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Weapons awareness

If you do not understand weapons you cannot protect against them, writes trainer Steve Collins of PS5.

A weapon is any article made, adapted or intended to cause injury to or incapacitate a person, to destroy or damage property, or intended by the person having it with them for such use, whether by them or any other person. Weapons can be split into many categories and sub categories, but for the purpose of a basic understanding the four main categories are:

1) Edged weapons
2) Impact weapons
3) Projectile weapons
4) Explosive devices


The vast majority of us fly, even if it’s only once or twice a year on holiday, but statistics show that there are up to 100,000 commercial flights every day – that’s a lot of planes in the air requiring a lot of security. Every airport in the world has security measures to keep passengers and crew of commercial flights safe while in the airport and on board the aircraft. All passengers and crew must pass through security checkpoints prior to boarding; these checkpoints include X-ray machines that will facilitate the checking of carry-on baggage. Security checkpoints also have metal detectors that passengers and crew must walk through. In many airports passengers and crew are required to remove their shoes before passing through the metal detector archway. Coats and jackets must also be removed for screening. A physical pat-down search can also be undertaken, either as a random security measure or if an alert has been triggered. Full-body scanning, recently implemented in the United States and in certain European countries, is not yet a common fixture; it has been the subject of much controversy regarding both safety and invasion of privacy.

As a result of all these security measures, potentially dangerous items are usually (and hopefully) successfully detected and confiscated from passengers attempting to take them on board commercial aircraft, even if, as is mostly the case, the passenger has no mal-intent and is merely ignorant of the rules. However, and despite all the security measures, real weapons are also being taken on board aircraft every day, all over the world. Numerous examples exist of prohibited items being detected at transit airports where passengers are being re-screened having already flown a sector with the item in their carry-on.

Many passengers report themselves to the media after reaching their destination only to find that a prohibited item had been inadvertently left by them, or a family member, in their bag. Weapons, in the wrong hands, obviously pose a real and present danger to the passengers and crew of commercial aircraft and many go undetected because they have been specifically designed, made or adapted to defeat and compromise security measures.

It has also been demonstrated many times that it is still possible to take a full framed semi-automatic pistol through airport security and onto an aircraft by stripping it down into its component parts and distributing the parts among two or three passengers’ carry on hand luggage. For example – two French journalists boarded a domestic flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport to Nice via Marseille with a 9mm pistol split between them.
How can this happen? You may ask. The reason for this type of security breach is extremely simple and applies worldwide. The vast majority of airport security personnel will have had little to no training in how to identify the component part of a firearm, many will have never been shown a real firearm, never mind their component parts and many will not even be aware that a firearm is capable of being stripped down.

Insufficient training

Sadly, and the excuse is always lack of funds, so-called increased security doesn’t always mean increased training. Clamping down on the carrying of weapons is all well and good, but the reality is that criminals and terrorists will find alternative ways to breach security, and one of the methods employed will be the development of more concealed, disguised and stealth weapons. I have been teaching weapons awareness and recognition since 9-11 and it still never ceases to amaze me that in 16 years there is still an astounding lack of comprehensive training, and through no fault of their own, security personnel and police officers alike have little to no knowledge or understanding of weapons, even though these are the people we employ to protect us from them.
If an object looks like a gun, it’s a gun, if it looks like a knife, it’s a knife, but the fact that it may look like a totally innocent everyday object doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t a weapon. And through lack of training, many security personnel are blissfully unaware of just how sophisticated the concealment of some of these weapons can be. Current security equipment is no match for the disguised, improvised and clandestine weapons that are practically impossible to detect and are unrecognisable to the untrained eye.

An x-ray screener might detect a weapon in a bag, but only if it looks like a weapon and a metal detector will not be activated by a non-metallic weapon. If a deep concealment method of carriage were employed, only a strip search would reveal such weapons, and not always then if concealment were internal. We cannot rely on technology alone when it comes to safeguarding people’s lives. It makes absolutely no difference how much money is spent on sophisticated state-of-the-art detection equipment, if personnel are not trained to understand what kind of weapons they are looking for, what they could be made from or even what they look like. The vast majority of concealable weapons come from eastern Europe and the Far East, especially China. Prices can range from just a few dollars to several hundred. Disguised and concealed weapons are carried for one reason and one reason only, that is to compromise people’s safety without being detected up until the moment of deployment. Types of people that carry such weapons range from international terrorists to schoolchildren. It is actually the very ordinariness of some of these weapons that make them so lethal. Disguised, improvised, adapted, converted, commercially manufactured or homemade; they pose a deadly threat to us all, and all too often look nothing like weapons. In fact, the design and concealment of a weapon is only limited by an individual’s imagination. If security screeners are trained to only look for the obvious, those are the only things they will ever find. In my opinion it is imperative that all security personnel are trained to look more closely at the innocuous-looking items: pens, mobile phones, cigarettes, E-cigs, lighters, rings, matchboxes, combs and brushes, belts, credit cards etc. In fact, all the things that definitely don’t look like weapons are just the things that should be scrutinised, if there is anything about the passenger’s behaviour that causes concern. In other words, don’t trust anything – they could all be weapons of one kind or another and it should always be assumed that they are; guilty until proven innocent should be the golden rule.

Objective of training

Hundreds of thousands of weapons have been confiscated by security screeners worldwide; the majority were only detected because they were instantly recognisable as a weapon. The aim of training is to give security personnel a more in-depth knowledge and understanding of disguised, improvised and clandestine weapons, and the methods in which weapons can be concealed and carried on the person. It is important that they understand how all weapons fall into generic categories and how they can be made, improvised, adapted, disguised, carried, concealed and deployed. Once these principles are understood, weapons awareness and recognition training for airport security personnel, and anyone else whose role might bring them into contact with weapons, can be taught to ‘think differently’ about weapons and the dangers posed to us all.


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