Thursday, September 13, 2001
Tightened air security will be norm
By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer
When federal officials finally allow commercial air travel to resume, passengers will be faced with some of the tightest airport security seen since the Gulf War.
And many experts say it's about time adding that travelers better get used to it and more.
It's laughable how easy it is to break in at some places, especially bigger airports, said Bill Rathburn, a Mineola, Texas-based security consultant.
Mr. Rathburn has served as the Dallas police chief, assistant chief in Los Angeles (where he prepped that city for the 1984 Olympics) and the chief of security for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, which oversaw the 1996 Games.
Security is like a chain you're only as strong as the weakest link, he said. And there are a lot of weak links that need to be tightened, and they probably will after this.
The new security measures announced Wednesday by U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta included:
Banning curb-side and off-site check-ins.
Ending the curb-side check-in of luggage.
Allowing only ticketed passengers into gate areas.
In addition, airplanes and airports are to undergo a thorough search before passengers are allowed to enter aircraft. And vehicles parked next to terminals will undergo closer scrutiny.
But many experts say that those precautions may not go far enough. The American public and the nation's airlines may not be ready for changes needed to make the U.S. secure from other attacks like the ones conducted Tuesday.
Look at what happened. Four planes got hijacked. The system failed, if it ever really worked at all. So we need a new system, said Michael Boyd, a Denver-based airport and airline consultant. We should have seen this coming, and yet the (Federal Aviation Administration) is more concerned with asking questions and X-raying bags than securing access points and limiting access to planes on the tarmac.
Some of the suggestions from Mr. Boyd, Mr. Rathburn and other experts include:
Conducting more extensive background checks on any airline or airport personnel with access to secure areas.
Making access to such areas more strict. Mr. Rathburn suggested either handprint, fingerprint or retina-scan equipment to make sure such access is based on the person, and not on a security badge.
Secure the perimeters of airports with intrusion detection devices and closed-circuit televisions.
Enhance the level of questioning necessary to board a plane, and make it necessary for anyone transferring to a longer, transcontinental flight from a connecting route.
Create a new law-enforcement agency in charge of airport security, or at least reassign the task from private contractors who man the security scanners to airport police.
We've got decent security for the standards we've set, and we deal with it the worst in the world, said Paul Hedlund, a Los Angeles lawyer specializing in commercial aviation accidents. We've never been faced with this before. Security is going to change drastically, to the point of what we see at foreign airports. And that goes beyond what passengers see to behind the scenes.
The issue of background checks was somewhat addressed in a new law enacted by Congress and signed in November that requires such checks for all airport screeners and those with access to secure areas. The law, which goes into effect in November, requires such workers to undergo a criminal history record check.
We're paying these people minimum wage, and there's incredible turnover with the people who man the machines and are supposed to be the backstop, said Rep. Steven LaTourette, the Republican congressman from Madison who co-sponsored the bill in the House.
And we need to go farther, Mr. LaTourette said. It's going to be expensive, and it's not sexy to say we're spending money on infrastructure, but now we see the effects when we don't pay attention to it.
Locally, Delta Air Lines hires a private contractor to supply the personnel and equipment at passenger security checkpoints. Neither Delta, Comair, nor local airport officials would comment on security, and neither would FAA officials.
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