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Securing the friendly skies.

ASK UNITED AIRLINES' GLEN WINN TO SUM UP THE COMPANY'S SEcurity in one word and he doesn't hesitate. Proactive," he will tell you. But don't think for a moment the company's only concern is passenger safety. Yes, that's taken seriously, very seriously. But the company itself has an equal stake in security. If someone comes aboard a United flight with a bomb that blows the plane sky high, employees will lose their lives, too. So you can be sure the company is going to do everything in its power-as any reputable airline would-to ensure a safe flight.

In fact, when it comes to security, a noncompetitive spirit exists among carriers to protect the public, says Winn, who is the staff executive of operational security for United Airlines. Besides," he adds, "the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] checks up on all of us constantly. "

Security at the nation's largest airline is not taken lightly. On security equipment alone, United spends an average of $9 million a year. Overall, this year, Winn estimates the company will spend some $30 million on security. When you start examining the costs of some of the department's purchases, it becomes clear how easy it is to spend that kind of money-and how fast it can be done.

Take, for example, the four mobile, truck-mounted X-ray machines the company just purchased for its operations at London's Heathrow airport. Cost: $100,000-plus per item. Or, the four new, floor-mounted X-ray machines, also for its Heathrow operations. Cost: $50,000-plus per item. Or, the new magnetometers the company is installing systemwide. Cost: an estimated total of $500,000.

And these numbers represent only money spent on equipment. They do not include the costs of personnel, training, outside contracts, and physical security.

Until recently, United did not place a security surcharge on passenger tickets. But due to mounting costs, that has changed. Currently, around 2 percent of a passenger's ticket goes to pay for security.

But as any good security manager knows, just because you have a big security budget doesn't mean you have good security. And that's where Winn comes in. He is one of a two-man department responsible for making sure that security is indeed effective. Winn and his assistant, Richard Davis, senior staff representative of operational security, report to a senior vice president of operations and, ultimately, to an executive vice president of operations.

One of the department's main responsibilities is to ensure that security issues relating to airline operations flow through the office for review. The department is also responsible for implementing and explaining those regulations. The department's other major responsibility-and Winn's-is to make recommendations on equipment and personnel.

Yet, the small size of the operational security department in no way limits its capabilities. As Winn sees it, everyone who works for the airline is part of the security department. He has put that philosophy into action by using the skills of a number of people who officially are not part of his staff. In fact, many of them are not even in the security field.

For example, security at United begins with the skycaps. "They are the first people, generally speaking, to meet the passenger, " Winn says. "They meet and greet people all day long, and they are certainly well qualified to look at people who will be flying with us."

Earlier this year, United implemented a new training program for its skycaps. The training includes six hours of ticket recognition. "There is only so much you can say about a ticket," says Winn. "But we feel six hours is enough to alert skycaps to certain issues."

Those issues, says Winn, include being able to identify-with relative accuracy - whether a ticket is stolen and recognize individuals who might mean trouble, such as terrorists. "There are a lot of things we can have skycaps do for us in security and still not be members of the security department. "

Winn and his department also rely heavily on ticket agents. "They also meet people all day and are very good at maintaining order, " says Winn. "They are probably the primary group, along with flight attendants, to deal with irate passengers, people who are intoxicated or under the influence of narcotics, and those who have a penchant to cause us a problem. "

Agents are trained to profile passengers. Although Winn would not discuss the specifics of profiles because of the sensitivity of the information, certain signs, he said, tip agents off that a ticket is stolen or that a person might be a terrorist. "A profile we do on passengers is something we keep near and dear to our hearts in the airline business," says Winn.

OF ALL THE PEOPLE INVOLVED IN SECURITY, ground security coordinators are among the most important. They are Winn's eyes and ears. It is because of the coordinators that Winn is able to do his job so successfully.

Federal Aviation Regulations require airlines to have at least one ground security coordinator at each location to which United flies. At present, United has 380 ground security coordinators around the world. The company is aiming to more than triple that number to around 1,200 by year-end. In London alone, the company recently added five ground security coordinators.

Unlike skycaps and ticket agents, ground security coordinators do nothing but security. They make sure that tasks like passenger bag matches, passenger profiles, and cargo security are performed properly. They don't get involved in passenger service. They don't get involved in cargo service. "It is a heavy investment for carriers, United included," says Winn, "but we feel it's worth the cost."

