This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)
The greatest nightmare imaginable to airport security personnel: It’s Christmas Eve. Plenty of passengers. Thousands of people crowd the L.A. Airport. An elegantly dressed woman, holding an expensive handbag, joins the line at a crowded check-in counter.
Suddenly she screams “Allahu Ackbar,” grabs a glass vial containing a clear liquid and spills the liquid on the floor. She then draws a pistol and opens fire. Security react immediately, shouting for people to lie down, shoot the woman and kill her. Meanwhile several breathless people are lying on the ground, some dead, victims of toxic gas. No one understand what’s happening, hundreds die within minutes. That’s one possible chemical attack scenario in an airport terminal.
This nightmarish fictional event was described by Brig. Gen. (Res.) Abraham Bachar, former director of emergency response in various defense establishment organizations and today CEO of Israteam, as part of the IPRED 3 medical emergency response conference.
Bachar described some of the changes in the U.S. after 9/11: The establishment of the DHS, upgraded airport security, identification and detection systems for people and cargo, anti-hijacking precautions aboard airplanes and more.
“One weak link was left untouched: The passenger terminals,” said Bachar. “Countries invested a lot of money in preventing hijackings but neglected the passenger terminals. These are usually wide open, swarming with people – passengers and others – which no one checks. Someone can easily carry an explosive or a chemical agent into the terminal and cause a mega-terror event.”
According to Bachar current security procedures for terminal attacks will only lead to panic and more deaths, as the first to fall would be the security officers: They are trained to get into close range of their targets as quickly as possible – the wrong tactic in case of a chemical attack.
So how can airport security prepare itself? According to Bachar the most important thing is speed. Toxins kill within minutes and the response must be immediate: Give evacuation instructions to passengers, direct security personnel, evacuate casualties to nearby hospitals – all within those few minutes. Other means of preparation include frequent drills, acquiring protective equipment, establishing a command and control network within the airport itself, and more.
According to Bachar the Israeli Airport Authority has already established a special response center for chemical attacks. Other airports around the world, concluded Bachar, can adapt the Israeli system for their own needs.