Friday, January 21, 2011

Prophylactic Security Measures

Finally, after a string of tentative aviation but not work posts, I'm ready to finish up posts on my last shift at work. This might be a little confusing because I tried hard to get these done before I left for Cambodia, but they really take place before then. So we rejoin me during the final week of my last shift before I left Cambodia.

I'm lazing about in an anonymous hotel. 'Tis not the season for working very hard in Canada, so here is a story from someone else who was working hard at a US airline which I won't name. I have his permission to post it, properly anonymized, so if you're close enough to the story to recognize the players, please don't say anything to give it away.

We had a serious situation on our flight yesterday that resulted in a diversion to an airport where we have no base, and a full evacuation. A few passengers received minor injuries during the evacuation, but otherwise everything was fine. We had no staff based there, but another airline came to the rescue in helping us with locating buses and assisting our passengers. They even had some of their staff mobilize to get bags off the aircraft. As a result of the landing, the airport was forced to close for most of the day yesterday and into this morning because the brakes had locked and we could not move the aircraft. This airport doesn't even have a towbar appropriate for the aircraft, so we trucked one in from another city along with other ground support equipment to help with moving the aircraft.

Once our airplane was no longer impeding airport operations, the next priority was to return it to serviceability. We brought our own employees, all appropriately badged for airside access at two of our other bases, but the TSA would not permit them onto the field here, to work in a maintenance hangar. The airport authority and the airline are in agreement that this incident is an emergency situation which requires mitigative response in allowing our personnel to fix the aircraft immediately without having to go through SIDA training for the new airport. TSA maintains stoically that any staff working to get this plane operating need to go through SIDA training.

SIDA stands for Security Identification Display Area. Every airport has its own application procedure including a short training course. Presumably the training consists mainly of being told not to let anyone into a secure area, not to enter one without your badge, and not to lose your badge, plus lots of threats and scary information about what happens if you disobey. Perhaps the airport-specific part includes a map showing all the secure areas on the airport in question, and an introduction to the head of security who will kick your ass if you don't comply. That takes about 45 minutes (the training, not the ass-kicking) so the lengthy part of the application procedure is the ten day wait for a background check. You can't use the fact that you got a background check at three other airports to waive this requirement, as the airport badge must be issued right after the passed background check.

The eye-rolling frustration of this policy is evident from the quoted diversion incident and the details of the SIDA application process itself. Plus the first google hit for SIDA training TSA is a plea to standardize the training for all airports. While I'd agree that a trainee aircraft groomer at SeaTac shouldn't automatically have an all-access pass at DCA, I can't conceive of a reason why an aircraft mechanic with 20 years experience at JFK can't be issued a temporary pass to work on a company aircraft at LAX, after the validity of her JFK pass has been confirmed. Can you? It's not like it's hard to identify the secure areas at an unfamiliar airport. They have a stop sign sticker with the SIDA acronym, and they're usually locked, anyway.

I always flinch slightly when I see the SIDA sticker on airport doors, not because I've ever been badged at a US airport, but because they happen to have chosen the same acronym as the French term for AIDS, as in the HIV+ disease. Not that that's something one contracts by turning the wrong doorknob, but it is an extra deterrent to keep me out of secured areas.

It's pasta Tuesday, the highlight of the week in northern wherever we are. We all go to Boston Pizza.

Update: The missing paragraph of the post is now visible. I accidentally hid it through an html error.


Anonymous said...

hmm, somehow this post stops in mid sentence? - good story, though!

Traveller said...

The "Security Apparatus" caught up with her at the point. Since this medium has no audio, you don't hear the "Aaaaarrrgh!" :-)

Sarah said...

Bwahahaha.. And she's gone!

But on the content, my

Sinister sillyness.

Anoynmous said...

The page source shows the rest of the post, with a mildly mangled anchor tag keeping it from being rendered as intended.

Alas, stupid rules are still rules.

amulbunny's random thoughts said...

They cut off their noses to spite their faces.

'nuff said.

Traveller said...

The key part of the local training is the layout of the secure areas.

I have the training the USAF requires for unescorted operation on the airside of an Air Force facility, including in the Controlled Movement Area. I do not get automatic access at a new site. I get training on the local layout and procedures and there is usually a test of either or both before I get local access.

