WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) successfully led the effort today to pass an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill that would enhance airport and mass transit security. The amendment would strengthen security, especially in non-secure "soft" target areas at airports, like check-in and baggage claim areas. The proposal would also update federal security programs to provide active shooter training for law enforcement and increase the presence of federal security teams with bomb-sniffing canines at these non-secure areas. The amendment passed the full Senate with a vote of 91 to 5.
"Airports, train stations, and bus depots are the places we rely on to go about our daily lives. That is why it is so critical to ensure that we make every possible effort to secure them in the face of international terrorism," said Sen. Heinrich. " In the wake of the recent attacks in the Brussels Airport and Metro, Americans are worried about their security and want to feel safe when traveling with loved ones. While we relentlessly target terrorists overseas, we must also do all we can to intelligently protect Americans here at home. By employing these additional commonsense safeguards, we will intelligently respond to threats. And most importantly, by preserving our freedom to go about our daily lives, we will ensure that the terrorists have failed to change who we are and how we live."
Senator Heinrich's amendment is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Government Oversight Committee, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Al Franken (D-MN) and has been endorsed by the Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.
Specifically, the amendment would:
1. Expand and Enhance Visible Deterrents (VIPR Teams)
The proposal would increase the number of Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams nationwide from the current 30 to as many as 60 and add their operations to non-sterile areas of an airport, such as outside of a checkpoint, to enhance "soft target" security. These VIPR teams protect and promote confidence in 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.
2. New Funding for Law Enforcement Training Active Shooter Incidents
The proposal would create a new eligible use under SHSGP/UASI funding for training exercises to enhance preparedness for and response to 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 events at public locations.
3. Strengthening Airport and Mass Transit Security in Non-Secure Areas
The proposal would also authorize and makes explicit that State Homeland security funding grants (SHSGP / UASI) can be used for airport and surface transportation security in non-secure "soft" areas.