Airports and DHS Offer Helping Hand to Victims of Human Trafficking

Miami International Airport (MIA) has formed a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to fight human trafficking through the Blue Lightning Initiative program. 

MIA is the first airport in Florida to join this training initiative to help ensure that the millions of Americans who travel each year, even during these new normal circumstances, are better informed and able to assist in this fight. 

MIA will provide the Blue Lightning training program to its nearly 1,400 employees with new employees receiving the training as part of their onboarding process. There are plans to expand the training to the entire airport community in an effort to protect employees and customers alike. Some airlines operating at MIA already participate in the program.

The airport joins a growing list of over 50 aviation partners working to combat human trafficking through the Blue Lightning Initiative. 

Travelers will see Blue Light Initiative messages in new locations throughout their journey, particularly in pre-security areas of high concurrence near the checkpoints and at the passport screening areas. Other awareness materials will be made available to the traveling public at the information counters.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has announced the launch of a new initiative to combat human trafficking. SFO has installed placards in all airport restrooms as a way to encourage victims to seek help, underscoring “SFO is here to help.” Restrooms were chosen because they are typically one of the few airport locations where a human trafficking victim may be separated from a trafficker, providing a small window of opportunity for a victim to text or call for help.

A total of 910 placards have been affixed to the interior of every public restroom stall at SFO. The Airport worked with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office, the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, and various Bay Area human trafficking survivor advocacy groups to develop the appropriate message and visuals for the placards. Messaging on the placards has also been translated into Spanish, Chinese, and Tagalog.

Placards include a number to call, text, or scan a QR code to obtain immediate help, with calls/texts routed directly to SFO’s onsite Communication Dispatch Center. A live SFO team member is available to respond 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Through the work of SFO in partnership with Agent511, SFO dispatchers use an application that can translate any incoming foreign language text message to English, and allows victims to receive a response in their preferred language, providing an essential communication bridge between victim and dispatcher. Through the use of QR codes on the placards, a victim’s location can also be quickly pinpointed. 

This placard campaign expands on SFO’s partnership with the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition (BAATC) to provide ongoing training for customer-facing personnel. BAATC’s Airport Initiative Program is a recognized industry-leading trafficking training solution developed especially for airports, which also ensures that a streamlined reporting protocol and emergency response is in place in order to help a potential victim.

Airport Director Ivar C. Satero said SFO was the first airport in the nation to have aviation personnel undergo specialized training to better spot the signs of human trafficking.

Cecilia Mo, BAATC Research Partner at UC Berkeley, confirms, “The steps that SFO has taken to train their staff has translated to staff members that are more concerned about human trafficking, more informed about what human trafficking actually is, and better able to recognize human trafficking victims that walk through the airport.”

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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