The suspected attacks on the airport in Brussels raises questions about the safety of Americans traveling both in the US and abroad. What can passengers do to protect themselves from the same tragedy, and what should US airports and the TSA be doing in response?
First, understand that there is no 100% safe solution. Terrorism can occur anyplace, anywhere at anytime. But, there are things you can do to be prepared or to increase your chances of surviving such an incident.
Maintain a healthy awareness of your surroundings. Most people are head-down in their technology instead of paying attention to what’s going on around them. You don’t need to be paranoid, but you do need to pay attention. If you’re uncomfortable with a person or situation, move away from it and notify law enforcement.
Some Krav Maga training centers offer courses in what to do if you encounter a suicide bomber. The first recommendation is to get out of the area, create distance between you and the bomber and get to a position of cover. Space away from the X (the target location) is your friend during a bomb blast. But if you have no choice but to engage, you may as well go down swinging and KM training may be able to improve your odds a bit.
Second, what can you expect to happen at US airports?
TSA and local law enforcement do have measures to reduce potential attacks including K-9 explosive detection dogs, TSAs random terrorist inspection programs, TSA behavior detection personnel, airport armed police roving patrols and CCTV monitoring. Airports also have contingency measures in place where they can ramp up security measures during higher threat conditions, and some airports have trained many of the airport, airline and tenant personnel in suspicious awareness detection.
One question that always comes up when there is an incident like this is if you should move the checkpoints. The problem is, you’re just relocating the place the attack will occur. The point of a suicide bombing is to detonate in an area where there are a lot of people, so relocating the place where people gather or wait just relocates where the bomber will go. Plus, when the crowd moves closer to the vehicle drop off points that may make them more susceptible to vehicle bombing. Ideally, you want to spread out the checkpoints, but most US airports were designed prior to 9/11, before activities like this occurred with this rate of frequency.
The best thing US airports can do to deter this type of attack is deploy uniformed law enforcement who act as both deterrence and can identify suspicious behavior. The bomber does not want to get caught before getting to their target and while in some cases the target may actually be police, usually the bomber will go to where they are less likely to be spotted. There are also some technologies that have been tested such as millimeter wave imaging antenna’s to search for items or objects on people as they move through a public area, and K-9 dogs trained to sniff out individuals as they move through a checkpoint or ticketing areas. TSA will also likely increase their random antiterrorism measures, which will likely be noticeable to the public — that’s okay, these measures are designed to deter terrorist acts through visibility.
I suspect, as what occurred after the bombing of the Moscow Domodedevo airport in 2010, that if there are no other attacks in the coming days or weeks, you’ll see an initial surge in more police and TSA in airport public areas, followed by a reduction to normal. It should be interesting to see if there are more significant changes in airports throughout the US as we move forward.