May 9, 2008 - 6:11PM
The Transportation Security Administration began 90-day pilot program of employee screening at Craven County Regional Airport this week. The program is aimed at finding ways to enhance aviation security.
It is one of seven in the nation at large, medium and small airports expected to cost a total of $15 million.
TSA brought 20 more employees to New Bern for the pilot program to do a 100 percent screen of all employees and contract vendors who use the airport each time they enter a secured area.
That screening includes Airport Director Tom Braaten and his staff of six full-time and 50 part-time employees and the 12 to 13 employees of U.S. Airways and Delta Airlines.
"This screening may occur at existing checkpoints or at ones set up specifically for the pilot," said Jon Allen, who is heading the project for TSA, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security. He was in New Bern this week to initiate screening efforts.
The seven pilot programs involve different levels of screening at airports of different sizes.
At Craven County Regional Airport and at Jacksonville (Fla.) International, they include 100 percent physical screening at all employee and vehicle access points from the public area to the secured area. Other airports with pilot programs are Boston's Logan International, Denver International, Kansas City International, Eugene (Ore.), and Southwest Oregon.
"Screeners use a wand to screen for metal and employees undergo a physical search and pat down designed to insure they are not carrying any item that could be a potential threat," Allen said.
"I carry a small Swiss Army Knife with me all the time in and out of the secured area," Braaten said. "It has a little screw driver I use to tighten things up."
Through the project, he has to take it out of his pocket and stop for the wand and pat down every time he goes from the office to the maintenance area or into the boarding area or onto the tarmac or airfield.
"I live outside so each time I go through I get inspected," Braaten said. "It's pretty quick. It takes about a minute. But it happens to the same person many, many times a day. It's not unusual for an airline employee to go in and out 15 to 20 times a day - like from the ticket counter into the baggage area."
"Since airport maintenance staff has to bring tools into the sterile area," Braaten said, "the inspectors will take that into account."
Adjustments will be made along the way as experience shows what is needed and effective.
"That's why we are happy to be part of the pilot program," said Braaten. "It shows us the best way - the smart way - to provide better safety for the flying public.
Allen said that "when passengers think of TSA, they think of the checkpoints, but actually there are many layers of security in front of that and behind that."
Some of them have led to design changes on airplanes, such as hardened cockpit doors. Others are the addition of federal flight deck officers or federal air marshals on some flights.
Another involves encouraging heightened awareness from passengers as part of the security effort, Allen said. At large airports TSA uses behavior-detection officers to note people in airports whose behavior seems out of the ordinary.
That method was used to stop an armed individual this week in Orlando before he got to the checkpoint, Allen said.
Employees at all airports are fingerprinted, a 10-year security check is done, their names are placed on a watch list, and they are subject to random screening.
"Of the 20 security layers we have, any one may not be impenetrable, but they fit together for overall aviation security," Allen said.
TSA will evaluate the results from these pilot programs and make a presentation to Congress in September.