In Wake of Terrorist Attacks in Brussels, Cantwell Announces Proposals to Strengthen Security at U.S. Airports

Proposals seek to target homeland security funding to enhance security training, increase presence of federal agents with bomb-sniffing canines in non-secure areas of airports, such as check-in and baggage claim areas

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and Senate Democrats, joined by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, announced they will seek to attach a new proposal to strengthen U.S. airport security, especially in non-secure “soft” target areas at airports like check-in and baggage claim areas, to the upcoming Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill.

The Senate Democratic proposal, which comes after the recent wave of terror attacks in Europe, would also update federal security programs to provide active shooter training for law enforcement and increase the presence of federal agents with bomb-sniffing canines at these non-secure areas, such as check-in and baggage claim areas and also update federal security programs to provide active shooter training for law enforcement.

“In light of recent events at home and across the globe, it is clear we need to do more to make our airports more secure,” said Senator Cantwell. “These provisions would add additional critical resources and safeguards, like law enforcement training and bomb-sniffing canines, to better protect non-secure areas and help keep the traveling public safe.”

Senator Cantwell was joined by U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY); Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation Bill Nelson (D-FL); Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); Joe Manchin (D-WV); and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

Specifically, the amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill would strengthen U.S. airport security by:

  1. Expanding and Enhancing Visible Deterrents (VIPR teams)

The Senate Democratic proposal would double the number of Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams nationwide from 30 to 60 and add their operations to non-sterile areas of an airport, such as outside of a check point, to enhance “soft target” security. These VIPR teams promote confidence in and protect the nation's transportation systems through targeted deployment of TSA screening and law enforcement capabilities at transit hubs, including airports and subways, and National Special Security Events (NSSEs).  TSA works with our intelligence and law enforcement agencies to deploy these teams based on threat levels and other security priorities.  VIPR Teams consist of a variety of operational assets that include Law Enforcement officials, regulatory inspectors, explosives specialists, and in some cases, screening personnel. They are recognizable to the American public because the teams often include bomb-sniffing canines.  TSA VIPR deployments are coordinated with other federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and industry security partners throughout the United States.

  1. Providing New Funding for Law Enforcement Training for Mass Casualty and Active Shooter Incidents

The Senate Democratic proposal would create a new eligible use under State Homeland Security Funding Grant Program/Urban Areas Security Initiative (SHSGP/UASI) funding for training exercises to enhance preparedness for and response to mass casualty and active shooter incidents at public locations, including airports, mass transit systems and other “soft target” areas.  Currently, 25 percent of Urban Area Security Initiative and State Homeland Security Grant Program funds are used for law enforcement terrorism prevention activities. However, there is no explicit authorization for those funds to be used for training exercises for active shooter incidents or mass casualty events at public locations.

  1. Strengthening Airport and Mass Transit Security in Non-Secure Areas

The Senate Democratic proposal would also authorize and makes explicit that SHSGP/UASI can be used for airport and surface transportation security in non-secure “soft” areas.

Here is what other senators had to say about the new provisions

“Brussels was a harrowing reminder of the threat of terrorism at airports, and it must also serve as a wakeup call,” said Senator Schumer. “We need to tighten up security in vulnerable areas at our biggest airports so that the tragedy that struck Brussels doesn’t land on our doorstep. We hope Republicans will join us and include these common sense provisions in the FAA bill.”

“While the FAA bill is a good one, adding these measures will help make our airports and train stations even safer for the traveling public,” said Senator Nelson. “They deserve nothing less.”

“Following the senseless and tragic terror attacks at the Brussels Airport, security officials must be given the common sense tools they need to keep passengers safe when they travel,” said Senator Klobuchar. “We need to increase the presence of security personnel patrolling the 'soft' target areas at our airports - such as baggage claim and check-in -  that could be the most susceptible to attack.”

“Airports, train stations, and bus depots are the places Americans rely on to go about their daily lives,” said Senator Heinrich. “That is why it is so critical to ensure that we make every possible effort to secure them in the face of international terrorism. As we target terrorists abroad we owe it to our citizens to protect them at home and to ensure that their freedom of travel is protected.  By employing these additional common sense safeguards we are intelligently responding to these threats.  Most importantly, by preserving our freedom to go about our daily lives we ensure that the terrorists have failed to change who we are and how we live.”