WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) announced a new proposal he’s backing to strengthen U.S. airport security, especially in non-secure “soft” target areas at airports like check-in and baggage claim areas, to the upcoming Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill, which the Senate is expected to begin consideration on this week. The proposal, which comes after the recent wave of terror attacks in Europe, would also update federal security programs to provide active shooter training for law enforcement and increase the presence of federal agents with bomb-sniffing canines at these non-secure areas.
“Airports, train stations, and bus depots are the places Americans rely on to go about their daily lives,” said Senator Heinrich. “That is why it is so critical to ensure that we make every possible effort to secure them in the face of international terrorism. As we target terrorists abroad we owe it to our citizens to protect them at home and to ensure that their freedom of travel is protected. By employing these additional common sense safeguards we are intelligently responding to these threats. Most importantly, by preserving our freedom to go about our daily lives we ensure that the terrorists have failed to change who we are and how we live."
Specifically, the amendment announced today by Senator Heinrich, as well as U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, would:
1. Expand and Enhance Visible Deterrents (VIPR Teams)
The Senate Democratic proposal would double the number of Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams nationwide from 30 to 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 Senate Democratic 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 Senate Democratic 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.