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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
Airport security: What more can be done?
Security at major airports has come under the spotlight in the wake of Thursday's shooting at Los Angeles International airport.
Three people, including the gunman, were killed when a 41-year-old Egyptian man opened fire at Israel's El Al airlines ticket counter.
Two people, believed to be Israelis, were killed and three wounded before the gunman was shot dead by an airline security guard.
The incident has again called into question the level of security at international airports 10 months, after the 11 September hijackings.
The US has now decided to post armed guards at airport ticket counters, hoping the move will deter potential attackers.
What more can be done to tighten up airport security? Do you feel safe travelling through airports?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Bob, Los Angeles, USA
You have to be from Europe to understand how unbelievably lax security still is in the US. Bags and packages sit around unattended, and there is little or no supervision of places like airport concourses, where you are guaranteed to find large numbers of vulnerable members of the public. It's worth noting that in the end it was El Al's own security men who dealt with this gunman. The airport security personnel were nowhere in sight, which means that the next attack, if there is one, will be on the ticket desk of an airline which is not as security conscious as El Al.
Plenty can be done to beef up security, but at what cost? Metal detectors at terminal entrances would go a long way. In the US it is far more likely that one will perish in a traffic accident or die of heart disease than succumb to a terrorist attack. It is up to each and every one of us to live life to its fullest. We will all die someday; no need to worry when. Terrorists everywhere have already lost simply because they feel they must resort to killing their fellow human beings for attention. How pathetic is that?
It is difficult to see what more can be done to improve security particularly at European airports, who have a good record. Any other checks would severely inconvenience the travelling public, especially those who travel frequently and on business.
The answer must be for vigilance by all airport staff, an increase in the number of security staff, stringent screening of all persons who have access to the airport and its perimeter. But most of all airports throughout the world must adopt European standards of security. In some countries there is just a cursory examination of bags etc, and no questioning of the passenger, re packing of baggage etc.
Only bona fide travellers can get to the check-in desks in Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports and only after having their luggage x-rayed, passed through a metal detector and showing their passport and ticket. Perhaps not 100% safe, but not a bad example to follow in the US.
Perhaps ID cards aren't such a bad idea after all.
In a country with so many guns is it surprising that people go mad and shoot people? Why don't they look controlling guns not controlling people.
Roger M Brookin, Japan
There really wasn't anything that could be done, short of banning all weapons in public places. Having detectors at the doors will just move the problem - someone could just as easily shoot people walking into the check-in building. Should detectors be fitted at the entrance to the entire complex then too?
What more can be done? Probably not much... idiots and psychopaths will always find a way of doing what they want, even though they will not get any benefit.
I, for one, would be prepared to wait an extra hour and would even be happy to pay a little more if my family's safety is what is at sake here. Surely this is what we are talking about. Priorities. Who cares about the inconvenience when it's your safety at stake?
I would like to point out how much the whole current concept of flight security is just out of point. Just one example: these days you cannot board a plane in Europe with nail scissors in your luggage but you can board a plane with duty free alcohol bottles - once broken they make a much more powerful weapon. Maybe the big brains at airline companies are thinking a fundamentalist terrorist will never get close to a bottle containing alcohol. It is flying over a cuckoo's nest really.
Having read all the opinions on this page, I'm afraid the situation seems hopeless. My experience of US airport security is not exactly encouraging. On two occasions I have accidentally carried five-inch scissors through security, undetected. The so-called increased security is just a show to placate a panicked public. And forget about taking guns out of the public hands. I never felt like I needed to own a gun in the UK, however on this side of the pond there's a certain paranoia: partly to do with armed criminals, partly to do with a centuries-old fear that an unarmed population would be easier for the government to suppress. Two things I never thought twice about in the UK. Funny that...
Like in India only the passengers travelling should be allowed in the terminal building. All visitors and drivers should wait outside.
I suppose you could install one of those walk-through metal detectors used at the passenger departure points at all the airport. I think I remember this in use at Belfast Adergrove and it seemed to work very well. I'm afraid that people will just have to accept that things are going to take a little longer than before.
Initial reports indicated that one of the dead was killed by return fire and not the gunman, even if incorrect, this does raise the prospect that further security may increase the risk for passengers. If I was a US citizen, I still feel more at risk from disgruntled work colleagues.
After just flying back from America, their security is still not to the standard of England's (which could still be tighter). No-one questioned us as to what we were carrying and people seemed to be wandering in and out of the airport as they liked! At least at Gatwick, you and your bags were thoroughly checked and there was a visible presence of security and police officers!
Recently travelling from Berlin I was required to put my luggage through X-ray machines prior to check-in. Can we not adopt this system worldwide?
According to Charlton Heston (spokesperson for the National Rifle Association) the answer is increased permission for citizens to carry concealed weapons. To use his analogy the 'bad guys' will not know who the armed 'good guys' are.
This naive proposition is at the heart of what is wrong with America's gun culture. Act now to make it more difficult to get a gun and random ad hoc attacks will cut down.
In May I travelled on a major American airline. When I eventually got my luggage back, it had been ransacked, and everything of value stolen. If someone in the employ of this airline can take items FROM luggage, post-security clearance, immediately before it's loaded onto a transatlantic flight, what's to stop them putting a bomb into the bag? I've actually asked the airline this question and not been given any answer.
Coming back from JFK, they sniffed my carry-on rucksack as they didn't like the CD walkman inside it, and then asked me to take my shoes off so they could sniff those as well. They also X-rayed my baseball cap, and the sweater tied around my waist. I then got frisked, despite the fact I didn't set the metal detector off. I was thoroughly impressed with my only experience of American security - it was much more thorough than internal European security where they barely look at my passport, let alone check it against any database.
