WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 29, 2016) - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) is calling on House and Senate members negotiating the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill extension to include a provision he spearheaded to enhance airport and mass transit security. The provision, which passed the Senate in April, 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.
With agency funding set to expire on July 15, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), the lead Senate negotiator, indicated that the Senate could consider the final FAA reauthorization bill next week.
"In the face of international terrorism, it's critical that we make every effort to secure our airports, train stations, and bus depots--the places Americans rely on to go about their daily lives," said Sen. Heinrich. "After seeing the horrific suicide bombings at Istanbul's main airport, people are worried about their safety and deserve better security when traveling with loved ones. By employing these additional safeguards, we will be better equipped to respond to threats and preserve our freedom to go about our daily lives."
Specifically, Senator Heinrich's provision 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.