NORAD, FAA, TSA update emergency preparedness plan
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The North American Aerospace Defense Command, Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration recently updated the Emergency Security Control of Air Traffic Plan, allowing the agencies to more effectively address situations that threaten national security or national interests that are vital to the United States.
Previous versions of the air security plan have been in effect since the Cold War.
When terrorists attacked the United States on 9-11, one of the first defensive responses made was the immediate, national shutdown of air traffic. The intent of the air security plan in effect at that time was to get all aircraft on the ground as quickly as possible in the event of a major military attack coming from outside the country.
"The response was basically all or nothing," said Canadian Forces Maj. Steve Whynott, NORAD's airspace management branch deputy chief. "We either shut down everything or we didn't intervene. We saw the effect the massive shutdown had after 9-11 and what it did to the airlines and, of course, many other smaller businesses that require to fly in order to survive.
"Our approach now is that we do not want to do that, except as an absolute last resort."
The updated ESCAT plan allows for more tailored and suitably scaled response to air threats, while affecting travelers and business operations as little as possible.
"The ESCAT plan provides balance for NORAD to actively defend United States airspace while allowing users the maximum access possible while we're performing the defensive mission," said Bob Brehm, chief of NORAD's airspace management branch. "We're trying to minimize the impact to the public based on the level of the event going on."
The ESCAT plan allows NORAD, the FAA and TSA to decide what level of airspace control measure is required to mitigate a given threat. The control measures may range from requiring specific communications procedures to not allowing departures at an airport to the actual clearing of airspace.
"By limiting the amount of traffic in a particular area, it also makes it a lot easier for us to tell who the bad guys are," Whynott said. "Because when we instruct people to move away from a certain area, those that don't move away are probably the ones that we're concerned about."