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vanishing act at Oakland airport

By enelson
Friday, February 16th, 2007 at 1:10 pm in air travel, Security.


Upon hearing how someone had set off a metal detector at Oakland International Airport yesterday and promptly vanished, one of my colleagues remarked that if she ever got into trouble with the law, she’d go to the airport to avoid capture.

Kidding aside, it’s somewhat unsettling that twice this year already, someone was able to get past a federalized security system and then disappear. Both times the terminal areas were evacuated. I went to the first one, during which passengers were herded out into the parking lots so the entire airport could be swept and everyone could be re-processed through security.

Question: Did they get to keep their liquid and gel containers larger than 3 oz. or not packed into a quart-sized transparent bag? In hindsight, it would have been fun to ask.

But now we’re onto more weighty concerns. Stephen Irwin, former Oakland airport duty manager who now does aviation security consulting out of St. Louis, saw my story about the security breach and had this to say:

Another good article however Oakland’s response isn’t quite right.
“When they did not locate the individual in a few minutes, they made the decision to evacuate the boarding area,” sending passengers back to the public area of both terminals to be re-screened.
Actually, from a security perspective, it doesn’t matter if they couldn’t locate the man in a ‘few minutes’ or a few hours, once he disappeared into the crowd beyond the screening checkpoint, TSA’s own protocols mandate a terminal evacuation, inspection and rescreening of all passengers. You can appreciate that it would only take a moment or two for this individual to either secrete or hand off a weapon to someone in the terminal’s sterile area. They make it sound as if they had some discretion in this situation, they really didn’t. What they did was the only option available to guarantee that a weapon hadn’t been introduced into the sterile area. Oakland’s CCTV system is woefully inadequate for dealing with this type of breach. SFO can have a color picture of an individual distributed to airport law enforcement within minutes of a breach. You might want to contact the communications folks at SFO and ask for a briefing/tour to see what’s available/possible. Oakland could fix this problem or at least mitigate some of its impact if they wanted to.

So what you’re saying is, there is a serious (and some might say fatal) flaw in Oakland’s security system.

That’s a serious charge, coming from someone who sounds like he might know what he’s talking about. I’ve forwarded this to airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes and await the airport’s response.

7:49 p.m. UPDATE:

Thanks to Rosemary’s timely efforts, we have a same-day response, from Cedric Johnson, the airport’s security manager:

Specifics pertaining to the security incident that occurred at Oakland International Airport (OAK) yesterday cannot be discussed in the public arena because of (security regulations). OAK’s security contingency plans are considered sensitive security information.

However, we are confident that appropriate actions were taken as we quickly secured the contaminated area and performed a complete, systematic search of all aircraft, facilities and persons in the affected areas.

The search was completed by members of the Port of Oakland aviation security community in a team fashion. Oakland Police Department (OPD) was the lead law enforcement agency, supported by Alameda County Sheriff Deputies. Also K-9s assisted in clearing all affected locations.

A debriefing of the incident occurred yesterday after the incident. The briefing was conducted with the affected air carriers, Joint Terrorism Task Force Members, TSA, Federal Air Marshal, Alameda County Sheriff Dept, OPD and Port of Oakland Aviation Department personnel. A second debriefing will occur next week. We enjoy working in conjunction with members of our aviation security community and welcome their input.

That’s all well and good, but again I have to ask, how did two guys get through security and just disappear?


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