British security officials exchange
information with Hartsfield-Jackson experts

By Daniel Silliman


The security director, a big man in a dark suit, said the phrase like it was natural: "Secure areas."

Then he stumbled, paused with a long "ah," and apologized. The phrase isn't natural, even if it sounds common in dialogue about airport security, layered approaches, orange levels, liquid threats, biometrics badges and best practices.

Speaking to a British audience, though, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Security Director Richard Duncan wasn't sure a common phrase like "secure area" would translate.

"If I use any terms you aren't familiar with, let me know," Duncan said, late last month. "I know we use different terms here, than in England, so if I confuse you, saying 'secure areas,' let me know. That's something we work out."

A dozen British officials, security and anti-terrorism experts from the United Kingdom airports in Gatwick, Bristol, Midlands and East Midlands, nodded, and the symposium moved on. The Security Symposium was put together by the Atlanta Police Department, and the officials gathered at the airport on Thursday, May 29, and Friday, May 30 to speak with a series of Atlanta's top security officials, and to tour the busiest airport in the world.

Peter Wickenden, deputy consul general at the British Consulate in Atlanta, said the security symposium is an example of the ongoing series of exchanges, where U.K. officials try to learn from "American experience and know-how."

"We think we've got a lot we can learn from your knowledge," Wickenden said, "and hopefully there's some things we can share. It's an exchange, not just of best practices, but of worst practices as well. Very often, it's valuable to exchange information about what didn't go well at all."

On Thursday, the delegation of English officials toured the Transportation Security Administration's baggage screening system, in the bowels of Hartsfield-Jackson, and then ate lunch in a conference room on the second floor of the atrium, and listened to Duncan's explanation of aviation security in America.

Duncan said security is layered at the airport, and he started his presentation by going over the processes of granting security passes to airport employees. In the U.K., Duncan said, everyone passes through security screening, whether they're flying or going to work out on a concourse, but that doesn't seem to be practical in the U.S. Even if would-be terrorists are forced to pass through security checks, Duncan said, they will, while working, still have access to screwdrivers, knives, gasoline and other contraband materials.

"The trust aspect of it is more important to us than the physical screening," Duncan said. "We have both a carrot-, and a stick-approach to employee security."

Sgt. Valerie Sellers, with the Atlanta Police Department, said the two-day visit allows officials from both sides of the Atlantic to ask themselves, again and in new ways, "How can we make airports safer?"