36.7 F
Washington D.C.
Thursday, December 1, 2022

#RealDeal Interview: Keeping America Moving at TSA’s Surface Division

If there is one thing you will note about Sonya Proctor’s impressive career, it is all about forward movement. As an officer of 25 years with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., she served in every rank from patrol officer to interim chief of police. After safeguarding the nation’s capital, she served as chief of the national Amtrak Police Department where with a range of public and private sector stakeholders she developed a new strategic blend of city policing in a passenger railroad environment. Not one to ever sit still, especially when it comes to protecting people on the move, her leadership talents and collaborative nature found a home at the Federal Air Marshal Service as well as at Reagan National Airport, where she served as deputy federal security director.

Today, Sonya Proctor is part of the TSA leadership team and serves as director of the Surface Division within the Office of Security Policy and Industry Engagement (OSPIE). That broad and complex portfolio means she is responsible for working with some of the most demanding stakeholders to develop effective and efficient, risk-based security policy in surface transportation modes. That includes mass transit, freight rail, highway and motor carriers, pipelines and a supporting role to the Coast Guard for the maritime mode. In short, if it is moving in America (as well as around the world), Proctor is working to safeguard it from any and every threat that might bring things to a halt.

During GTSC’s recent TSA Day, HSToday’s Editor at Large Rich Cooper sat down with Sonya Proctor for a brief conversation about her position, the challenges the Surface Division faces every day, and her longtime passion for looking after at-risk animals.

HSToday: What are some of the major initiatives of TSA’s Surface Division?

Sonya Proctor (SP): The Surface Division is responsible for developing policy and engaging directly with industry security partners to increase security in surface transportation facilities. It includes mass transit, freight rail, highway and motor carriers, including Hazmat trucks, school buses, the pipeline industry, and the maritime industry, where we work in support of the U.S. Coast Guard, who has the primary enforcement responsibility. In each of those surface transportation modes, we have a series of initiatives to work directly with industry. Some of the best examples are our exercise program, which is known as the I-STEP exercise program, and our information-sharing initiatives.

Working with our security partners in each of these modes, we develop scenarios that are specific to their needs and conduct exercises with them. These exercises can begin with tabletop exercises and ramp up to full-scale regional multimodal transportation exercises that include local police departments, as well as state, local, federal partners in the area. We believe that’s one of our most successful efforts because it really does bring together all the players that would have to participate in the event of some kind of significant security incident.

HSToday: Are you playing in National Level Exercise 18 (NLE18) that FEMA is doing at the beginning of May?

#RealDeal Interview: Keeping America Moving at TSA's Surface Division Homeland Security Today
Sonya Proctor

SP: Yes. We will play in that exercise from a headquarters level. The national level exercises are the best way to ensure we are prepared to support the multiple agencies required to activate when a major incident occurs. We have to ensure that systems responsible for moving people, moving commodities, and moving all sorts of things in the surface transportation world continue to carry out those responsibilities without disruption.

HSToday: So in your world, if it doesn’t move it doesn’t happen.

SP: That’s absolutely right. If it doesn’t move it doesn’t happen.

HSToday: Is there one particular mode of transportation you think has really distinguished itself in understanding not only the dynamic threat but showing their resilience – showing their proactive nature in preparedness? They’re not just waiting for something to occur before they start taking steps to respond?

SP: I believe that leaders in each of the transportation modes have worked very hard to do that. Each have demonstrated their deep commitment to really enhancing security, and there are examples in every mode. Mass transit is probably the one that most people see, with additional uniformed officers in more visible places like the platforms of various stations. The public also hears the “See Something, Say Something” public awareness program in many transit facilities, and we really depend on travelers to let us know when they see something that doesn’t fit or that’s suspicious. That goes across all the surface transportation modes and all of them participate in it.

Like mass transit, freight rail, which carries much of our commuter rail traffic also has a very strong security program.

The area where most people don’t correlate TSA’s involvement is our work with pipelines. There, too, we have a very strong emphasis on security of pipelines that serve our communities. In our highway and motor carrier mode, a good example would be the school bus community. They are very much leaning forward in terms of building in security measures to protect our kids as they’re moving them back and forth between our communities and schools.

