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Airport Security By Design: O’Hare Expansion Discourages Terrorists and Other Wild Intruders

By Susan DeGrane


Last January, several news national sources reported that in 2015 the Transportation Security Administration seized 2,653 guns from travelers attempting to board airplanes. The number represented an increase of nearly 20 percent over 2014.

Prior to 9-11, the beefed up security force responsible for making the impressive haul was practically nonexistent, yet it now numbers nearly 51,000 transportation security officers (TSOs), transportation security inspectors, and behavior detection officers who perform baggage, cargo and passenger screenings for explosives and firearms at 450 U.S. airports.

But while federal agents and inspectors keep a watchful eye on boarding passengers and luggage, who or what is protecting airport perimeters, runways and planes?OHare1

Among the busiest of our nation’s airports is Chicago O’Hare International, which operates as a hub for two major airlines. The larger of two airports serving the Chicago metropolitan area, O’Hare saw more than 77 million domestic and international passengers last year. It occupies 12 square miles.

Sometime before the implementation of O’Hare’s massive $6.6 billion expansion, which commenced more than a decade ago, an elderly man and his wife decided drive their car closer to where planes were parked. They ended up going down the runways. The confused older driver harbored no terrorist motives, but the consequences could have been equally disastrous.

“Finding non-airport personnel on a runway is far less likely to happen now,” says Ross Anderson, PE, chief engineer and senior vice president for Bowman Barrett & Associates, master civil engineers contracted by City of Chicago Department of Aviation to oversee the O’Hare expansion. “All of the entry points have guard posts. Things are much more sophisticated. You can’t just drive a truck through. The gates are crash-proof.”

Anderson, who served as a coordinating engineer for the expansion, is more than happy to describe the airport’s new security features — which lend credence to the concept of airport security by design.

Checkpoints now accommodate more than just one armed guard, he says.

Additional non-manned check-in stations are constructed like the sally ports of a fort. A first gate opens and closes behind the vehicle, while the gate just ahead remains closed until the driver’s identification is verified by two-way radio.

Perimeter fencing before the expansion was only six feet tall in several places. “Lots of the old system fencing had been constructed with the gold