Planned vehicle control system would have stopped MIA breach

Apr. 26--A 73-year-old man drove his black Chevrolet Cobalt through a wooden gate and onto runway 9 at Miami International Airport Friday -- raising questions about the airport's security.

But MIA leaders say they have an almost-immediate answer: They're in the midst of upgrading the airport's air-side security from the wooden lift-arm system to a hydraulic system with pop-up barriers that they say would stop any vehicle.

The new system won't be operational for another month -- too late to have prevented Friday morning's security breach at MIA's southeast gate.

Miami-Dade airport police quickly stopped the driver. He was taken to the airport police station for questioning.

"It's a possibility that this guy lost his way or was disoriented," said Miami-Dade Detective Robert Williams, a spokesman. "But until they finish interviewing him, we won't know for sure."

Miami-Dade police later admitted him to the hospital under the state's Baker Act, which allows authorities to commit someone for up to 72 hours if he is a danger to himself. Police do not believe Friday's security breach was terrorism related.

MIA's new security apparatus would have frozen the car in its tracks.

"And if you really look at another scenario -- a car laden with bombs, it certainly would have stopped it," said Larry Wansley, chief executive of Infinite Security, a Dallas-based aviation security consulting firm.

Although the new barriers were installed three weeks ago, they won't be operational until the week of May 19, after they are tested and Miami-Dade Aviation security employees are trained, said airport spokesman Greg Chin.

The new system uses hydraulic wedges, which are steel-plated barriers that pop up out of the ground and "can stop anything on wheels," he said. They are certified to stop up to a 15,000-pound vehicle traveling at 50 miles an hour.

The airport is spending $2.3 million for the system, which is funded by the Florida Department of Transportation. Last year, MIA also reinforced its perimeter road fence with concrete barriers, said Ricardo Fernandez, Miami-Dade Aviation's division director for aviation security.

"We've known we've had a sort of vulnerability," he said, about opting for the new wedges, "and it enhances our security."

Currently, MIA has only a wooden security gate arm, which is fairly common at airports, said Wansley, the former managing director of corporate security for American Airlines.

"Every airport is obviously looking to upgrade their security. There was a time that those were adequate and sufficient, but 9/11 changed everything," he said.

MIA's hydraulic wedges, which are not yet widely used at airports, are "an excellent security resource," he said. "You will certainly see much more frequent installation and usage throughout the airport system."

Chin said flights were not delayed on Friday because the airport rerouted planes to other runways after the incident. Certain security checkpoints reserved for maintenance vehicles, catering trucks and fueling trucks were closed for 15 to 20 minutes.

"Once we realized it was an isolated incident," Chin said, "we were able to open all the gates."

Copyright (c) 2008, The Miami Herald Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.