HSToday: How has the “See Something, Say Something” program changed things for you and TSA?

SP: It multiplies the eyes and ears that are looking for security incidents in not only surface transportation, but aviation as well.

People who travel the same route every day know what’s normal and what is not. They are the ones who can make that call and describe what is suspicious.

For example, a number of our transit systems have apps that allow people to use their phone to let us know when they see something suspicious. A lot of these apps allow people to take a photo of the suspicious circumstance and send it along with their report of the suspicious activity. So people really get it, and they recognize that “See Something, Say Something” phrase as a reminder of their responsibility in helping to secure transportation systems. Most people now recognize that’s a way for them to be an active partner in securing the system.

HSToday: What are some of the challenges that your division has encountered? What are the biggest challenges to making the larger surface agenda more successful?

SP: One challenge in surface, probably the biggest one, is that unlike aviation where people enter the TSA security process when they make their reservation, we know very little about the people using the surface transportation systems.

I bet most people don’t know that for air travel, the layers of security start when they make their airline reservation. People might think of the airport checkpoint as their first security stop, but they’re well into the security process by the time they get there. With surface transportation, however, we don’t have that advantage. Because we generally don’t have the benefit of the same pre-travel process in the surface domain, we are less able to identify a suspicious person or someone who may present a potential threat to the system, which is why we look to new technologies and the traveling public so much.

HSToday: How do you work with DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis?

SP: The Office of Intelligence and Analysis is one of our key partners. Much of what we do really depends on understanding the intelligence that is often evolving and recently received. This intelligence is a significant factor that our field security partners consider as they develop their deployment plans and determine how to deploy their various security tools. They do that based on the intelligence that we share with them, along with other security factors.

We share intelligence on a regular basis through a variety of mechanisms, such as regular intelligence briefings and incident-based briefings in all surface modes. In the case of an evolving threat, we may need to provide security partners with a classified intelligence briefing, and TSA has developed the means to accomplish that with any who have the need to know and are appropriately cleared. These classified briefings can occur at either an appropriate TSA facility or, working with our FBI partners, at one of their facilities.

HSToday: How do you look to engage the public outside of those official sort of intelligence or law enforcement channels? How do you bring the public in as a stakeholder for what you do?

SP: We do that primarily through our security partners, because they’re the ones who have the deepest reach into the traveling public through their regular channels. The “See Something, Say Something” campaign is particularly helpful because we really want to leverage those eyes and ears out there and ask people to contact their local law enforcement or local FBI depending on the threat. We also have TSA.gov where we post information on the Surface Transportation page, which is where people can find information that is specific to a particular mode. We post a lot of information from the various surface modes there for the public.

HSToday: In addition to leading TSA’s Surface Division, you also lead its Executive Program. What is TSA looking for as it brings in, seeks to develop executives into the agency?

SP: We have our loaned executive detail where we bring in members from the surface transportation community to actually work with us in the Surface Division. The benefit is that they can see what we do from our side, which truly serves as an exchange of information that benefits everyone involved.

For example, we’ve had mass transit executives in the program who focus daily on securely moving people across their systems, but that one mode is how they see the surface transportation world.

When they arrive to serve on a detail with us, they’re required to have a security clearance so we can ensure they get the full TSA picture. It’s very important that they become part of us. They go to all of our meetings, they listen and participate in discussions, and they are ultimately able to understand how we develop our policies and guidelines.

We also introduce them to all the other parts of TSA. It’s the behind-the-scenes view of places like the Office of Intelligence and Analysis or the Office of Requirements and Capabilities Analysis, which does all of the surface technology testing, that broadens their perspective. We also take them over to the TSA Integration Facility, which is where TSA tests most of its field technology. They can actually see the testing we have underway and gain appreciations they might never have had otherwise.

We make sure they understand the aviation communities as well, and we also introduce them to the executive levels of TSA. They always get to meet the TSA administrator, which provides the opportunity to understand, from an executive level, his specific concerns.

This type of program that has been really beneficial both to the participants and to TSA as an agency. We always learn from them just as they learn from us.

When they come in, they’re also anxious to give us a presentation about how their system actually works.