International cities that United serves have country managers who, like ground security coordinators, serve as Winn's eyes and ears when he's not around. An example of the vital role these individuals play occurred earlier this year and involved a coup d'etat in Bangkok.

Recalls Winn, "The first indicator we had that there was a problem was from our country manager, who phoned us in the middle of the night to inform us that a coup was in progress. We had two flights due to arrive there in several hours. We decided to cancel them because we felt the environment was unsafe. " It turned out the coup was peaceful, and two days later United resumed operations to Bangkok.

Winn makes frequent trips to United's stations around the world to ensure that operations are running smoothly. In April, United took over Pan Am's routes to London. Before operations started up, Winn made a number of trips to Heathrow to make sure everything was in place. "I'm very proactive in this area," says Winn, "because if there's a problem, I'm the one who is going to have to answer. I want to make sure I have the right answers. "

Winn tries to ensure that employees are security conscious, which, he says, is not a difficult job. "I think you'll find that airline employees, no matter what their jobs, are the most security-conscious people in any industry. It's their job," he says. "I've seen employees come into this office who have just come off a flight and seen something that in their mind wasn't being conducted properly. We don't just put that in a file. We get on top of it right away.

Employees will even go so far as to challenge other employees. It is not uncommon, according to Winn, to see a flight attendant approach a screener and ask why he or she let something go through. "We are all accountable in this business," says Winn. "If an accident or an incident occurs and we didn't do what we should have done, then we are going to pay the consequences."

Precautions are also in place to ensure the safety of planes themselves. On landing, each plane is searched. Once a plane is empty of all passengers, crew, and freight, workers come aboard to clean it. Plane cleaners are searched before they are allowed aboard an aircraft.

To make sure plane cleaners have done a thorough job and not rushed, companies that employ the cleaners test them periodically to keep them on their toes. They leave something on the plane, like a book, to see if it is picked up. Cleaners are rewarded when they find items.

The cleaners are followed by personnel who do a thorough search of the plane. They go through the seat pockets, overhead compartments, lavatories, and the belly of the plane. "They also search the cockpits," says Winn, "although it is a superficial search. We don't want them to accidentally touch an instrument they aren't supposed to. We leave a more thorough search up to the pilots themselves. "

A complete search on an aircraft, such as a DC-10 or 747, takes around two hours. But at some international destinations, like Paris, a full search can take up to four hours.

Access to planes is severely restricted. The entry doors to the Jetway bridges, which connect the waiting rooms to the planes, are locked unless passengers are boarding. Moreover, in foreign airports, security guards are placed around planes. "That's a requirement," Winn points out. United does have the option, like any carrier, to place security guards around its planes in the United States if it thinks it is necessary, and it has been done. "We did place security guards briefly in a crisis we had," says Winn. "But we withdrew them once we saw the airport tightened its security. "

Less direct routes of approaching an aircraft, such as back entrances, are also protected. Physical security measures fall under Federal Aviation Regulations, which require airports to meet a number of standards, such as increasing the heights of fences and setting up checkpoints for personnel entering work areas.

"Many airports have put in vehicle traps similar to what you see in front of federal buildings in Washington, DC," Winn says. "Los Angeles put in zigzag entries to certain gate areas. You can't just drive through. You've got to make many turns, and you are stopped and checked. New York has done the same thing at JFK airport. "

All applicants go through a background check and drug testing, whether they are applying to be a mechanic or a pilot. The background check goes back five years. Employees also sign a release form that gives the company permission to investigate any part of their life. Next year, the FAA is going to require airlines to fingerprint all employees.

Unlike many airlines, United usually does not contract out for food services. it produces all its own food in 15 flight kitchens around the world using its own employees. Given the background investigation into employees, the company feels the security of food and alcohol is not a problem.

But in some locations, like Bangkok, United does not have a flight kitchen and has to contract out for food services. " We are using Thai Air's food, " says Winn. "We have a person we send to the kitchen for the preparation of the food and liquor carts. The carts are then sealed and escorted to our airplane by a guard service that we have contracted with there."

In addition, pilots and flight attendants receive extensive training on what to do in the event of a hijacking or terrorist attack. Currently, the training is done yearly, but plans are underway to change it to every six months.

