Airport likely to get 'calmer checkpoints'

Donna Hogan, Tribune
Cool colors and soft music to soothe passengers queued up at security checkpoints and mini-profiles of the security officers poised to give them the OK to board a plane are on tap for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

It's all part of a package aimed at producing a "calmer checkpoint" that gives behavior experts a better chance at identifying potentially dangerous people, said Gale Rossides, deputy administrator of the Transportation Security Administration.

Rossides was in the Valley Thursday to talk with local TSA officers about new security initiatives and upcoming training aimed at using new technology and techniques to spot terrorists and other scofflaws, she said.

Some of the technologies, including both types of body scanning devices currently being piloted and advanced carry-on bag scanners are already in use at Sky Harbor. The local airport also has behavior specialists who watch for signs of nervousness and other worrisome body language traits.

But a new prototype checkpoint, currently piloted at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, will make the watchers more accurate, she said.

Rossides did not say when Sky Harbor would get new checkpoint features. But she said all TSA officers nationwide will be trained on them, and they will get new blue uniforms with badges when they pass the classes.

Focus groups with passengers indicated they would feel less nervous if the officers seemed more familiar, she said. So among the changes will be photos and capsule profiles of the officers, including their hobbies, former professions and their likes and dislikes. The mini profiles will be stuck on top of the posts holding the queue ropes.

Cool colors like blue and green, soft music, a prep station to get ready for the screener, and ergonomic chairs to slip shoes on and off also are part of the new prototype checkpoint aimed at calming passengers. You can take a virtual trip through the Baltimore version at

Other focus group feedback, including so-called black-diamond lanes, a reference to markers on ski slopes indicating whether a trail is suited for beginners, intermediates or experts only, could also be in store for Sky Harbor, said Verdi White, the TSA's new security chief for Sky Harbor.

The procedure would allow frequent travelers to breeze through an "expert" line avoiding inexperienced travelers who wear double-knotted tie shoes unaware they have to pass shoeless through the screener.

"We're discussing that now with the airport and airlines," White said.

Other security measures planned include wireless communications, Rossides said. Behavior specialists who want TSA officers to give a passenger extra scrutiny can speak softly into a headphone and pass on the info without yelling it out and alarming other passengers, she said.

Rossides said she is touching down at several airports in an attempt to familiarize staff with what's coming down the road. And to assure TSA personnel that even though there will be a new president, the agency that President Bush started after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks would continue its mission regardless of who succeeds him.

In fact, although the TSA administrator, currently Kip Hawley, is a presidential appointed position, Rossides has been tapped to fill the slot on an interim basis after the election and until a new president selects a new leader.

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