HSToday: It’s their way of saying, “This is how we do it in our part of the world.”

SP: Right, so it’s a real sharing opportunity. They tell us “this is what we do,” and then we show them how TSA does business. As part of the detail, we actually take them around and introduce them to people in different areas of TSA, helping them to understand how we work with those different offices.

They make contact with people in those offices and in every case they leave with a whole set of contacts that they never had before. And often times they stay in touch with these folks, so it’s much easier for them to get an understanding about something when they have a question. Because they just know where to go.

HSToday: It creates a sustained level of intelligence for everyone.

SP: And it really creates a network. Information sharing is all about expanding the network, and bringing more people into it. We want our people to be asking themselves, “Who do we know that has a different perspective; who has a different experience?”

HSToday: Do you have a companion program where a rising TSA exec goes on a similar detail to the private sector?

SP: We are working on that as we speak.

HSToday: We’ve come a long way in sharing important intelligence information. Where do you see existing gaps? And where have we made the most progress?

SP: I think we have made the most progress in timeliness of the information. There were those that have felt like the information and the intelligence could be more timely. In those areas, I think TSA has come light years in providing more timely intelligence to industry. And I think we have also made great progress in ways to get that information to industry.

As I mentioned before, we can have people go to an airport where they have a field intelligence officer, and that person can arrange for the classified briefing for them at the airport. Or they can go to one of the FBI’s JTTFs around the country to get briefed.

Today we have a very productive relationship with the FBI – so we can also ensure that we get the briefings through FBI facilities if we need to do that. So I think that’s been a real improvement.

When I look forward, I always put a comma at the end of the last word because I think there is always room for improvement.

The kind of threats that we’re facing now puts additional demands on intelligence. Some years ago, we were looking at groups like [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] and other more structured kinds of organizations that we knew wanted to attack us, but now we know we are often looking for the lone wolves, the self-radicalized individuals, the homegrown violent extremist looking to do us harm. Those persons may be much more difficult to identify in the intelligence world, so that’s going to be a challenge for all of us going forward.

That challenge is increased by the availability of social media and our adversaries’ use of it to spread their messaging. So we’re going to have to continue to work on that part, and that’s a significant concern – there’s no way around it.

HSToday: You’re passionate about what you do.

SP: I am.

HSToday: You can feel the care that you have for all this and, I’d say, personal ownership for this mission. Can you share with us, was there a moment as you were growing up that you started thinking about transportation issues? Was there a particular piece of transportation that got you interested in what you do today because you seem to deal with everything that moves?

SP: There really was not one particular mode, but I’ve been a public servant for a long time. My passion is in public service, and I’ve served in a lot of different ways over many years. It truly continues to be my passion. I love what I do, and I love making a difference in security for this huge transportation network that all of us depend on.

Most people really do not understand how big the surface transportation system is and how much of our lives depend on all of it every single day. I have an appreciation for that, so I really see my role and my office as critical to the way our nation functions.

HSToday: You’ve shared your passion for public service and the difference it makes for people in terms of transportation. Tell us about the difference you make to homeless animals.

SP: You asked about what mode of transportation I might have been interested in when I was growing up. I couldn’t identify that but I could identify my love for homeless animals. That goes way back!

So I’ve always had a passion for animals – for making sure that they have a home, someone’s going to feed them, whose going to take care of them, somebody’s got to love them. And so I see that as something that is really important to me. Growing up we always had dogs, but more recently I’ve adopted cats.

A couple of years back my husband and I decided, “Well, it’s kinda quiet, so …”

HSToday: We need someone to make noise.

SP: We visited the shelter and found another kitty who had been abandoned by his previous family because they moved and they left him in the house. And the new owners showed up to move in and said, “This was not part of the deal,” and took said kitty to the shelter.

And so we happened into the shelter, seeing this beautiful grey cat and decided to make him part of our family. Not knowing at the time that this kitty is suffering from congestive heart failure, so now he has his own cardiologist.

HSToday: So he has his own HMO?

SP: Yes. Now as my sister says, he checked our healthcare plan before we got him.

HSToday: It’s all about looking at the career path benefits.

SP: That’s right, and our cat chose well!

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

Related Articles

- Advertisement -

Latest Articles