Airport enhances employee screening

The Register-Guard

Published: May 15, 2008 12:00AM

The Eugene Airport has beefed up its screening of employees and is training airport police in “behavior detection” as part of a pilot project aimed at improving security at the nation’s airports.

Eugene is one of seven airports participating in the $15million project, which also includes international airports in Boston, Denver, Kansas City, Mo., and Jacksonville, Fla., and regional airports in New Bern, N.C., and the North Bend airport on the Oregon Coast.

“When most people think of airport security, they think of passengers and baggage,” said Michael Irwin, federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration in Oregon. “We do a lot of different things to protect aviation, including behavior detection officers, self-defense training for employees.”

“One of the areas we’ve concentrated on the last couple of years is the back of the airport,” Irwin said. “There are 2 million airport workers across the country.”

The TSA started random screening of employees who have access to secure and sterile areas of airports in the past year and a half, Irwin said.

The pilot project now under way will look at different ways to improve security in those areas, with an eye to finding out which are the most effective and efficient while not causing delays in air service.

The options being tested range from 100 percent screening in some parts of the larger airports, such as Boston, to the additional employee screening and training in behavior detection at Eugene.

“What we’re trying to do is not just concentrate on finding bad things but bad people, people that might want to do us harm, before they get to the checkpoint,” said Irwin, who was in Eugene on Wednesday. Airports in other parts of the world, such as Israel and some European countries, have been doing this for years, he added.

Irwin said Eugene and North Bend were chosen for the pilot project in large part because of their directors and their good working relationship with the TSA.

“It doesn’t hurt that they were in Peter DeFazio’s (congressional) district,” Irwin added.

DeFazio sits on both the homeland security and transportation infrastructure committees, Irwin said, “And he’s been very involved with TSA from the beginning.”

Eugene Airport manager Tim Doll said: “We’re happy to participate (in the pilot project). Anything we can do to enhance security — and our security is already good — and not impact the traveling public by delaying flights, we’re all for it.”

Doll said the airport will be tracking its costs during the program to determine how much the enhanced security would cost an airport of its size if implemented full time.

The Eugene Airport has 32 employees, but there are 1,500 people who have security badges at the airport, including employees of airport tenants, Doll said.

The 90-day pilot project, which was required under an act passed by Congress in January, began May 5. The data collected in the project will be presented to Congress, which will use it to develop a nationwide program.

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