"In the interim," says Winn, "if there are any notifications we need to do, pilots and flight attendants can watch videos, which are updated all the time. if I want to get a message out, I can go over to our training division and cut a tape today that will be out tomorrow.

Domestically, United depends on information about potential threats from the FAA and FBI; it relies on the State Department for overseas advisories. Based on the information it receives, United makes its own decisions.

In the case of State Department advisories, the decision is not as simple as choosing not to fly to countries where a threat level is high. "We may not even fly to a particular country where the State Department has issued an advisory," explains Winn, "but we may be receiving passengers from those areas. We have to decide if that is going to pose a potential threat to us. "

Emergencies are handled in the company's crisis communications center. "We think it is our best means of communications with all of our personnel and outside government agencies, " says Winn. "We operate around the clock if we have to. "

When the war in the Persian Gulf started, United's crisis communications center was put into full operation on the night of January 16 and was open 24 hours a day for 10 days. And when a United plane crashed in Colorado Springs in March, the center was once again put into operation until a team was able to get out to the crash site and set up communications.

LIKE ALL AIRLINES, UNITED RECEIVES its share of bomb threats. When threats are received, they too are handled in the crisis communications center. The center's manager, in conjunction with several staff members, makes a decision as to the seriousness of the threat. To aid in deciding what to do, "there is a formula we put bomb threats through," says Winn. "The formula was adopted by the carriers and authorized by the FAA. "

The difficulty comes in determining whether a threat is real or a hoax. "Granted, we do receive hoax threats, " says Winn. "There is no doubt about that, and we have to make that judgment all the time. Those are not looked at lightly. "

Not only are the lives of passengers and crew at stake, but also operational considerations need to be taken into account. "Imagine a fully loaded 747 being forced to land into the ocean and possibly killing 400-plus people when, in fact, the threat was a hoax, " says Winn. "That's insane. I don't think you'd find a crew member who would want to do that. They are going to want some real analytical information before a decision like that would ever be made. There are a whole bunch of safety issues involved in taking an aircraft from a high altitude and bringing it into an airport in a matter of minutes without injury to the passengers and crew.

"At this point," continues Winn, "we want to make sure we've got some good analysis. For example, did we have a prior threat? Who made the threat? When did it come in? How much conversation went on?

"We have the capability of recording all those conversations. Anybody who is going to make threats ought to understand that it is likely that we are going to catch them," says Winn.

Dealing with threats is often further complicated by the fact that they usually are not specific. Says Winn, "More often you get something like Something is going to happen on the next flight out of O'Hare.' Now are you going to close down O'Hare? Was the threat meant for United or another airline?"

When United receives a bomb threat call, Winn says it's a fairly safe bet that the call was not from a terrorist organization. Terrorists rarely forewarn you of a bombing. They like to take credit for the bombing after the fact. "

Generally speaking, bomb threats are not a problem in the United States. "With the amount of bombings that have happened in civil aviation [in the United States] over the years, the percentage is so minuscule. Granted, anything that costs lives is not minuscule, " says Winn, "but in percentages, it is so low that it is almost nonrecordable. "

Overseas, it's a different story. Bomb threats are more common. Truck-mounted X-ray machines can be brought directly to the aircraft. "If we have a bomb threat, we can stop our entire operation, deplane the personnel, passengers, cargo, baggage, and mail, and put everything through this X-ray machine." However, because of the expense of the machines, they are not located in every city. Instead, they are located in cities-both domestically and internationally-where they are most likely to be needed.

Since Winn joined the company in September 1990, United has not had to cancel either a domestic or international flight because of a bomb threat. But he says the airline would not hesitate to do so if the need arose.

By law, airlines are required to notify pilots and flight attendants when they receive a threat. "If a pilot receives a notice that a bomb might be planted on the flight, the pilot has the option of saying he or she doesn't want to fly, " says Winn. "They are the boss. We give them our best analytical information; they make the judgment call. "

As a safety precaution United always briefs crews going on international trips, regardless of whether the State Department has issued an advisory. "If nothing is happening," says Winn, "we tell them that."

