Sunday, November 17, 2002

Airport close to implementing scan requirement

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Transportation Security Administration officials say that the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport should meet the year-end deadline for scanning all checked bags electronically for bombs.

By this time next week, however, that deadline may be moot, since Congress is close to pushing it back yet another year.

Still, even if the machines are put in place on time, other issues remain, acknowledged the agency's second-highest ranking official during a visit here Friday. And one of the biggest outstanding questions is over liability for damage or loss if a bag is opened behind the scenes, as will be the case here, out of sight of its owner.

Stephen J. McHale, deputy undersecretary at the TSA, says his agency is all but convinced that it needs to videotape the process every time a bag is opened, to document the process.

"We haven't made it official, but we see no way around doing that," Mr. McHale says. "Most of the time, a passenger just won't be there. We're working through those issues, and we're going to have to deal with this."

The law that created the TSA a year ago Tuesday set Dec. 31 as the date when all bags must be screened for bombs.

Yet the homeland security bill now making its way through Congress would give the TSA another year to scan bags for bombs. The House approved it last week, and the Senate is grappling with it. Leaders of both houses have said that they will just use one version and send it to President Bush immediately for him to sign.

Mr. McHale says that the agency is continuing as if the current deadline will still be in place. He says the TSA will probably meet the Dec. 31 date at most facilities, including Cincinnati, but that there could have been problems at "some airports."

He says Cincinnati is still on track to get the required machines in place by the end of the year, with what he says will be minimum disruption during the tail end of the holiday travel season.

"If Congress decides not to give us more time, we're fully prepared to meet this deadline as well," Mr. McHale says. "Getting 100 percent everywhere may be tough, however, but we have other options there," adding that the agency could use dogs and hand searches as short-term stopgaps.

Current plans call for the local airport - which handles nearly 34 million bags a year, including more than 10 million that originate here and would need to be scanned - to install scanning machines behind the scenes, meaning bags would be scanned after they are checked at the counter or at the curb.

Temporary plans call for using a mix of explosive detection systems, large machines that use CAT scan technology, and explosive trace detection systems (EDS), which are smaller and require someone to swipe the outside of the bag and then analyze the results.

Long-range plans call for the use of the larger EDS machines once enough are available.

Some construction will be necessary in Terminal 1, says local federal security director Terry Burgess, but it will be minimal.


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