Rep. Swalwell calls for better sensors at porous San Jose airport
The arrest of a woman found wandering the grounds of Mineta San Jose Airport International Airport — the fifth breach there in the past year — is proof that its perimeter fence must be outfitted with live sensors, a Bay Area congressman said Wednesday.
The fact that people are repeatedly scaling the fence erodes the public’s confidence in the airport’s security, said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, who questioned whether publicity of each incident has spurred people to act.
“Certainly, we have to ask if this has now become a copycat attraction,” Swalwell said. “San Jose has had so many breaches in such little time. It’s become a magnet for people to want to breach. But copycat or malicious, it shows the bad guys you have an airport perimeter that’s porous, and that’s not good.”
The latest episode happened about 5:15 p.m. Tuesday when a UPS employee spotted a woman on the airfield near the south fence. San Jose police saw her near Gate 118 and arrested her after a struggle, officers said.
She was not carrying any identification and was booked at Santa Clara County Jail on suspicion of resisting arrest and trespassing. She was later identified as Deanna Predoehl, 20, of Sunnyvale.
Police believe Predoehl jumped over a fence near the southwest corner of the airport. Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said she didn’t know how much time elapsed before she was seen.
Swalwell, who has served on the House subcommittee on transportation security, said he doesn’t believe any other major U.S. airport has had so many breaches in such a short time.
“No airport can repeatedly have its perimeter breached without the public starting to ask, ‘What in the world is going on over there?’” Swalwell said.
He said he would work in Congress to equip every major airport with “available technology that would have prevented this person from wandering around the airport’s grounds.”
That would include live sensors that immediately activate the moment someone tries to climb over the fence, he said.
“We are vulnerable if people are able to breach the airport’s security perimeter and then we have to wait for human contact to stop them,” Swalwell said. “There’s no electronic way that is alerting airport officials at the moment of the breach. Now, we have to be either lucky or good. So far we are neither.”
Barnes, the airport spokeswoman, said “the system did work,” because the woman was caught and arrested.
“Certainly each of the incidents is concerning to us, but it’s also very motivating to us in terms of what we can learn from each of them,” she said.
Barnes said some patrols of the fence line have increased, and that airport officials are also considering increasing the height of the fence and adding other technological measures, such as motion detectors and infrared sensors.
But those added security measures would come “at a high cost,” and airport officials are still exploring potential funding sources, she said.
Swalwell said he was “stubbornly pursuing” a federal program that would provide funding for electronic sensors. But he acknowledged, “It’s not happening as fast as I would like. In the meantime, I don’t think San Jose can afford to just have a perimeter breach every two months.”
The most high-profile security breach at Mineta San Jose happened in April 2014, when a 16-year-old Santa Clara boy scaled a fence before dawn, clambered up the landing gear of a Hawaiian Airlines jet without anyone noticing and survived a freezing five-hour trip in the wheel well.
In August, Marilyn Hartman, who had repeatedly been detained for trying to sneak aboard flights at San Francisco International Airport, got onto a Los Angeles-bound plane in San Jose. She was arrested at the Los Angeles airport after a crew member found out she didn’t have a ticket.
In November a man got onto the tarmac in San Jose and was detained by airport employees, but broke away and stole a maintenance vehicle before he was arrested at a passenger terminal.
In January, a man got inside the secured perimeter of the airport without authorization before being arrested.