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After Fort Lauderdale Shooting, Examining Airport Safety

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There have been a number of attacks in recent years in the more vulnerable parts of airports, including the 2013 shooting at LAX in Los Angeles - to last year's bombing in Istanbul's airport. For more on securing airports, we're joined now by Jeffrey Price. He's an aviation security expert and professor at Metropolitan State University. Professor, thanks so much for being with us.

JEFFREY PRICE: Thank you.

SIMON: After several incidents, should airports be secured at the perimeter? Do we need to rethink how transportation - how security is laid out?

PRICE: I definitely think it's time for the airport side of the house to have really sort of the renovation that the airline side of the house had post-9/11. Post-9/11 we really focused more on protecting the aircraft, which has been the traditional target with the stand-up of the TSA, screening checkpoints being taken over by the TSA, personnel upgrading of all of that equipment. We did a tremendous amount to try and protect the aircraft even more.

What was sort of left behind with all of that was protecting the airport. With the exception of increasing some credentialing requirements for airport ID badges, there wasn't much that spoke to the security of the rest of the facility. I'm not advocating screening everybody as they come in the building. I don't think that would be effective. And that has its own challenges. But there are other things that the industry can and should be doing to protect the public areas of the airport.

SIMON: But let me ask. In an instance like this, I mean, this is a man who passed through airport security - isn't it? - you know, with a gun that he - apparently had all the documentation he needed to have.

PRICE: Exactly? It was basically, for everything we know right now, a lawful process that he followed to get the gun onboard the aircraft and fly to the destination and retrieve the firearm. The challenge that's going to be brought up now is, well, should airlines even be allowed to carry that? Well, they have for about four or five decades. We haven't had too many problems as a result of that.

Some people say, well, you should just ship your gun there. Well, he could have done that, too, and then driven over to where he shipped it to - and come right back to the airport. So I don't know that that process itself really needs to be looked at. The challenge we're really looking at is protection of a public area. And that's one of the most challenging things a security official will ever do - is protect a public area.

SIMON: Well - and how do you do that in baggage claim realistically?

PRICE: Realistically, first, there's an understanding that sometimes you can't prevent every single thing. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is respond to it. But by increasing law-enforcement patrols in the airport public areas, which I think is more important than any other area - not that any other life is less - worth anything or more. But when there's a shooting at a mall, the mall shuts down for a few days. When there's a shooting at an airport, the entire airport transportation system can be affected by that.

So there's simple things you can do. Increasing law-enforcement patrols in those areas so you provide more immediate response. Then there's more complex things that you can do from technology using gunshot locators and other kind of mass-screening-type technologies that have been tested and used in the U.S. military to try and protect checkpoints.

SIMON: Yeah. It's - is it - let me put it this way, Mr. Price. At some point, do security officials need to tell the American people, look. We can tighten up here - but something that's just an invitation for people to figure out another way around it.

PRICE: Unfortunately that's the way security works - is that as soon as we plug one gap, people are looking for the next gap. And, sometimes, plugging one gap opens up another one. So you unfortunately end up in sort of an endless game of whack-a-mole, where you're rushing to whatever the latest security gap that's been identified or has already been identified - but just find the exploited. And there is a level of personal responsibility, as well - just personal awareness and doing what you can do to be aware of your surroundings to the best of your ability.

SIMON: Jeffrey Price at Metropolitan State University, thanks so much.

PRICE: Absolutely, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.