Over the past few months, airport security hasn’t exactly made good headlines. Except for Miami International Airport. Unlike other airports across the U.S., Miami International Airport screens all employees that enter and exit the secured area of the airport. Miami has four checkpoints for employee screening, seven access gates for inspections of vehicles entering into the airfield, random background checks of employees and a mandatory security awareness class. Last year, the airport confiscated 209 employee ID badges for security violations. The airport has nearly 38,000 employees with ID badges, and 35,000 who have access to restricted areas. I spoke with Lauren Stover, Director of Public Safety and Security at Miami-Dade Aviation Department at the Miami International Airport (MIA) about the proactive stance that she and her team take each day.
What are your challenges on a daily basis with security?
Our challenges are knowing the unknowns. What are our threats, our vulnerabilities and the consequences for not taking action? One of the biggest threats is the insider threat. We have 38,000 employees each day who have unescorted access into restricted areas. We work with AlliedBarton to help us with the insider threat. AlliedBarton security officers run our employee screening checkpoints and are posted in our elevators. Not only are we concerned about detecting terrorist activity, explosives and weapons; we are concerned about theft and criminal activity; anything that can potentially harm the more than 100,000 people that come into our facility each day. I am proud of the partnerships we have at MIA and our multi-agency operations. Our Director, Deputy Director, entire Aviation Department and the agencies and companies that work out of MIA are committed to keeping our airport safe. We also have monthly security meetings with our airlines, airport tenants and the Miami-Dade Police Department, TSA, CBP, FBI, ICE, DEA, ATF, FAMS and the USSS. We’re a village of acronyms, and everyone plays an important part. We also have quarterly cargo security meetings with our cargo operators.
How did you conduct Behavior Detection Training to all your 38,000 employees?
When I was hired in 2006 to run the security program at MIA, I learned that our Police Department had been trained in behavior detection. I always believed that technology comes and goes but the ability to detect anomalies in human behavior will never grow obsolete. Miami-Dade Police was committed to helping me train our civilian work force; I just didn’t know how to get this off the ground. I decided to launch the program on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 in commemoration of those who lost their lives on that day. We allowed the media to cover the first half hour of the training, and we chose our janitorial staff as our first class. Before we knew it, we were all over the news across America. This program is now mandatory. No one gets an ID without taking behavior detection training.
Why did you decide to conduct full employee screening?
MIA was involved in a drug operation in the 1990s, and after that, we decided to implement the program. There have been times where we have questioned whether the cost was worth the return on investment, however; we feel the cost outweighs the risk of not having the program. Our screening program also helps us to mitigate baggage theft so we’ve added an electronics tracking component. We are logging in all electronics that our airport workers bring into and out of the secured areas.
What other security initiatives are you working on?
I am looking to develop an Insider Threat program that can tie in all the initiatives we are implementing to track trends and patterns among those with inside access. I’d also like to expand our cybersecurity program, partnering with our IT department. We are also constructing a world-class Airport Operations Center, and are currently enhancing our security technology to include biometrics in the future, along with improving our video and event management systems. We also have a new canine program using the most elite canine trained to detect the smallest trace of explosives on people as they walk by. Also, we are proud to have the best Incident Containment Team with our police who are tactically trained as a SWAT type of unit.
How are you working to change the traveler’s perception of airport security?
We want people to know that Security and Customer Service is our number one priority. We are partnering with DHS to improve security screening and processing times for the traveling public. Our TSA MIA team is managing their PreCheck program with much success. And MIA now has the CLEAR program, offering passengers a choice in screening programs. We’re partnering with CBP in their Global Entry program with an enrollment center at MIA. Also, CBP’s Mobile Passport app and the airport’s passenger entry kiosks enable travelers entering the U.S. through MIA to get the most seamless experience. We want passengers to know that we are collectively working to improve the experience.