Airport security has become one of the most intensely debated topics in American culture. Since the federal government took charge of the responsibility through the formation of the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, there have been numerous security measures put into place to make air travel safer. Of course many of these measures – the use of body scanners, removing shoes and limiting what passengers can pack in their carry-on bags – has drawn the ire of the flying public and even lawmakers.
However, most Americans have never seen the inner workings of airport security, which includes numerous moving parts and coordination between various law enforcement agencies working to keep passengers safe. Lauren Stover, assistant aviation director for public safety, security
and communications at Miami International Airport (MIA), is changing that by taking part in the Travel Channel’s hit new show "Airport 24/7: Miami," which provides viewers with a behind-the-scenes look at how one the nation’s largest and busiest airports tackles security challenges on a daily basis. Click here to see a sneak peak of the show.
In this "At the Frontline" interview, Stover discusses her background in the industry, why she decided to take part in the show and what the biggest misconceptions are about airport security.
SIW: How did you get your start in security?
Stover: I got my background in security by joining the Transportation Security Administration after the 9/11 attacks. And at that time, I felt like I wanted to help our nation so I left Miami airport and joined the TSA to setup a communications division for their southeast region and one week later, the Department of Homeland Security was formed. I was tapped to head up communications at DHS for its southeastern region – working closely with CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection), ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), Secret Service, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), the Coast Guard, Caribbean attaché, and the Federal Protective Service.
I would get tons of calls and be grilled with questions on these programs, which were sensitive security information and I had to turn around and speak intelligently on all these new initiatives that were being rolled out, literally on a daily basis and that’s how I got submersed into what was happening with our national security and aviation security. I don’t have a law enforcement background.
When I was offered the job to come here to Miami International Airport, at the time, the security director had retired and the communications director had left so there were two openings and the airport director wanted me to assume both roles. And I just couldn’t believe it, I said this is crazy. These are two diametrically opposing disciplines that had naturally conflicting agendas and I would essentially have to keep secrets from myself. I didn’t unpack my boxes in my office for two months. I wasn’t sure I was the right person for the job and it turned out all of the agencies accepted me here and I started bringing our agencies together. This job is bigger than one person and it’s because of the partnerships that we have here at this airport that we are all joined together for one mission. We are one team, one fight and because of that we’re doing bigger and better things together in security. One example, CBP traditionally doesn’t train locally with its local police department on tactics. Here at Miami airport, CBP and our Miami-Dade Police Department train regularly on various types of exercises based on threat scenarios.
SIW: Being that airport security has traditionally been a subject that’s rarely spoken about, much less filmed, what were your initial thoughts when you were approached about doing a TV show on the subject?