TSA working to speed up security checks

In print: Thursday, June 26, 2008

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A veteran of law enforcement, Gale Rossides was one of the original six federal executives to join the fledgling Transportation Security Agency (TSA) in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In January, she was named the agency's permanent No. 2 official. Rossides was in Tampa on Wednesday for a town hall meeting with TSA officers at Tampa International Airport and talked with the St. Petersburg Times about the agency's initiatives to streamline security screening.

The "Black Diamond'' screening program spread rapidly this year, and Tampa International could ask this summer to bring it here. Where did you get the idea to let passengers choose between screening lanes for expert fliers, casual travelers and families?

We conducted focus groups last year. One thing passengers said to us was, "I'm a very experienced traveler. I've got just a carry-on bag. Let me get through in a way where I'm not slowed up by other passengers.'' We had such an enormous response that now 22 other airports have some configuration of Black Diamond lanes.

How's it working?

Wait times (for experts) have been reduced. In the family-friendly lanes, times are slightly higher. But the key is that the number of (baggage screening) alarms has gone down dramatically.

You're also putting a lot of effort into developing a model checkpoint, with the prototype at Baltimore-Washington International. What's involved?

You have officers who have been trained and the new advanced technology X-ray equipment. You have the whole-body imaging equipment. You have all the stations for passengers to prepare for the screening.

All TSA officers nationwide will receive training by Thanksgiving on making checkpoints calmer. How will they do that?

The training gives them enhanced communication skills. How to speak in a calm voice, how to make eye contact in order to say, "I'm here to assist you through this.'' We will give officers wireless communication devices, so they can call for a bag check or call for secondary screening without having to yell it to each other.

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