At the Frontline: A Q&A with Atlanta Airport Security Director Richard Duncan

Duncan shares his thoughts on securing the nation's busiest passenger airport

[Editor's note: 'At the Frontline' is part of a joint interview that Security Technology & Design and do each month with a top-level security director. For the rest of this interview, see page 84 (the back page) of the May 2005 issue of Security Technology & Design magazine.]

With almost 10 years here at Hartsfield, what are some of your reflections on the way security has changed?

I would say security has changed as much as night and day at airports. When I first came here, our primary initiative at that time was preparation for the Olympics [Atlanta, 1996]. We invested a lot of money and resources into improving the airport to meet the requirements that are necessary to host the international games here. And so there were some improvements done at that time in recognition of the Olympics. When 9/11 took place, that was primarily a change in mindset, because we had already set upon a path to improve the security at the airport, and so we were in better shape than a lot of other airports when it came to what we had to do to prepare the airport to reopen after the 9/11 incident. So we had the people in place and the technology in place that we needed at that time to provide the secure environment. What we have been doing recently is upgrading our perimeter and adding concrete barriers to our fence line, primarily to stop vehicle access from driving through the fence and getting onto the secure side of the airport. And of course there are our large construction projects that have been ongoing and we’re preparing to bring those facilities online within the security environment.

What do you foresee in the next 10 years?

I don’t know what the next 10 years will hold. What we are moving toward would be the ability to better control the movement of individuals and knowing who those individuals are as they pass through an airport. You will see that primarily through the airlines and the TSA getting more information on passengers, and getting more information on and more control of international visitors to the United States through the US-VISIT program ... knowing when they came in and when they leave the country. Then as far as the impact for airport workers, [the future is] having the airport workers better identified and controlled from a biometric point of view as opposed to just a badge and their PIN number for gaining access. The biometric part of it will eventually come into the airport environment.

It’s about tightening up the access without negatively affecting operations. You always have to consider the impact upon the operation and identify where the risks and vulnerabilities are so that the operation can continue to function even in a secure environment.

What are you doing to manage all of the access control data, as well as your video feeds and security and emergency operations?

Our control room is collocated with the police control center. We have a consolidated public safety answering point here at the airport. It has the monitors; it has the computer-aided dispatch system; it has feeds from the access control system, the panic alarms. Basically, it’s the same as a police dispatch center that you’d find at a major station, but we have one here at the airport to include our E911 system. The police actually control the center because of all the sensitive items that they have to deal with and the telephone systems associated with it. The persons that work in it are under the direct command of the police.

Today’s airports have a large number of retail shops. Do their CCTV systems interplay with yours?

No. If a retailer wants to install a closed circuit television for keeping watch on their cash register or for loss prevention, that would be a closed network for that retailer. We would not have a need to have access to the interior of their store. It’s still leased space, so the tenant controls what goes on in there.

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