San Jose: Congressman renews call for airport perimeter security improvements after latest breach

November 25, 2014
In The News

SAN JOSE — While a Bay Area congressman gave kudos to airport workers who nabbed an unauthorized man roaming the grounds at Mineta San Jose International Airport on Sunday, he called it another example of why perimeter security at the site needs to be bolstered as soon as possible.

The incident came on the heels of two well-publicized breaches earlier this year that garnered national attention and had local officials asking for answers about how the security lapses occurred.

No additional details were available Monday about how Miguel Zaragoza, 39, got onto the tarmac on the noncommercial side of the airport. Airport officials said he was quickly spotted and taken into the lobby while police were summoned.

Zaragoza bolted before police arrived, running into the company’s public parking lot and commandeering the truck of a maintenance man who was landscaping. Police said he drove to the main airport terminals, where he was caught and arrested on suspicion of trespassing and driving a stolen vehicle.

“They have increased training and staff awareness since the last two incidents,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Hayward. “Hopefully this shows progress and that training is paying off.”

However, Swalwell said the incident shows the need to incorporate perimeter security features more automated than the current six-foot fence topped with barbed wire.

“Here we had a nonmalicious individual who has breached security, that’s the third in 2014, and it shows that people remain determined to sneak onto airports,” he said. “It becomes a question of do we want to know as soon as it happens or risk that person wandering around and having free roam.”

He said he’d like to see sensors that report a breach as opposed to “relying on human eyes, which can mean human error.”

Airport officials said there have been security improvements since a teen managed to scale the fence and evade detection in April, stowing away in the wheel well of a Hawaii-bound jet. In June, they announced the airport is working with a national nonprofit safety group to evaluate flaws and come up with viable improvements.

Mineta spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said that group, Safe Skies Alliance, has completed the first of four phases of testing perimeter solutions and will start the second phase in January. She could not specify vendors or technology, but said camera and radar systems were among those being looked at.

In August, a different sort of breach occurred when serial sneak-aboard Marilyn Hartman succeeded in getting past checkpoints to board a plane bound for Los Angeles.

Councilman Pete Constant and mayor-elect Sam Liccardo called for a hearing on breaches at that time, and met with officials in a private closed session last month.

Liccardo said Monday that he couldn’t discuss that meeting, but learned that regarding airports all over the country, breaches are “far more common than those that the media reports.”

“It can be anything from the angry passenger who missed a flight, to a guy who didn’t take his meds that day and engaged in erratic behavior,” he said. A 2011 congressional inquiry found 25,000 such breaches nationwide since 2001. About 14,000 involved people gaining access to a secure part of the facility.

Swalwell said he’d like to see perimeter efforts fast-tracked, and acknowledged that federal funding of improvements is crucial.