from SPPD Staff Reports
As the fifth busiest airport in the world, the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) hosts more than 60 million travelers and 2 million tons of cargo each year. When the visitors to the other destinations in the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) quartet – including LAX, Ontario International Airport, Van Nuys Airport and Palmdale Airport – are considered, overseeing the security of these locations becomes an even more crucial and demanding responsibility. Erroll Southers’ role as the assistant chief of airport policy and the head of the Office of Homeland Security and Intelligence entails doing just this.
“I oversee the largest aviation security force in the nation,” the SPPD alumnus said. Furthermore, LAX alone represents the leading airport homeland security element in America. In addition, his position requires him to direct efforts to make the four LAWA locations safe departures and destinations.
Southers contributes his preparation for such wide-ranging and important responsibilities to his equally extensive work experience.
“I spent four years working for the FBI and was assigned to terrorism and counter-intelligence issues,” Southers noted. Additionally, he is the former deputy director of the California Office of Homeland Security under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger where he was responsible for the oversight of counter-terrorism policy and national pilot programs designed to protect the infrastructure of the world’s fifth largest economy.
Exposure to countries that address threats of terrorism regularly is another meaningful aspect of Southers’ career. His international experience includes time spent in Israel where he studied at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Until you go to the Middle East and see what it’s like to live day to day, you don’t know the full impact,” Southers said. “We are very lucky. Every business there, with rare exceptions, has a security officer who’s armed — banks, cafes, McDonald’s. It’s an eye-opener.”
Southers’ accomplishments have not gone without recognition. He is currently being considered for nomination to the position of assistant secretary for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) by the Obama administration.
The path that led Southers to this line of work is far from traditional. He did not know when he arrived at Brown University that he would be spending the next 30 years in law enforcement. He completed his pre-med studies and was in his first semester of medical school when he decided to pursue another career.
“I had friends in law enforcement and gravitated towards it,” Southers said. Soon after, he established an interest in the field, he became a detective for the Santa Monica Police Department, a position that eventually led to his service as an FBI officer.
When asked what he enjoys about his work, Southers noted, “I feel like I’m adding value. The work I do provides a chance to serve our country on a daily basis.”
He added, “One thing I know about myself is what I like to do. I keep saying that one day I’m going to have to get a job because I’m having too much fun. I’ve never had a dull moment.” It is this feeling that contributed to Erroll’s desire to provide others with exposure to counter-terrorism and homeland security issues.
Since 2003, Southers has taught a masters-level “Homeland Security and Public Policy” class, which is structured on the contemporary discourse of terrorism post-September 11. He is also the associate director of the USC Homeland Security Center for Risk Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE), a national interdisciplinary research facility focused on economic and risk analysis of the U.S.
For Southers, educating students about terrorism is key to ensuring that such issues are recognized and addressed innovatively.
“Terrorism engages every discipline — sociology, education, physics, engineering,” he said. “It doesn’t call for a military solution. It’s an interdisciplinary solution. As globalization increases, terrorism will not be confined to any one region or country. If you ask me whether we’ll see a suicide bomber from the United States in the future, the answer is yes, I think we will.”
Furthermore, Southers is a founding member and past president of the SPPD Alumni Association.
“When it comes to my relationship with USC, it’s all about giving back,” he said. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for this school and this university. I’m just incredibly grateful to be involved.”