All About TSA 20 Layers of Security

By Ashley Friedman; Updated June 08, 2017

The TSA's risk-based approach to keeping travelers safe

All About TSA 20 Layers of Security

As anyone who has ever had to take off shoes and belts in the security line knows, in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the Transportation Security Administration has taken a risk-based approach to aviation security. The goal of these security measures is to ensure that global air transportation remains safe from interference by any kind of terrorism. Beyond the airport luggage scanner and metal and weapons detectors that most travelers are familiar with, the TSA has put in place a number of additional layers in its standard security practice, designed to safeguard against would-be terrorists targeting air travelers.

What is the TSA?

After 9/11, when concerns about the vulnerability of commercial airlines had spiked significantly, the TSA was created to prevent similar incidents and to bolster the overall security of all travel within the United States and abroad. Yes, it has made security lines longer and socks a necessity, but the worthy goals of the TSA have been to increase traveler safety while still allowing for easy transportation within the United States and abroad.

20 layers of security and other ways TSA helps ensure safety

Since the earliest days of the TSA, the organization has developed various methods and strategies to ensure that air travel is as safe as humanly possible and that all passengers are screened and vetted prior to boarding a plane. As a traveler, you'll find it comforting to know that the government is getting data and information from a number of partners in the aviation, railway, highway and pipeline systems, and it works closely with law-enforcement and intelligence-gathering officials. Extensive communication between these multiple agencies, as well as the latest in advanced screening technology, are just a few of the strategies employed by the organization.

The TSA's "20 layers of security" describes a series of measures applied not only to travelers but also to employees of transportation organizations. The layers work together to create a formidable line of defense against any sort of security breach on commercial flights or in airports.


By partnering with intelligence-gathering agencies in the United States and abroad, the TSA is kept abreast of any known threats to aviation security. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, designed to prevent terrorists from breaching U.S. borders while allowing the safe and lawful passage of citizens, presents another line of defense. Terrorist task forces in each region cooperate with national law enforcement and with airport security to communicate any threats or concerns that might present themselves in the airport vicinity.

Related to these intelligence precautions are passenger prescreening and the "no-fly list." These measures ensure that passengers who could constitute a threat are barred from boarding any commercial aircraft. The combined intelligence work flags anyone who raises eyebrows and puts them on a list before they ever make it to an airport.

At the airport

Beyond the intelligence gathering, the TSA carefully vets all commercial airline and airport personnel, who must submit to extensive background checks. At the airport, canine units, behavior detection officers, travel document checkers and checkpoint officers are all present in terminals and at security checkpoints. Not only do they examine luggage, packages and passengers for any sort of nefarious contraband, but they also observe behavior and interactions, looking for anything that could be considered suspicious.

Random passenger screening adds an additional layer of protection, so if you've ever rolled your eyes with impatience as a TSA agent searches your luggage for a barrette or belt buckle that set off a sensor, know that you're not alone.

Additional precautions

Baggage is carefully screened, and bomb appraisal officers are present, as are federal marshals, federal flight deck officials and law enforcement officers of all levels. In addition, the aircraft crew themselves are not just there to serve drinks and lecture you about your carry-on size. All in-air crew are specially trained to spot suspicious behavior and interactions and report them immediately.

Employees are also subject to random screening, just like passengers, and cooperation with the TSA is expected from every employee at every level. Airplane hardware has also been vastly improved in the years since the 9/11 attacks, and an extra layer has been added to cabin doors to make them more difficult to breach.

Though some of these precautions have caused slowdowns in travel, particularly in the first few years after adoption, the TSA maintains that the loss of expediency is a necessary sacrifice toward promoting the safest possible travel conditions. Since 2001, the TSA has been working to ensure that all safety measures are in place while still helping travelers get to their destinations as quickly as possible.

About the Author

Ashley Friedman