That said, there does need to be a process to accept the official credentials from another, affiliated, site to cover everything but the local layout and procedures. Specifically, the background check should be transferable as long as it is still valid. This would also save time for the agency and local staff and money for the government.

Anonymous said...

why not have a system available where people with credentials for another location can get access under escort?

That's what works in Europe to allow for example construction crews onto the secure areas.
An airport car with crew familiar with the local procedures precedes the convoy and guides them to their work area, then either leaves or stays for the duration and later guides them back out again.
That way someone doesn't have to know everything, as long as he has the proper level of security clearance to enter secure areas at all he's able to work in any secure area as long as he doesn't wander around (and if you trust someone enough to have security clearance, you should trust them enough to have their head screwed on right).

Rob said...

In Australia it's even more easy. You get an ASIC (Australian Security Identification Card) that allows you access airside where you have an operational need.

Easily lets these guys work but stops the random guy from across the country popping in.

And we all bitch down here about the silliness of the ASIC!

Anonymous said...

This reminds of the security in nuke plants in the 80's; each plant I visited made me go through essentially the same training (sometimes they used the same boring video), then a local plant briefing, then a background check, then a badge. Repeat every 4-6 weeks. Eventually they accepted my company's annual background check, but everything else remained the same. I'm sure it's even more difficult now.

Why not run an annual federal background check on everyone, and eliminate that aspect of the process? Probably makes too much sense.

TSA = Transparently Senseless Aggravation

Anonymous said...

This is like one of my former careers as a relief Chemical process worker. I worked at five or six places on call but had to sit a 'personal protection equipment' course each time! after two years of two to three weeks placements the tutors knew me better than the full time workers and in one instance we had a wager that I could teach the course. I did, won the bet but still had to be certified by the tutor who sat in the back of the class laughing his ass off at the stupidity of it all.

coreydotcom said...

ouch. had to do a google search of:

define: prophylactic

... as soon as i read the first word of the title.

i made a guess in my head that it meant "stupid" and although it doesn't quite mean that but close enough i guess. is a condom considered prophylactic? or not?

Dafydd said...

Sarah - Sinister sillyness . Your right - there is a gradually increasing ,authoritarian , bureacracy creeping up on us . And it is not meritocratic . I know this because I am 70 plus years old and I have been around .In this particular context I have flown a lot of places in my lifetime - and have observed the gradual encroachment of the "security" industry . I am by no means a frequent flyer , maybe three or four trips a year - variously UK , Europe , Transatlantic . I am English and of conservative appearance , my hair is neat , I dress soberly , I am quiet - and generally make a point of being polite .
And yet in recent years I find myself regularly selected for "random" extra attention from "security" .
I know this can not be because I appear "threatening" or "dubious" and have come to suspect that I ( and my wife) attract this unwelcome attention prcisely because we appear neither of these things .Or , put another way we have been assessed unlikely to object or be problematical . And thereby the "security" becomes tokenism and gradually more and more ineffective as operatives seek the easy option at the same time losing the confidence and co-operation of the public the purport to serve

Aviatrix said...

Yep, Corey. It's a bit of a fancy-pants word, but for most English speakers the first association is condoms and they may have to think for a moment to recall that it also has the simple meaning of "preventative." Analogous to préservatif, I think.

Dafydd said...

Ah - I timed out on my longer dissertation

So as an aside re " Prophylactic Security Measures " I will just mention that there is a town in France - a very pretty town on the River Baise - with a "port de plaisance" et al -Called "Condom".

Every year they host an international conference of manufacturers/marketers/ etc of -you guessed it !

Obvious - Moi ?

Jez said...

I know that bureaucracy hates creativity, but I wonder if they could have figured out how to temporarily declare the hangar a non-secure area? E.g. post security guards at the hangar doors to make sure no one entered the apron without the right credentials. I guess this depends on what the access to "landside" was from the apron was.

Of course, making such a change to the secure/non-secure area probably would require months of paperwork for TSA.

coreydotcom said...

yeah i've heard of a condom being referred to as a préservatif. but that's dated. more likely to be referred to as a contraceptif.

Aviatrix said...

Prophylactic is a little obscure in English, too. I've heard of a condom being called a "safety" too, but I can't remember if that was in an old book or in another country.

Also, they used to be called "French letters," which leads to jokes when anglophones have trouble with AZERTY keyboards.