The computerized nerve center of LAX’s vast security network is experiencing some unexpected turbulence, making it difficult to keep tabs on security doors, restricted locations inside the terminals, and the tarmac itself, NBC4 has learned.
The ARCC, or “Airport Response Coordination Center,” was launched amid much fanfare in January.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigiosa declared at the ribbon-cutting, “The sophisticated communications system provides clarity and coordination needed to respond to an emergency effectively.”
The ARCC’s top-secret computers are designed to integrate all facets of airport security into a fool-proof last line of defense against terrorist attack
“It’s a level of preparedness that could mean the difference between life and death,” Villaraigosa said.
But now, six months later, inside sources are telling NBC4 that the ARCC and its related systems have been breaking down.
Airport construction workers are said to have accidentally severed critical connections to the ARCC several weeks ago, thus temporarily breaking contact with some security doors.
Insiders say the sophisticated circuitry of the ARCC is not always compatible with older security systems, with the result that they sometimes cannot communicate with each other.
These revelations come in the wake of a series of recent NBC4 reports about malfunctioning security doors at LAX.
In response, airport officials provided an unprecedented briefing to an NBC4 producer on Friday.
Asking not to be identified or quoted directly, they indicated that though there had been some technical failures, they are working to make the ARCC fully functional and to modernize all supporting systems by the end of the year.
In one new set of revelations, whistleblowers told NBC4 that surveillance cameras designed to keep watch on all sensitive areas of the airport are not fully doing the job.
There is camera coverage of the terminals and parking areas, they said, but much less protective surveillance of the tarmac and the perimeters of the airport, including drive-through gates.
One top security official expressed concern that intruders could reach large parts of the tarmac without being picked up by any security camera. NBC4 circled the airport and, apart from the terminal area, spotted only one set of cameras along the exterior fence.
Insiders also say that most camera locations at the airport use only antiquated VHS equipment that is not capable of easy instant replay.
Only the Bradley International Terminal has more sophisticated recording gear, but sources say it cannot be accessed from remote locations like the police dispatch center.
That means, they say, that an intruder might breach a security door or a restricted area without being detected by first responders.
On another security front: insiders say that the identification badges issued to employees of airport vendors are seldom checked for expiration, and are never scanned at the TSA screening booths since there are no electronic scanners there.
Retired employees sometimes lend their badges to friends and relatives to spare them the hassle of being stopped and patted down at the screening stations, according to one source.
At the briefing on Friday, airport officials offered assurances that efforts are being made to correct the security lapses.
They said new recording equipment and much-improved camera technology and identification systems, including iris checks, will be on line by the end of the year.
They also noted that everyone who wears an ID badge at the airport has undergone a background check.
Some disputed an earlier NBC4 report that the airport police are undermanned, but all acknowledged that unarmed private security personnel have been hired to supplement the sworn officers and to check on reported malfunctions in many of the security doors.