May 5, 2004 - From the May, 2003 issue

RAND Analysis Suggests Few Security Enhancements Offered By Mayor Hahn's LAX Plan

The Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Master Plan explores a variety of ways to meet the changing aviation needs of Southern California in coming decades. The needs include increasing the safety of passengers and airport workers. A recent proposed alternative, Alternative D-Safety and Security, includes more features for the security of airport workers and passengers. Among the features of this plan are: • maintaining current gate capacity to accommodate growth to 78 million annual passengers by 2015 (from roughly 67 million in 2000), with some reconfiguration to better accommodate very large aircraft • reconfiguring the Central Terminal Area, including removal of the U-road currently used for passenger loading and unloading, and the removal of all parking structures • limiting Central Terminal Area vehicle traffic to emergency vehicles, mass transportation vehicles (including "FlyAway" buses to long-term parking lots), and vehicles making deliveries to tenants and concessionaires • constructing a large Ground Transportation Center in the Manchester Square Area, approximately two miles from the Central Terminal Area; all short-term parking and passenger dropoff and pickup would occur at this facility • constructing a mass transit system or "people mover" linking the Ground Transportation Center, the Metro Green Line, the Central Terminal Area, and a consolidated car rental facility within the Central Terminal Area. During a series of exchanges between RAND and U.S. Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and her staff on topics related to national security, counterterrorism, and homeland security, involving numerous visits and joint appearances both in California and Washington, D.C., Rep. Harman asked RAND to examine the relative security merits of Alternative D. Specifically, this analysis examines how the security features of Alternative D compare with current airport configuration (also referred to as the "no action/no project alternative") in improving the security of airport workers and passengers against terrorist attacks. RECONFIGURING AIRPORT FACILITIES Airport reconfiguration is unlikely to have any substantial effect on the more common and lethal attacks: those against aircraft. Complete screening of baggage and passengers to prevent such an attack is already occurring. Airport reconfiguration can provide no additional protection against such attacks; it cannot affect terrorists' ability to fire weapons from the ground against aircraft; and it cannot boost the effectiveness of security measures, such as air marshals and cockpit barriers, that have been implemented on aircraft. Assuming any engineering or building features of Alternative D can be used in the current configuration, airport reconfiguration by itself is not likely to affect the number of casualties that result from small bombs or firearm attacks. Casualties from such attacks are determined by the density of persons waiting in unsecured areas of the airport, such as ticketing, baggage claim, security checkpoint, and transportation waiting areas. These densities are not likely to change as a result of the reconfiguration so similar casualties should be expected from such attacks in both configurations. The effect of such attacks on airport operations may be slightly more severe under reconfiguration. Reconfiguration would centralize several airport functions, such as transportation and terminal entrances that are currently distributed throughout several terminals. An attack at one centralized location may have a great effect on all airport operations during cleanup, investigation, and repair, while an attack on one terminal would affect only operations at that terminal. We can draw no conclusions about the impact of reconfiguration on large vehicle bomb attacks, because the plan does not specify how large vehicles would be handled. LAX currently has about 200 restaurants, bookstores, and other businesses that require deliveries nearly every day. Reconfiguration would boost the number of these tenants. Although the Central Terminal Area will be closed to passenger dropoff and pickup, it will need to be accessible to trucks. It is possible to search these trucks before they enter the Central Terminal Area, but this would require considerable manpower. Diverting all trucks to a separate entrance may facilitate such searches and security, but such diversion does not require reconfiguration. More generally, it is not clear how airport reconfiguration should be used address the potential problem of large vehicle attacks. Airports typically make poor targets for large vehicle bombs. For example, fatalities caused by bomb attacks at tall buildings, such as those caused by bombing of the nine-story Murrah Building and the eightstory Khobar Towers, generally occur as a result of structural collapse of the upper floors onto the lower floors. By contrast, airports typically have only two stories, meaning their structural collapse would have far fewer catastrophic consequences. Airports do have multistory parking structures that terrorists may seek to attack with large truckbombs, but such targets are not desirable targets for several reasons, including their minimal symbolic value, their more solid construction than residential or business buildings of comparable size, their sparse population, and their open walls that reduce energy absorbed from a blast. There is little to distinguish Alternative D from the current configuration for boosting security against attack by rocket-propelled grenades or mortars. Reconfiguration may do little to deter, aid the detection, or limit the casualties of such attacks. It is possible that reconfiguration, by centralizing airport facilities, would aggravate the effects on airport operations of such attacks, particularly an attack that disabled the "people mover" system. RESTRICTING GROWTH One common characteristic of both the current configuration and Alternative D that may have a great effect on airport security is the limit on capacity (both would limit capacity to less than 80 million passengers annually). Relative to Alternatives