Sacramento International Airport, an airport expected to move roughly 8.9-million passengers in 2012, ranking it among the top 25 busiest airports in the United States, screened an average of 24,245.78 passengers per day in 2011, flying to more than 30 destinations daily. With the busy pace at Sacramento International Airport, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is well practiced in the screening of passengers and ensuring aviation security procedures are followed, day in and day out.
With TSA passenger screening lanes at Sacramento International Airport typically having quadruple redundancy for ensuring passenger lane security, the agency is unable to clearly explain why a passenger screening late at the airport’s Terminal B was left unattended this past Saturday, around 9:00am, allowing people to walk through unscreened.
While the TSA emphasizes that it’s passenger screening lane at Sacramento International Airport was left unattended for only less than one minute, the lack of attention being paid to the passenger screening lane in Terminal B was long enough for four passengers and an airport employee to pass through completely unchecked, and without setting off the walk through metal detector. The security breach resulted in an hour long closure of Terminal B as the TSA and law enforcement sought out the five people who passed through without screening. During the security closure of Terminal B, which resulted in 12 delayed flights, all five unscreened people were identified using security video footage and properly screened by TSA Transportation Security Officers (TSO).
The TSA has stated that two TSA TSOs have been removed from passenger screening duties to undergo remedial training, however this does not address the other TSA TSOs who lead to the security failure. A typical TSA screening lane at Sacramento International Airport consists of a document checker, a metal detector or AIT screener, a bag checker at the x-ray machine roll-out and a Supervisory Transportation Security Officer (STSO). All TSOs are supposed to maintain situational awareness.
Over the course of a minute, a document checker should have noted a change in passenger expressions as they watched people pass through an unattended lane. This bag checker at the x-ray machine roll out should have been aware of passenger actions and reactions passing through an unattended metal detector. These two TSA TSOs need to be just as aware as the walk through metal detector TSO and the STSO who should have been aware that a lane was being used while unattended.
The TSA’s quadruple security failure resulted in delays of an hour or more for some airlines, including American Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest, Horizon, Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines. Airline delays have ripple effects through out an airline’s network, especially for connecting passengers. Flight delays cost airlines thousands and thousands of dollars, interrupting crew schedules, impacting an entire day’s aircraft route schedule, burning fuel and causing delayed passengers to miss connections and wait for open seats on later flights to get where they’re going.
The TSA should not remove two TSOs from screening duties over the incident at Sacramento International Airport. The agency needs to look at this multiple layer security failure as an opportunity to assess its internal station communications, determine situational awareness skills and evaluate supervision of security lanes and screening area design.
Failures in security will occur, it is inevitable, but each failure is a learning opportunity … how will the TSA learn from this opportunity?