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There’s a revolution percolating through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the form of a new collaborative model the agency is piloting for stakeholder engagement. It offers the promise of true government and industry coordination in strengthening security and deploying the resources of both more effectively. If it works for aviation, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will have an effective and innovative model that can be used across the Department and by other sectors. The only question is will TSA writ large embrace the new engagement paradigm across administrations?

TSA has twice convened (with a third on the calendar) a Public Area Security Summit to address protecting the public areas of airports—those areas outside TSA’s checkpoints. Considering the current threat environment (as tragedies in Brussels, Domodedovo, Istanbul and other public areas illustrate), it’s clear that there needs to be a renewed focus on security in public areas. But who should lead the effort? To one degree or another, these areas are regulated, overseen, and patrolled by the federal government, state governments, local governments, and infrastructure owners. In the best of times, legal authorities, coordination, and response require a disproportionate amount of energy to get right.

Nearly every stakeholder interest intersects literally and figuratively in the public area security discussion. TSA leadership continues to explore the kind of regulatory model that would be appropriate for such a complex and geographically expansive challenge. Legal authorities and jurisdictional questions set aside for a moment, TSA could have gone down the road of unilaterally changing the security programs and issuing new regulations. Instead, TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, DHS Assistant Secretary Caitlin Durkovich, and TSA Chief Operating Officer Gary Rasicot chose to try out a new model that promotes efficient resource utilization, communication, coordination, and collective solutions among stakeholders.

The Security Summit introduced to the aviation industry this groundbreaking engagement and collaboration paradigm championed by these three officials. These summits gather thought leaders from government, industry, and academia and challenges them to think through and collaborate on the issues surrounding securing the public spaces. In a structured fashion, Summit participants engage on topics covering authorities and responsibilities, current intelligence, vulnerability assessments, best practices, and employment of leadership principles. To fashion deliverables in these areas, Summit participants are split into a series of work groups responsible for deep-dive thinking and formulating community-driven recommendations. The idea is to collaborate on a solution rather than rely on top-down regulation.

Gary Rasicot calls this, “leaning forward to create a collaborative atmosphere, partnerships, and leadership to pull information and responses together. In doing so we hope to prevent the incident and be much stronger when we respond.”

Everything about this TSA initiative looks and feels right on the money. If this initiative proves to be an effective approach on the issues related to public spaces, there’s no doubt that it can be expanded to oversight of airline security programs and to sectors such as rail and pipeline.

The Security Summit also takes us on the road to outcome-focused, risk-based security. In replacing the top-down, knee-jerk regulatory actions that often serve as a response to tragedies in the modern world, such a model can provide a more effective approach to preventing and responding to public area attacks. If proven effective, I look forward to quickly normalizing the practices and procedures growing out of TSA’s bold effort on public areas.

Ken Dunlap is managing partner for the Dorado Consulting Group, which specializes in transportation policy. He is also a Senior Fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. Read More