Lead Editorial

Spy Balloon, Train Derailment

In late January a large, Chinese balloon entered into United States airspace over Alaska. U.S. officials first detected the balloon with a large dangling payload on January 28 when it entered U.S. airspace near the Aleutian Islands and then over several days into February the balloon drifted (or was directed) over parts of Canada and then over the continental U.S. The balloon traversed Alaska, Canada and re-entered U.S. airspace over Idaho.

Equipment dangled from the balloon, including solar panels that could power its propulsion, cameras and surveillance equipment. The balloon itself was 200 feet tall, according to Gen. Glen D. Vanherck, commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), with a payload that weighed “a couple of thousand pounds.” Decisions were made to not take the balloon down while it was over land as it drifted so as to mitigate the potential of the debris falling and possibly injuring people or objects on the ground.

But the Department of Defense said that long before the shoot down, steps to protect against the balloon’s collection of sensitive information were taken, mitigating its intelligence value to the Chinese. The senior defense official said the recovery of the balloon will enable U.S. analysts to examine sensitive Chinese equipment.

“I would also note that while we took all necessary steps to protect against the PRC surveillance balloon’s collection of sensitive information, the surveillance balloon’s overflight of U.S. territory was of intelligence value to us,” an official said. “I can’t go into more detail, but we were able to study and scrutinize the balloon and its equipment, which has been valuable.”

Eventually, about a week after it was first sighted, a U.S. Air Force fighter shot it down, over water off the coast of South Carolina. “The balloon, which was being used by the PRC in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States, was brought down above U.S. territorial waters,” Austin said.

The U.S. Department of Defense called the incident “an unacceptable violation of U.S. sovereignty.”

Meanwhile in Ohio, a train derailment, also in early February, caused much ado in the U.S. On the evening of February 3, a train with about 150 cars that was carrying chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. About 38 of the cars derailed, reports say, and another dozen were damaged. A fire erupted from the wreckage and filled the small town with smoke — and fear — and rightly so. The chemicals turned out to be toxic.

Even though authorities evacuated an area and carried out a controlled release of the fumes from the chemicals, the entire process seems to have been handled poorly. On February 6, toxic material from five tanker cars was released and diverted to a trench to be burned off.

Authorities repeatedly said there was nothing to worry about, but residents began experiencing health issues and reports of fish kill in local waters surfaced. The chemicals on the train cars included vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl ethers. A few days later, around 3,500 fish had been determined to have been killed in the nearby streams and river.

Additionally, two weeks after the event, local residents were advised to use bottled water, prompting residents to lose trust in the officials handling the event and many felt that no one communicated the scale of the event or impact to public health to them. People complained of headaches, rashes, irritation of the throat and a lingering chemical odor in the air.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating and that investigation is ongoing. Future investigative activity will focus on the wheelset and bearing; tank car design and derailment damage; a review of the accident response, including the venting and burning of the vinyl chloride; railcar design and maintenance procedures and practices, the agency says.

Now to the issue at hand: please enjoy this latest edition of TSI as we delve into some fascinating topics. Our cover story looks at flight attendant training in the face of the uptick in unruly passengers during the past several years. Was this a crisis due to the pandemic? Or was it already happening? How are airlines responding? What options for security and self-defense training exist outside of the standard initial courses at the airlines? Find out on page 14 in our look at these resources for frontline workers whose main job is safety and security of the flight.

Body scanning has made rapid advancements to get to where it is today. We spoke to the leading players to see how far they have come in developing this key security technology. “Through a Scanner Darkly” begins on page 20.

Next, we explore the futuristic use of artificial intelligence (AI) in security. It is something we are hearing about daily with AI chatbots like Open AI’s chatGPT and Google’s Bard coming into use now. AI is finding its way into all aspects of life ­— how will it impact security? Learn more starting on page 26.

We also peer into tunnel security. What do the experts say are the biggest concerns and how to mitigate them starting? Find out on page 28.

Finally, our last feature should appeal to everyone — “Boost Security, Not Cost”. This looks at how entities can improve their vigilance and security without spending money.

Also, please don’t miss the column from Shannon Wandmaker about the intersection of security and disability — a complex issue with no easy answers. That column starts on page 40.
Happy spring to all.