As Adrian points out, idiots who walk the wrong way through airport security—like the guy who forced 10,000 people to evacuate a Newark terminal last night—will always happen. But the pandemonium Newark's wrong-wayer caused? Preventable.
After a man breached EWR's "sterile zone" by jogging the wrong way through airport security, then making himself scarce, TSA had to halt all take-offs, part the Red Sea, and evacuate the terminal. When it turned out the Newark Idiot wasn't a terrorist—just a guy worried about missing a football game—they then had to shove every single person back through the same horrible bottleneck the idiot wrong-wayed hours before. The above photo is a twitpic from the migraine-inducing scene.
But what if they hadn't needed the evacuate the entire terminal? What if they only had to lock down one little part of it?
Last week the Toronto Star made the case for the "Israelification" of airports, prompted by some Israeli hardass who sneered,
It is mindboggling for us Israelis to look at what happens in North America, because we went through this 50 years ago. ... When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for—not for hours—but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, 'We're not going to do this. You're going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.
The Star's article guides curious readers through Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, where travelers go through six small security checks before boarding their planes. The process starts with a roadside check en route to the airport where travelers are asked merely "How are you?" and "Where are you going?" The emphasis here is on "behavioral profiling," which sounds awfully subjective and uses a word that tends to freak Americans out. But the real genius is that different checkpoints eliminate different kinds of "hard" threats and reduce the high-stress uber-critical feel of the single monolithic checkpoint favored by North American airports. Consequently, if an idiot wrong-ways through Tel Aviv checkpoint #3, Israeli authorities would only have to secure the area between points 3 and 4 to find him. The group affected by the idiot's wrong way is smaller, and so is the re-screening process.
Even if it's determined that we can't separate the I.D. check from the metal detectors, we could at least find a way to move the bulk of the security check to locations closer to the gates, so there are fewer wide-open un-secured areas—this helps reduce idiot-induced stampedes and prevents nefarious types from swapping panty bombs in dark corners where nobody's looking.
American airports vary widely in how many gates are forced to rely on a single checkpoint; in my experience, Newark seems like it keeps the security checks relatively close to the gates, meaning fewer people are affected by a gaffe like Sunday's. And yet, look how nails-on-chalkboard painful this twitpic, labeled "Finally moving in Newark airport!" seems—and it depicts a functional EWR, post-idiot.
What if the Newark idiot actually had a bomb? He could've hit 10,000 people just standing in line for the metal detector.
Adrian's right: People will find idiotic ways to besmirch even the most elaborately secured "sterile zone." So why don't we make renovating airports—and rethinking how and where we deploy all the new fancy-pants security techniques, and what constitutes "sterility"—a priority, so that idiots (and, uh, terrorists) stop holding the rest of us hostage. [Gawker] [Gawker] [TorontoStar] [IsliburdTwitter]