A–C, such a limit would mean that more growth in air travel would need to be absorbed by other airports in the region. Over time, this would result in a far more evenly distributed system of air travel in which LAX would handle a smaller proportion of a growing number of Southern California air passengers. Furthermore, there may be substantial economic costs to the region resulting from restricting LAX capacity; such costs may outweigh the economic benefits of a regional air transport system better able to recover from possible terrorist attacks. CONCLUSIONS While there have been past terrorist attacks on LAX and future attacks cannot be ruled out, airports have been very safe places in recent decades, and the threat of terrorism at an airport should be viewed in the context of other safety and security threats facing air travelers. An airplane collision at LAX, for example, could result in more casualties than any terrorist attack not using a nuclear weapon. An earthquake could also result in more damage and a significantly longer shutdown of the airport. Any terrorist attack can result in tragedy, but the threat of terrorism should not dominate discussions of airport planning at the expense of solutions to more common problems. Any reconfiguration of LAX should be judged primarily on how efficiently the airport will function and on the effects reconfiguration will have on the transportation and economy of Southern California. There is enormous economic value to be realized in getting passengers from their homes to their destinations quickly and safely. The economic costs incurred by an inefficient airport operation could therefore outweigh the economic benefits of some of the more expensive security aspects in reconfiguration. Terrorism is dynamic and terrorists adapt their methods to suit changes in weaponry and defense tactics. Terrorism prevention and security therefore also needs to be dynamic. Buildings are essentially static. This makes it extremely difficult, and expensive, to design airport facilities that will be as secure against attack 20 years from now as they may be today. While in the past ten years there have been a number of notorious terrorist attacks using vehicle bombs, which airport reconfiguration might help mitigate, future terrorists may use rocket-propelled grenades for their attacks. This could diminish some of the short-term improvements in safety and security that Alternative D could effect. Our analysis helps indicate the priorities for considering security in airport planning. Top priority should be given to securing aircraft, the most likely-and lethal- target of terrorist attacks on air transportation. This should include screening of all baggage and passengers, adequate security procedures and equipment on aircraft, and restricted access to aircraft on the ground. The next priority should be given to securing airport facilities against portable bombs, the most commonly used weapons in terrorist attacks against airports. Such weapons are easy to build and the perpetrators of such attacks are hard to catch. Detonation of these bombs in crowded areas of the airport makes them more lethal, per pound of explosive, than any other means of attack. Restricting passenger capacity as proposed in Alternative D, or as would result from the no action/no project option, could reduce the overall vulnerability of LAX in particular and Southern California aviation more generally. Restricting LAX capacity would make it a less prominent target for terrorist attack, while distributing air traffic more evenly throughout the region would help its air traffic system continue functioning in the event of an attack on one of its parts. Such restrictions may have detrimental economic effects beyond the scope of this work. Other features of Alternative D appear less likely to improve security. The proposed reconfiguration could help limit damage caused by a vehicle bomb, but would not help limit damage caused by small bombs, and it could increase the time the airport is shut down by such attacks. Reconfiguration could also result in two security problems that will need to be addressed in future versions of the plan. First, the present plan would substantially increase the area that would need to be secured against possible terrorist attack. This will be difficult to do with the present number of security personnel. Second, the present plan would consolidate transportation to the Central Terminal Area on a "people mover" that could become a tempting target for terrorists and that may impede evacuation of the terminal in the event of an attack, a fire, or a natural disaster. Regardless of configuration, several improvements in airport processes could be made to improve security against terrorist attacks at LAX. The most important of these is expediting the movement of passengers into secure terminal areas. This is the best defense against small bombs and firearms-the most common, and deadly, types of terrorist attacks. Building structural improvements, including the replacement of conventional glass with shatterproof materials and changes to the terminal facade and structural supports, can also mitigate the effects of terrorist attacks. Physical barriers, including the prohibition of tall or heavy vehicles on the upper (departures) deck, to increase separation between vehicles and persons can also limit potential casualties from larger bombs. If it is assumed that some reconfiguration of LAX (in the form of Alternative A–D) is likely, Alternative D would likely have a slightly positive effect on improving LAX security. This positive effect would be due to only one portion of the plan-restricting passenger capacity- and not those parts that are more expensive, such as reconfiguring the terminal, parking, and ground transportation at the airport. The current configuration would allow airport managers to realize the most likely security benefits of Alternative D and to add others as well. Airport planners need to consider the security benefits of restricting passenger capacity with the economic effects of doing so, as well as economic or safety reasons, such as runway separation or taxiway improvements, favoring Alternative D that were beyond the scope of this analysis.

The Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Master Plan explores a variety

of ways to meet the changing aviation needs of Southern California in coming decades. The needs include increasing the safety of passengers and airport workers. A recent proposed alternative, Alternative D-Safety and Security, includes more features for the security of airport workers and passengers. Among the features of this plan are:

• maintaining current gate capacity to accommodate growth to 78 million annual passengers by 2015 (from roughly 67 million in 2000), with some reconfiguration to better accommodate very large aircraft

• reconfiguring the Central Terminal Area, including removal of the U-road currently used for passenger loading and unloading, and the removal of all parking structures

• limiting Central Terminal Area vehicle traffic to emergency vehicles, mass transportation vehicles (including "FlyAway" buses to long-term parking lots), and vehicles making deliveries to tenants and concessionaires

• constructing a large Ground Transportation Center in the Manchester Square Area, approximately two miles from the Central Terminal Area; all short-term parking and passenger dropoff and pickup would occur at this facility

• constructing a mass transit system or "people mover" linking the Ground Transportation Center, the Metro Green Line, the Central Terminal Area, and a consolidated car rental facility within the Central Terminal Area.

During a series of exchanges between RAND and U.S. Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and her staff on topics related to national security, counterterrorism, and homeland security, involving numerous visits and joint appearances both in California and Washington, D.C., Rep. Harman asked RAND to examine the relative security merits of Alternative D. Specifically, this analysis examines how the security features of Alternative D compare with current airport configuration (also referred to as the "no action/no project alternative") in improving the security of airport workers and passengers against terrorist attacks.

RECONFIGURING AIRPORT FACILITIES

Airport reconfiguration is unlikely to have any substantial effect on the more common and lethal attacks: those against aircraft. Complete screening of baggage and passengers to prevent such an attack is already occurring. Airport reconfiguration can provide no additional protection against such attacks; it cannot affect terrorists' ability to fire weapons from the ground against aircraft; and it cannot boost the effectiveness of security measures, such as air marshals and cockpit barriers, that have been implemented on aircraft.

Assuming any engineering or building features of Alternative D can be used in the current configuration, airport reconfiguration by itself is not likely to affect the number of casualties that result from small bombs or firearm attacks. Casualties from such attacks are determined by the density of persons waiting in unsecured areas of the airport, such as ticketing, baggage claim, security checkpoint, and transportation waiting areas. These densities are not likely to change as a result of the reconfiguration so similar casualties should be expected from such attacks in both configurations. The effect of such attacks on airport operations may be slightly more severe under reconfiguration. Reconfiguration would centralize several airport functions, such as transportation and terminal entrances that are currently distributed throughout several terminals. An attack at one centralized location may have a great effect on all airport operations during cleanup, investigation, and repair, while an attack on one terminal would affect only operations at that terminal.

We can draw no conclusions about the impact of reconfiguration on large vehicle bomb attacks, because the plan does not specify how large vehicles would be handled. LAX currently has about 200 restaurants, bookstores, and other businesses that require deliveries nearly every day. Reconfiguration would boost the number of these tenants. Although the Central Terminal Area will be closed to passenger dropoff and pickup, it will need to be accessible to trucks. It is possible to search these trucks before they enter the Central Terminal Area, but this would require considerable manpower. Diverting all trucks to a separate entrance may facilitate such searches and security, but such diversion does not require reconfiguration.

More generally, it is not clear how airport reconfiguration should be used address the potential problem of large vehicle attacks. Airports typically make poor targets for large vehicle bombs.

For example, fatalities caused by bomb attacks at tall buildings, such as those caused by bombing of the nine-story Murrah Building and the eightstory Khobar Towers, generally occur as a result of structural collapse of the upper floors onto the lower floors. By contrast, airports typically have only two stories, meaning their structural collapse would have far fewer catastrophic consequences. Airports do have multistory parking structures that terrorists may seek to attack with large truckbombs, but such targets are not desirable targets for several reasons, including their minimal symbolic value, their more solid construction than residential or business buildings of comparable size, their sparse population, and their open walls that reduce energy absorbed from a blast.

There is little to distinguish Alternative D from the current configuration for boosting security against attack by rocket-propelled grenades or mortars. Reconfiguration may do little to deter, aid the detection, or limit the casualties of such attacks. It is possible that reconfiguration, by centralizing airport facilities, would aggravate the effects on airport operations of such attacks, particularly an attack that disabled the "people mover" system.

