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


We do work with the tenants if there’s an issue associated with a particular location, and if we have camera coverage near that location, then we will look at that camera to see what took place and provide support for them in that regard, for internal theft.

Where does your security system meet up with the cargo security programs in place?

We work with the cargo operators to control access to their facilities. Personnel access and vehicle access and control of items that items are brought through the cargo area into the airport are what we’re concerned about. Where there facility security interacts with our security line is where I take full responsibility. But if it’s taking place inside their building, then the tenant has the primary responsibility for controlling that activity.

How are you handling security while constructing the underground baggage handling area that is currently being built?

The facility, once it’s finished, will be operated by the TSA. Before the project started, we worked with the planners to establish a security control plan that would allow them to work within that area and ensure that the security lines were maintained at all times. And as the project progresses, we move that line of control depending on where the openings are within that project. We’re in the final phases of the road side of the project, so at that point we will start dealing with the conveyor belts and the openings that will allow entrance into those facilities.

Delta has announced that they are planning on revamping and renovating part of Concourse C. How will those internal renovations affect the security plan?

Before the process starts, there is a lot of coordination between the contractor, the company that sponsors the contract, and the department of aviation, primarily through our planning and development areas. And those plans are staffed with the various elements to include security, to assess the impact of the contract on the operations of the airport. We then have the opportunity to provide recommendations into those drawings before they're actually implemented at the airport. So we work closely with the tenants and their contractor to ensure that the areas are taken care of as the project develops. We would have to incorporate those changes into our security plan, and also into our electronic surveillance systems, so those would be incorporated within our systems.

What are some of the inherent challenges of trying to secure construction zones?

One of the inherent challenges of dealing with construction zones is ensuring that the persons that are working in that zone are controlled at all times while they’re within that zone, and that they stay only within that authorized zone. The way we do that is that we badge as many of the construction workers as we can. Some construction workers, because they only show up one day to deliver a product or for a very short period of time to do something, are allowed to be escorted by the contractors into the area. They get signed in and logged out of the facility. Currently it’s a manual process. We’ve looked at the electronic systems, but it would be a challenge because it would often be at a remote gate.

Is the employee mindset on security changing? Are people still thinking, “Security, oh, that’s just Richard Duncan’s concern”, or have employees starting to embrace it and see that security is everyone’s concern?

We try to instill upon everybody that comes through our office for a badge that security is their responsibility and that it’s everybody’s responsibility. And the individual has to sign a statement as to what their individual responsibilities are in relationship to security. Then we reinforce that through the Hartsfield Harry program. The other side of our program is the compliance and enforcement aspect of it, so if my people observe an individual violating a security process, then they can receive a breach of rule notice, and a breach of rule notice can result in the losing of your access, additional training, and even a penalty or fine associated with it. That breach could be anything – propping a door open, not wearing your badge, failing to challenge an individual, failing to control someone you bring into the area – those types of things are outlined within the program?