For years, many of us have had the unfortunate experience of standing in a long line, waiting to pass through security screening. Recently, I found myself standing in a line at the Port of Baltimore, and I thought yet again about how these choke points in screening processes create exceptionally soft targets for the motivated bad actor. This is a security vulnerability that needs to be corrected.

We have seen soft targets like this attacked previously. At Russia’s Domodedovo airport in 2011, the international arrivals hall was open to people who were not passengers and had free access to the several international flights that had recently arrived. A terrorist detonated a bomb that resulted in the killing of 37 people and 173 injuries.

In the United States, only international passengers are allowed in secured areas, but the general public is permitted to wait for those who have just arrived immediately outside the secure area. And for domestic flights, anyone can wait in line with passengers prior to being screened by TSA. At the Port of Baltimore, anyone could have waited with me as well.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have been making attempts to eliminate these choke points. Programs like Global Entry, SENTRI, NEXUS, and PreCheck are risk-based programs designed to separate travelers the government knows to be low-risk (given advanced screening) from those about whom they know nothing. In a perfect world, these programs would have an impact on wait times and the resulting vulnerability, but we aren’t there yet.

More inspection booths are needed at screening areas. While labor intensive, this will impact the choke point vulnerability. For example, at those locations with sufficient infrastructure, adding an eleventh booth when 10 are already open would increase throughput by 10%. Installing more tandem booths, which is tantamount to opening more lines, will also create more throughput while maintaining security.

Meanwhile, we also need to provide greater incentives to encourage people to enroll in risk-based screening programs, like Global Entry. One approach may be to lower the cost of joining one of these programs. To be sure, more work is needed on this front.

The point is that more booths should be opened and additional efficiencies gained before a Moscow incident occurs here in the United States. Reducing these lines will diminish the security vulnerabilities and be economically advantageous to those traveling to/from and within the United States.