I'm back on U.S. soil but not after falling ill in Amsterdam (just my luck) with the flu and now, a double ear infection. I think this is partially due to the very hectic schedule that we were subjected to that included bus and boat rides, two different hotels and nearly 30 presentations over three days. I'm still digesting all the information.
What is really striking about The Netherlands is its drive to have strong information sharing programs in place. I already talked about the cooperation between fire, security and safety at the Port of Rotterdam and the same initiative is apparent at the Netherlands Forensic Institute, which performs forensic examinations in a variety of disciplines that has a close working relationship with the Dutch police (they actually refer to them as a client). Because of this, and a host of new technology developments, the crime rate in the country is dropping. NFI also cooperates with other forensic institutes within and outside Europe to develop best practices and tackle issues such as research funding. Beirut and Lebanon are two areas that have requested forensic services from NFI. Officials from NFI are also in the middle of planning a trip to the United States to see how U.S. businesses can work with the Dutch agency.
NFI is also building a forensic field lab that will be used for education, instruction and practice and the development of investigation methods. It will include lecture rooms, a mock court, practice laboratories, a blood stain pattern analysis room and a room where it can imitate weather conditions for crime scene investigations.
By far my favorite part of the trip was the tour of security at Schiphol Airport that Miro Jerkovik, senior manager of security R&D; Gunther von Adrichem, project manager of security R&D; and Hans Geerlink, duty manager of security, facilitated. The program at Schiphol is incredible. It has 200 security checkpoints — the majority of those are located in the international terminal. Since the airport is located on one level, it has no way of differentiating incoming and outgoing passengers. International passengers are first check at customs and then are screened at the gate (Each international gate has its own screening checkpoint with metal detectors and profiling agents). Those flying within Europe are screened in a manner similar to the TSA's process and then enter into a centralized area where screening is not necessary at the gate.
As someone who has not flown out of Schiphol before, I was somewhat wary of this process but the day I left to head home I was more impressed than wary. Screening 300+ passengers at once is no easy task but you couldn't tell from the way the screeners were acting. They were professional, quick and focused on the job at hand. There were also five agents conducting behavior profiling interviews on each passenger. Even though I tried to look as sketchy as possible, my questions were limited to why I was in Amsterdam, how long, where did I stay, what portable electronic devices did I bring, did I pack my own bags and did anyone ask me to take anything on board the plane for them. As four agents spoke directly with passengers, and screened passports, another profiler oversaw the whole operation, mainly looking for suspicious behavior.
Even though this system seems to work well on the surface, Miro was quick to point out that "you never know what's coming next ... you make a strategy and then you have to change it."
Policies and procedures changing are part of life when it comes to airport security. From a traveler's perspective, this can be challenging (we've all seen it at U.S. airports). "Sometimes regulations are hard to handle and hard to make it reasonable from the passenger's [perspective] but it all makes sense," Gunther said. "There is a lot of effort and know-how into how to make it right."
To lessen confusion, Schiphol produces brochures for passengers when it makes changes to its program and distributes them accordingly. I think this is something we don't do enough of here in the states. Sure, there is signs outlining 3-1-1 but there are times screeners don't even talk to passengers to let them know details of the screening process and if you're like my Dad, who hasn't flown since the Reagan era, things can get a bit complicated.
There is a BIG focus on technology at Schiphol. The airport has 1,000 cameras in place and plans to increase that number to between 3,000 and 4,000 (a mixture of converted analog and IP cameras) over the next few years. The plan is to cover the airport with cameras and other sensors, such as video analytics, license plate recognition and facial recognition, for example. "The whole point is to use cameras, not people," Miro said.
Approximately, 15 locations in the airport have L3 millimeter wave scanning machines in use. Although the use of such machines have met with criticism in the United States, Gunther said it is rare that passengers opt out of being scanned with the machine.
"We can show that this type of security is superior to what we have today," Gunther said. "It can find smaller stuff than we used to."
Partnership is also a key initiative at Schiphol. When the airport was given responsibility for airport security in 2003, it contracted with contract security companies to help assist in the process. But the world of security has changed since then. In 2008, the airport began to focus on "partnering" with these companies instead of "contracting" them. But the goal is still the same: "Effective, efficient security at a realistic cost."
Touring the airport was a great way to end the trip (I could have done without the four-hour dinner afterwards). These press junkets are difficult to schedule as there are always a wide variety of journalists attending. On last week's trip, there were three physical security editors, one defense reporter, one IT security editor and a homeland security consultant to name six, so you can understand the programming challenge. Even so, my regret is that there was not more time during the trip to be able to bring real-time information back to our respective readers. I've always found that having an hour break before dinner or a little time after lunch to blog or write a story is very useful. And those breaks could have helped keep this tired little editor from falling ill or at least that is my theory.