The shuttle Endeavour launched into space this morning with much fanfare. Behind the scenes, however, securing the shuttle, crew and the entire NASA operation, is not an easy task, yet it's done with much skill and grace under pressure.
I recently traveled to Orlando, Fla. for a preview of the ASIS International conference that will be held in September. One of the tours we took was a behind-the-scenes look at security at Kennedy Space Center.
Mark Borsi is security director of the NASA protective services branch, and as such, he has the unique job of securing the shuttle and the 144,000 acres of property at Kennedy Space Center, which is also an island wildlife refuge. Borsi has a team of specialized agents, in addition to about 150 uniformed security police officers, an emergency management team and its own fire department.
Borsi partners with many public entities, including the FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Air Force, Coast Guard and the local law enforcement.
Partnering with so many public agencies is critical to securing NASA, yet Borisi is quick to point out that he and his team is prepared to deal with any type of security situation. "Keep in mind emergency response is 30 or 40 minutes away,” he said.
Borsi outlined how security at NASA changes three days out from a shuttle launch. First, uniformed officers begin working 12 hour shifts, setting up barriers, closing down perimeter gates and clearing the air zones and water access three miles out. Nothing is left to chance. “We plan not only 'A', 'B', and 'C' but well into 'D' and 'E', and we practice those plans,” Borsi said. K9 police dogs begin searching the property as well. Helicopters and Fighter Pilots from the Air Force clear the airspace. And the astronauts themselves are given 24/7 protection. Borisi and his team secure each area of the property, launch control and the shuttle itself using an elaborate check list.
On launch day, when crowd numbers can reach 500,000 people on the roads surrounding NASA, Borisi's challenge is crowd and traffic control. He and his staff work closely with local law enforcement to keep people safe and to quickly and safely move them out after the launch is complete. "People come here gradually before the launch, but they all want to leave at the same time," Borsi said.