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Transportation Infrastructure: Airports at Risk

By Kimberly Arsenault
Contributor, EDM Digest

Transportation infrastructure is crucial to the American economy, and as a global connector, airports play a unique and significant role in the transportation system of the United States. Airports connect people, places, goods, and services across regions, throughout the nation, and around the world. This role makes airports a vital component of the [link url=”” title=”Transportation Systems Sector”] of the Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources (CIKR) under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Infrastructure Protection (IP).

As a critical infrastructure component, upgrades and improvements are vital to maintaining the safety of aviation, airports, and flying passengers, however, these are likely to present increased challenges to emergency management efforts at airports. Recent changes in technology include the introduction of the Airbus A380 double decker aircraft that exceeds infrastructure limits at many airports. Other technology includes new hazardous material scanning systems and upgraded computers that increase exposure to cyber security threats due to the interconnectedness of society.

As these new technologies are introduced and upgrades occur, training, equipment, planning, and exercise needs are going to increase. It is important to address these needs during the development and planning stages of new systems and/or infrastructure upgrades to be certain that appropriate steps are taken to advance airport emergency management at the same pace.

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The Economic Role of Airports

Airport security and safety must be maintained, but airports also need to meet growing economic needs. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) [link url=”” title=”2017 Infrastructure Report Card”] gave Aviation a “D” grade, noting that airport congestion is growing, especially at major hubs. In 2015, 2.25 million passengers were served by airports across the nation with a total of almost 8.8 million commercial flights alone. Current capacity limits are causing major congestion at the nation’s airports, which can have a direct impact on the economy.

Airports are regional economic drivers with an essential role in the nation’s economy. ASCE reports that 5.4 percent of the GDP was contributed by aviation in 2012, a total of $1.5 trillion in aviation generated economic activity, supplying 11.8 million jobs. The report also points out that while aircraft have become “technologically advanced and economically efficient,” air traffic control and airport infrastructure systems have failed to keep pace with growing demands and needs.

Adding to this issue, [link url=”” title=”a 2014 government report”] reveals how changes in the aviation industry, such as which cities airlines serve or the restructuring of routes flown, has reduced revenue streams for medium and smaller hubs. Yet funding is critical for enhancing airport safety and security, such as through new technology and planning and preparedness efforts. Reduced revenues will limit department funding and impact the ability of agencies to make the appropriate adjustments to airport emergency planning and preparedness, placing airports at risk.

Airports at Risk

[link url=”” title=”Recent events”] also show the vulnerability of such large-scale establishments from a variety of threats, emphasizing the need for airport emergency planning and preparedness efforts to remain on par with current threats:

  • 2005 – Miami International Airport: A man claiming to have a bomb was shot by federal air marshals
  • 2006 – Cleveland Hopkins International Airport: A man grabbed a gun from a police officer during a scuffle and was shot and killed
  • 2011 – Frankfurt Airport, Germany: An Islamic extremist shot and killed two American airmen
  • 2011 – La Mesa International Airport, Honduras: A parking area shootout leaves six dead and three wounded
  • 2013 – Jacksonville International Airport: A man is injured by police officers after a shooting and the ramming of two police cars in the rental car parking garage
  • 2013 – Los Angeles International Airport: A man open fires at a security checkpoint, killing one TSA agent and injuring three others
  • 2014 – Jinnah International Airport, Pakistan: A terrorist organization launches an attack that kills 36 and injures 18
  • 2015 – Sabiha Gökçen Airport, Turkey: One airport worker is killed and another injured when an explosion occurs in an airplane parking area (apron)
  • 2016 – Brussels Airport, Belgium: A coordinated terrorist attack that included the airport killed 32 and injured over 300
  • 2016 – Atatürk Airport, Turkey: A coordinated attack by three men killed 45 and injured over 450 people; and
  • 2016 – Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City: A gunman ambushed an airline employee, killing him.
  • 2017 – Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport: A man opens fire in the baggage claim area killing 5 people

As larger jets (A380), cutting edge detection equipment (scanners to detect explosive or chemical agents), and evolving threats impact airports, those engaged in airport emergency management must rise to the occasion and begin planning today for tomorrow’s new technology, risks, and hazards.

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Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.

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