When the Persian Gulf War broke out, security measures were either modified or completely changed. "We stopped a lot of things we were doing, " says Winn. "We stopped transporting all mail. We stopped small-package transportation to many locations until we could ensure that we could screen it and we knew exactly who the small-package shipper was. We totally reexamined United Airlines from one end to the other to make sure we knew exactly what was on our aircraft. "

Passenger screening became more strict. "We added to the was given to us by the FAA and profiled a higher percentage of passengers, " says Winn. "We got very complimentary statements from many passengers. To my knowledge, we did not receive any derogatory letters or phone calls during that time."

ONE PROBLEM ALL AIRLINES FACE IS people smuggling drugs onto flights. Although drug interdiction isn't one of the airline's primary missions, its interdiction rate is high because of the tight security measures in place for other threats.

"I think about how many drug couriers have been interdicted over the years by airline employees because of their alertness, " says Winn. "There are certain signs drug smugglers exhibit that tip off a ticket agent that something is wrong: their actions, their dress, the type of conversations they are conducting with the agent, certain qualities of their ticket that aren't correct.

"We are very cognizant of searching our aircraft. Being an international carrier, most of our widebody aircraft are searched simply because maintenance programs have to take place on a regular basis. "

United does fly into places where, traditionally, drug smuggling has been a problem. For example, it has recently starting flying into the Caribbean and San Juan. The airline also serves Mexico.

"We haven't had any problems with narcotics coming out of Mexico. But see, we've been proactive in the area of X-raying baggage. All of those substances show up as biodegradable," explains Winn. "Although the current X-ray equipment we are using looks for explosives, which are biodegradable, the equipment also finds drugs because they are biodegradable."

Statistics back up Winn's claim. The Drug Enforcement Administration informs carriers of drug seizures that have occurred on their flights, and in the first quarter this year, United had only one seizure.

One example of the effectiveness of the system took place earlier this year in Los Angeles. "We had a situation with a Hawaiian flight, where a profile matched one of the passengers," recalls Winn. "In his bag were six pipes filled with crack, which had a street value of $30 million to $40 million. The point is, " says Winn, " the system worked. "

As a further precaution, United invites the Customs Service and other drug enforcement groups that want to bring their dogs aboard an aircraft to do so.

The chances of smuggling drugs aboard a United flight and not getting caught are becoming even slimmer. "We occasionally do a selective check and throw all the baggage from a particular flight through an X-rayer, " says Winn. "We don't have a cause. We don't have a threat. If you are the passenger, there is no way on God's green earth you are going to know which flights we are checking.

Scanning equipment is becoming ever more sophisticated. Says Winn, "It's getting to the point where we will soon be able to read the labels on individual items. "

Over the past two years, thermal neutron analyzers (TNAs) have received considerable attention. Last October, United became host for a TNA at Dulles International Airport, outside of Washington, DC. i think at this point TNAs are the number-one item we could use outside of using dogs," says Winn.

But like most developments, TNAs have their drawbacks, price being a major one. At $1 million apiece, airlines are not running out to purchase them in droves.

"It isn't that you don't want to save lives, " says Winn. " It comes down to, is there another piece of equipment that can do the job?"

Winn points to ongoing research. "The British, for example, have hand-held bomb detection devices. They are very successful. Are they 100 percent?" asks Winn. "We don't know because we don't know if there has been a case where they have not interdicted something. "

One new piece of equipment that is not on the market yet but that airlines are looking at closely is similar to a CAT scan. It has the capability to look at objects three-dimensionally. "The prototypes are coming out now," says Winn. "I would say that within this year we are going to see some newer, other kinds of technologies, very quickly.

"At this point, there isn't much more that we feel we can do with the equipment available," says Winn. "We are already putting passengers through multiple grills. We are putting baggage through multiple grills. We are doing the same for freight and mail. We are searching the aircraft. We have bomb dogs at our disposal in all major cities overseas.

"We are always trying to stay two or three steps ahead of the bad guy, and the only way we can do that, " says Winn, " is to be on our toes all the time. We've got to be proactive."

To see how security has evolved to where it is today, one need not look back far in history. "It all goes back to the early 70s with all that craziness with the Cuban hijacking. That was the beginning of security in the aviation industry. From that point on," says Winn, "it has never lessened."

About the Author . . . Karen K. Addis is assistant editor of Security Management.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:security at United Airlines
Author:Addis, Karen K.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Previous Article:Professionalism - an impossible task?
Next Article:Tragedy or scam?

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