy of the Transportation Security Administration, and perceived threats to individuals' privacy that result from new passenger screening techniques. The challenge is walking the right line to protect the traveling public while keeping pace with evolving threats. One thing for sure is that the sustainability of the current system is in question. The TSA's push to employ more risk-based screening exemplified in Administrator Pistole's Known Traveler program is a step in the right direction. While we will never go back to the days of arriving at the airport 20 minutes before a flight, correct application of a risk-based approach will help us return to a system where screening for the large majority of travelers is not as challenging a process, and limited resources can be better used to focus on those who pose the greatest threats to the system.

Richard Duncan, interim assistant general manager of operations, maintenance and security at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: As I reflect on the question of our safety 10 years after the tragic events of 9/11, I must say yes, we are safer. We are safer because of the transformation of our nation into an informed and security conscious society. Federal, state and local governments have invested a considerable amount of resources, including time and money, to improve our ability to gather and share information concerning possible threats. We have improved our technology, training and public safety and security work forces through cooperative efforts on all levels. Additionally, the general public feels that they should take a more active role in their individual security. With the introduction of the Department of Homeland Security public awareness program – "See something, Say Something" - we will continue to improve on our ability to deter, detect, detain or defeat individuals who would like to disrupt our way of life. Even though we have made significant improvements in aviation security, we must never forget the contributions of the brave men and women who restored our way of life in the aftermath of 9/11. Are we safer today? Yes, but, we must continue to improve our ability to provide a safe and secure world aviation transportation network that supports the uninterrupted movement of people, goods and services throughout the system.