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Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism
collaboration, is now being considered by the U.S. Customs Service8 and other government agencies.
In a different and more varied context, the experience with ensuring aviation safety over the past 30 years demonstrates how such a layered approach can indeed be pursued with much success. In commercial aviation, it is noteworthy that one agency has a dominant role in ensuring safety through multiple, coordinated means. FAA is responsible for everything from establishing pilot training requirements to regulating the design and manufacture of aircraft and their components. Safety is assured through a multipronged process aimed at reducing risks through rigorous standards for flight crew qualification and training; testing and certification of aircraft designs and materials; quality assurance in aircraft production processes; detailed schedules for aircraft maintenance and engine overhauls; a coordinated system for air-traffic management; standardized operating procedures; and minimum requirements for runway maintenance and airport rescue and fire services.
Coincident failures of all these elements are rare, as evidenced by the excellent decades-long safety record of commercial airlines. When failures (or even near failures) do occur, the safety system is evaluated as a whole and adjustments made (possibly to multiple elements) to remedy the problem.9
Given the outstanding performance of the aviation safety system, it is notable that aviation security, also regulated by FAA until recently, was not handled in a similarly holistic fashion. By and large, aviation security tactics and techniques emerged piecemeal, in reaction to a series of individual security failures, beginning with the deployment of magnetometers and x-ray screeners for carryon luggage following a rash of handgun-enabled hijackings during the 1960s and early 1970s. In this case, the screeners were viewed foremost as protective measures, intended to intercept firearms before they could be brought on board an aircraft. Indeed, year after year, thousands of firearms were intercepted and confiscated by airport screeners.10 Yet, while the screeners did intercept many guns, they also deterred the use of guns by hijackers. Certainly, the September 11 hijackers were reluctant to use handguns. Such deterrence effects, however, were not evaluated explicitly.
In April 2002 the U.S. Customs Service launched the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), which “requires importers to take steps to assess, evolve and communicate new practices that ensure tighter security of cargo and enhanced security throughout the entire supply chain. In return, their goods and conveyances will receive expedited processing into the United States” (U.S. Customs Service press release of April 16, 2002). More details about C-TPAT are available on the U.S. Customs Service Web site at <http://www.customs.gov/enforcem/tpat.htm>.
The importance of a systems approach to aviation security was emphasized in the 1997 White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, which was chaired by Vice President Gore.
According to FAA statistics, 13,459 handguns and 1,151 other firearms were detected and confiscated by airport screeners from 1994 to 2000 (personal communication, FAA Office of Civil Aviation Security Operations, May 3, 2002).