Alexis Long, Head of Security Policy, London Heathrow Airport, and Member of the ACI EUROPE Aviation Security Committee and ACI World Security Standing Committee, interviewed by Ross Falconer.
The provision of effective detection technology is, of course, fundamental to delivering a robust security plan. What is equally important is that the technology deployed is practical to operate in a live airport environment. It is incredibly hard to model or test those environmental factors outside of the airport.
“Every aspect of the technology, from how easy it is for our security teams to train on and subsequently use, to how effectively the equipment performs in a live environment, is thoroughly tested before we make any purchasing decisions,” explains Alexis Long, Head of Security Policy, London Heathrow Airport. “The best way to achieve success isn’t to just test this after the technology is developed, but instead to work closely with technology providers early in their development processes so we can understand each other’s requirements and constraints, and build this into the design.”
Heathrow works closely with technology providers, directly and through the ACI EUROPE Aviation Security Committee, to ensure strategies and requirements are aligned, and to trial equipment at an early stage where there is time to use the results of those trials to improve the final product.
“I do not think a day goes by without us making changes and enhancements to our system,” Long explains. “It is very important to note that the terrorist threat we face now is not static – it can and does change rapidly. It would be naïve to think that those that wish to do us harm are not studying the effectiveness of global aviation security systems and constantly developing ways to try and circumvent it. Sitting still and continuing to just do what you did yesterday, today and in to the future would leave us vulnerable, so we study each attack and each plot carefully so that we can constantly adapt and enhance our programme to make sure we stay ahead of the threat.”
The keys to providing a streamlined, efficient security process for passengers include excellent operational leadership and engagement with a motivated workforce. Long also emphasises the importance of an outcome-based approach to security regulation by governments that allows airport operators to develop processes that suit their environment, while achieving the desired security effect. “We are lucky that we have great support from the UK Government in this approach,” he says.
Alongside his role at Heathrow, Long is a Member of both the ACI EUROPE Aviation Security Committee and ACI World Security Standing Committee. Their current priorities include developing best practice guidance for securing airport landside areas. “It is important to note that airports and governments do a lot of good work already to secure crowded places like airport terminals,” Long explains. “What we are trying to do now is replicate the huge successes we have seen in sharing best practices for checkpoint security to push the boundaries of what is possible even further. The ACI EUROPE and ACI World Security Committees provide an ideal forum for the exchange of ideas and best practice, as well as a great delivery tool to share our experiences and recommendations with others.”