Chris Beauregard, USA
The gun attack could have happened anywhere the public have access. The perception from this side of the pond is that this is not uncommon in America, I'm surprised that it's made headline news.
Daniel Greenspan, Israel
For improved security you must remove human fallibility. Extremely accurate sensors linked to powerful computers, monitored by very sophisticated software. Things such as face recognition systems, retinal scans, fingerprint scans, wide spectrum bag scans and computer 'sniffer dogs' are all currently possible. People do not have adequate levels of concentration, sensory equipment or processing speed to reliably detect all danger.
It is not possible to control all life completely and one hears in the US the phrase "prevent this from ever happening again" far too often. It shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the world we live in. We must accept some level of danger in our lives or imprison everyone.
Adam Cutler, England
I went to LA airport twice six weeks after 11 September and was shocked at the lack of security. On leaving LA, my passport was only checked at the check-in desk by the airline, who forgot to take out a green piece of card which is placed in your passport when you enter the states. They probably still think I'm there now! Having said all that, I'm not sure how you would stop someone who is willing to die in order to perform their act of terrorism.
When passing through airport metal detectors I often seem to set them off. All I am ever asked is do I have anything metallic such as keys; when I say yes, they just quickly search me and let me through. Yet when the same thing happened at a nightclub I had to pass them my keys etc. And then go back through the detector, ensuring that I hadn't concealed a weapon and used the keys as a cover.
The US can do nothing more than they are already doing unless they want an actual police state and marshal law. The only long-term solution to ending attacks like the ones we have seen is for America to pursue foreign policies that don't interfere in countries where they have no legitimate right and help alleviate the poverty and despair in those countries that give rise to terror.
Peter Galbavy, UK
Every time a topic like this comes up, the EU folks talk about banning handguns. Tell me, has banning handguns kept them out of the IRA's hands?
The freedom to defend oneself against any aggressor is not only paramount to survival but also imperative for the protection of other freedoms we enjoy. I should have the right to carry a firearm not only onto the airport facility but also the plane itself. How many terrorists do you think would dare to attack any of us knowing that we were armed? But instead we are soft targets in a zone where only the bad guys and the security personnel have guns. The answer is not to take further rights way from the people but to empower the people to protect themselves.
It's not just a question of airport security. It's a question of airport staff being forever vigilant and not becoming complacent.
Putting more security guards is just show-off. Better security means more behind-the-scene activities, more intelligence gathering and more suspicious eyes. Security organisations in the US and other countries should learn more from us Israelis - unfortunately we have much, much more experience.
How about a law that stops private citizens from walking around with guns in their pockets? Oh, forgive me, what a daft idea. There must be millions of things the US could try to stop gun-carrying psychopaths entering their airports before taking the drastic step of taking their guns away.
Banning handguns would be a good start.
Do you honestly think a law is going to deter someone bent on mayhem? The world is awash in guns and it's a matter of having the will and the cash to pick one up.
The problem is that anyone can just walk into an airport building. There isn't any form of security until the check-in desks. There is security staff but they do not and cannot monitor each person who walks into a terminal building. Maybe some kind of rules about who can actually enter the buildings should be brought into force.
Screening before being allowed to enter an airport?!! Next time a fatal robbery occurs in a high street bank or shop will you call for people to be screened so they can enter them?
LA airport has for a long time had weak security. It is one of the few airports in the world that allows members of the public access to the "airside" section of the airport without supervision. This is dangerous as people also have access to luggage left on transit conveyor belts.
I get annoyed when people have a go at the security operations in place when this kind of thing happens, because they're the same people who get upset and moan when their freedom is restrained due to terrorist acts. Security guards are under intense pressure to do the job right and if some maniac with a gun comes in shooting people all over the place then they have to shoot and kill him, they can't catch the bullets.
It's not airline security that's the issue but just how easy it is for anyone, even an illegal resident, to get hold of a firearm in the US. But no doubt the NRA will manage to move the debate away from gun control yet again.
To stop these incidents from occurring every entry gate to airports should be equipped with scanning devices and gates should be manned by security officers. Perhaps this would deter anyone with similar intentions.
It is a waste of time talking about tightening up security in airports, in a country where buying a firearm is as easy walking in to the local convenience store and showing them your driver's licence.
Luc Altmann, England
You can take simple preventative measures to stop attacks but you simply cannot predict a lone gunman in a public place. As Luc said, if you don't want people to be killed with guns, ban guns, don't install ridiculous security systems to delay, frustrate and punish the average person.
If you shut off the airport terminal building they will simply target another location. The train station, the bus terminal, a place of worship, a school, a supermarket, the list is long and no matter how tight security is, a fanatic will ultimately do some damage, somewhere, at any time. What happened at LAX was insane, cowardly and pointless. These actions should further the resolve of people to see that steps have to be taken to control people with twisted ideologies and dangerous motives.
What happened in LA is shocking, and I hope it will open our eyes further to the fact that airports need to be more secure, not just planes. Metal detectors at the entrance into airports may be an option - but sadly few people will be happy with the wait.
Total security is impossible. Anyone who believes it is possible hasn't any security experience. An airport is a transport hub. Its purpose is to process thousands of moving people as quickly as possible. To install intense security systems would defeat its function as a rapid transport system and wouldn't actually guarantee security. It is mind-boggling that a tiny handful of crazy people could lock up the gears of such a huge global system.
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