09/28/2012 07:18 pm ET Updated Nov 28, 2012

Where Airport Security Falls Flat

Billions of dollars spent at our airports since 9/11 have bought many of us peace of mind when we fly. We consent to the x-rayed bags, the metal detectors, the undoing of belts, the removing of shoes, and even the infamous pat-down -- all because they contribute to our collective sense of safety.

But peace of mind is no substitute for real security.

The Port Authority does an admirable job protecting our airports and our shipping. Since 9/11, the agency has done New Yorkers a true service, facing an enormous challenge without all the resources it needs. And after these latest breeches it was quick to promise full investigations. But there is another front -- often out of sight from passengers and the media -- that is putting the safety of air travelers at risk.

Just this week, JKF security officers that work for a private company named Global Elite Group filed complaints with the Transportation Security Administration, contending they are massively under-equipped to do their jobs. The workers tell the TSA they are given wands that don't detect metal and aren't even provided with radios to communicate with other airport personnel. Instead, they rely on their personal mobile phones -- in an airport notorious for spotty service. Worst of all, workers attest to being repeatedly urged by airliners and Global to cut corners during aircraft safety inspections.

This news comes just weeks after another group of JFK security guards working for a private contractor called Air Serv filed their own TSA complaint because they are similarly under-trained, understaffed and supplied with defective equipment.

Firms like Global are responsible for providing security at terminals with international flights in and out of JFK. Their security officers are tasked with ensuring no unauthorized personnel get access to planes, that all planes are inspected for weapons between flights, and that cleaners, maintenance crews and caterers don't bring dangerous items on board the aircraft. These are critical, high-pressure jobs with no margin for error -- and Global Securities pays its workers $9 per hour to do it (with no health benefits).

Until recently, this hodge-podge, alphabet soup of security contractors has been out of sight and out of mind for most travelers -- and oversight officials. But recent breaches and complaints have thrusted them into the spotlight. We cannot rest until we have closed all of the gaps -- and that means the Port Authority must fully and immediately investigate the contracted security firms responsible for recent security breaches and reports of under-trained and poorly equipped personnel.

To set things straight, let's start with uniform standards for training, compensation and equipment for security personnel working for carrier contractors like Global Elite Group at our airports. And the Port Authority needs to impose a strict set of inspection protocols for every aspect of airport security operations.

Something we learned from the 9/11 attacks is that for all the unknowns, there are safety measures we can control. We submit to the screenings every time we take a flight because we prioritize safety above all else. We need a similar commitment from the companies working behind the scenes at our airports. It is time for a comprehensive examination and overhaul by the Port Authority. If we are committed to the safety and security of our region, our people, our economy and the traveling public, we can do no less.

Bill de Blasio is public advocate for the City of New York.