BASIC airport security

Editor’s note: The full version of this story can be found in the September 2009 issue of Security Technology Executive.

In an attempt to prevent the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from imposing government-mandated access control standards, the airline industry has decided to form the Biometric Airport Security Identification Consortium, or BASIC.

The goal of the consortium is to create a framework from which the nation's airports can adopt a biometric-enabled access control system for its employees.

What initially began as a six-airport pilot project in the spring of 2008 has transformed into a major industry initiative that now encompasses nearly 40 airports, ranging from small local operations to some of the largest and busiest airports in the nation.

According to Lori Beckman, former director of security for Denver International Airport and founder of Aviation Security Consulting, the TSA was discussing implementing biometric standards for airports in late 2007, which was a concern for her and other airport security officials, given that they had imposed requirements for the current access control systems being used by airports during the '90s.

"The way that it was promulgated was just horrible for airports - it was expensive," Beckman says. "The service providers were not ready to roll out what the TSA wanted and it was just really messy. A lot of (systems) had to be replaced in a few years and we didn't want to go down that road again."

This time around, Beckman says that airports wanted to try and work with their existing access control equipment and build on that without having to completely reconfigure their systems.

According to Carter Morris, senior vice president for transportation policy at the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), working with legacy access control systems is the one of the biggest reasons airports have decided to take part in the BASIC program.

"It's absolutely critical because airports have already made investments in these (access control) systems. It doesn't need to be a whole new system; the goal is what can we add incrementally that accomplishes the same thing," Morris says. "Those are the types of issues airports are keeping an eye on. We don't want to create a framework that throws a whole bunch of good stuff away just so you can put in an incremental piece of technology."

Though neither the BASIC committee nor the TSA has established any type of hard deadline on when airports should have a biometric framework in place, Morris says that it will probably be the next step in the process. Given the variety in size of the airports involved in the pilot, Beckman says that no timetable has been set on when a standard biometric framework should be in place at the participating locations.

"We're moving forward and creating the paths to get there. I think you will see the bigger airports online sooner than a small airport that maybe doesn't have the resources to get to that point," Beckman says.

Despite the advancements being made in credentialing security through BASIC, Richard Duncan, CPP, aviation security director for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, believes that government mandates may be required for many airports to jump on board with the installation of new access control systems, especially considering the current economic climate in the country.

"I know the (BASIC) group has been working for quite some time," Duncan says. "We have representatives on the BASIC working group, but it will still require some type of proposed rule making (by the government) before it can be implemented at the airports because of the costs associated with securing the materials for that program."

Duncan says that getting airports to voluntarily install this equipment would be a tough sell unless they could obtain federal grants. He added that it is also too early to tell what kind of impact BASIC will have on the airport industry as a whole. "I think it's too early to even begin to say how it will effect (airport security) because the program has not really been developed to the point where we know how it's going to be applied at the airports," he says.