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RESTRICTING GROWTH

One common characteristic of both the current configuration and Alternative D that may have a great effect on airport security is the limit on capacity (both would limit capacity to less than 80 million passengers annually). Relative to Alternatives A–C, such a limit would mean that more growth in air travel would need to be absorbed by other airports in the region. Over time, this would result in a far more evenly distributed system of air travel in which LAX would handle a smaller proportion of a growing number of Southern California air passengers.

Furthermore, there may be substantial economic costs to the region resulting from restricting LAX capacity; such costs may outweigh the economic benefits of a regional air transport system better able to recover from possible terrorist attacks.

CONCLUSIONS

While there have been past terrorist attacks on LAX and future attacks cannot be ruled out, airports have been very safe places in recent decades, and the threat of terrorism at an airport should be viewed in the context of other safety and security threats facing air travelers. An airplane collision at LAX, for example, could result in more casualties than any terrorist attack not using a nuclear weapon.

An earthquake could also result in more damage and a significantly longer shutdown of the airport. Any terrorist attack can result in tragedy, but the threat of terrorism should not dominate discussions of airport planning at the expense of solutions to more common problems. Any reconfiguration of LAX should be judged primarily on how efficiently the airport will function and on the effects reconfiguration will have on the transportation and economy of Southern California. There is enormous economic value to be realized in getting passengers from their homes to their destinations quickly and safely. The economic costs incurred by an inefficient airport operation could therefore outweigh the economic benefits of some of the more expensive security aspects in reconfiguration.

Terrorism is dynamic and terrorists adapt their methods to suit changes in weaponry and defense tactics. Terrorism prevention and security therefore also needs to be dynamic. Buildings are essentially static. This makes it extremely difficult, and expensive, to design airport facilities that will be as secure against attack 20 years from now as they may be today. While in the past ten years there have been a number of notorious terrorist attacks using vehicle bombs, which airport reconfiguration might help mitigate, future terrorists may use rocket-propelled grenades for their attacks. This could diminish some of the short-term improvements in safety and security that Alternative D could effect.

Our analysis helps indicate the priorities for considering security in airport planning. Top priority should be given to securing aircraft, the most likely-and lethal- target of terrorist attacks on air transportation. This should include screening of all baggage and passengers, adequate security procedures and equipment on aircraft, and restricted access to aircraft on the ground.

The next priority should be given to securing airport facilities against portable bombs, the most commonly used weapons in terrorist attacks against airports. Such weapons are easy to build and the perpetrators of such attacks are hard to catch. Detonation of these bombs in crowded areas of the airport makes them more lethal, per pound of explosive, than any other means of attack.

Restricting passenger capacity as proposed in Alternative D, or as would result from the no action/no project option, could reduce the overall vulnerability of LAX in particular and Southern California aviation more generally. Restricting LAX capacity would make it a less prominent target for terrorist attack, while distributing air traffic more evenly throughout the region would help its air traffic system continue functioning in the event of an attack on one of its parts. Such restrictions may have detrimental economic effects beyond the scope of this work.

Other features of Alternative D appear less likely to improve security. The proposed reconfiguration could help limit damage caused by a vehicle bomb, but would not help limit damage caused by small bombs, and it could increase the time the airport is shut down by such attacks. Reconfiguration could also result in two security problems that will need to be addressed in future versions of the plan. First, the present plan would substantially increase the area that would need to be secured against possible terrorist attack. This will be difficult to do with the present number of security personnel. Second, the present plan would consolidate transportation to the Central Terminal Area on a "people mover" that could become a tempting target for terrorists and that may impede evacuation of the terminal in the event of an attack, a fire, or a natural disaster.

Regardless of configuration, several improvements in airport processes could be made to improve security against terrorist attacks at LAX. The most important of these is expediting the movement of passengers into secure terminal areas. This is the best defense against small bombs and firearms-the most common, and deadly, types of terrorist attacks. Building structural improvements, including the replacement of conventional glass with shatterproof materials and changes to the terminal facade and structural supports, can also mitigate the effects of terrorist attacks. Physical barriers, including the prohibition of tall or heavy vehicles on the upper (departures) deck, to increase separation between vehicles and persons can also limit potential casualties from larger bombs.

If it is assumed that some reconfiguration of LAX (in the form of Alternative A–D) is likely, Alternative D would likely have a slightly positive effect on improving LAX security. This positive effect would be due to only one portion of the plan-restricting passenger capacity- and not those parts that are more expensive, such as reconfiguring the terminal, parking, and ground transportation at the airport. The current configuration would allow airport managers to realize the most likely security benefits of Alternative D and to add others as well. Airport planners need to consider the security benefits of restricting passenger capacity with the economic effects of doing so, as well as economic or safety reasons, such as runway separation or taxiway improvements, favoring Alternative D that were beyond the scope of this analysis.

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