9/11 a dividing line in the history of security practices

September 06, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |
  • Kirsten Platt of Seattle, Wash., right, has her bags checked by Transportation Security Administration Supervisor Don Walsh, left, before boarding a Cape Air flight.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

There was the walk-through metal detector. There was the X-ray machine for carry-on bags. There were even patdowns for passengers who preferred not to walk through the detector.

But in other ways, airport security in that now long-ago world of "pre-9/11" was a different animal, said Barry Waggy, a former station manager for US Airways Express at Hagerstown Regional Airport.

"Back then, you could carry a pocket knife, as long as the blade was less than 4 inches," Waggy recalled.

And the time the screenings took?

"Hagerstown was notorious," Waggy said. "You could arrive 10 minutes before your scheduled departure and get on a plane. But those days are gone."

For him, as for airline passengers and workers at dozens of different institutions, from schools and courthouses to business mailrooms, Sept. 11, 2001, marks not only the date of a major tragedy, but a dividing line in the history of security practices.

According to the Associated Press, 2,977 people died as a result of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and in the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa. The figures do not include the 19 hijackers aboard the four airplanes involved.

'A way of life'

Waggy, who retired two months before Sept. 11, 2001, said that when he worked at the airport, airlines were responsible for security.

After 9/11, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was formed, and, under it, the Transportation Security Administration, which took over screening of airline passengers and baggage.

Under the TSA, airport screening procedures have evolved to meet new threats with new and sometimes-controversial requirements, such as bans and restrictions on liquid carry-ons, a requirement for passengers to remove their shoes during screening, and, most recently, the use of body-imaging technology.

New, strict screening procedures by TSA employees were required even at smaller airports such as Hagerstown's, said Ed Rakowski, Hagerstown Regional Airport's security coordinator.

"It's the same" as at a larger airport, he said.

When the airport has had large commercial service, such as Allegiant and Direct Air, passengers have been advised to arrive at the terminal two hours before the flight, said Phil Ridenour, director of Hagerstown Regional Airport.

"We have one control station that people go through for the screening process, and it took our TSA probably about an hour to screen upwards of 130 to 150 passengers," he said.

"It has become more hectic and a little less enjoyable, but overall, it was something that was necessary," Waggy said of the new procedures.

Ridenour agreed.

"I think when the TSA first came out, there was a lot of resistance, but if a person that's traveling would really sit back and think about it, it's all ... looking out for the safety of people who are getting on those airplanes to make sure there's nothing bad getting on the airplane," he said.

Ridenour said he thought the TSA screening process had reached a point where passengers get through quickly and rarely have any complaints.

"For anyone who travels on a regular basis, the TSA screening process is a way of life," Ridenour said.

New screening processes weren't the only security enhancements made at the airport following 9/11, Ridenour said.

The airport received a $1.1 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, which it used to run fiber optics around most of the perimeter of the airfield and install surveillance cameras linked to a closed-circuit monitoring system, he said.

Flight restrictions

For pilots, the increased security considerations don't end with takeoff.

After 9/11, the North American Aerospace Defense Council, or NORAD, was tasked with enforcing "temporary flight restrictions" placed over areas where VIPs travel, including the presidential retreat Camp David, near Thurmont, Md., when the president is there, NORAD spokesman John Cornelio said.

Before 9/11, temporary flight restrictions were primarily put in place due to law-enforcement events, and they were not enforced by NORAD, which was focused on aircraft crossing national borders, he said.

Since 9/11, NORAD had conducted 127 "intercepts" in the national capital region as of July 5, Cornelio said.

Intercepts are when NORAD pilots fly near to investigate an aircraft that is not communicating or is flying where it shouldn't be, he said. NORAD pilots use techniques such as flares to get the errant pilot's attention and, if necessary, escort the plane out of a restricted area.

Several of those intercepts have occurred when private pilots have flown into the space over Camp David, but Cornelio said he did not have statistics on the number of intercepts specific to that site.

Generally, the offenders are private pilots who didn't see the notice about the temporary restrictions, he said.

Security elsewhere

The Washington County Courthouse has experienced a number of security enhancements since 9/11, according to Col. Randy Wilkinson of the Washington County Sheriff's Office, the interim judicial commander.

"Suffice it to say, security at the courthouse before 9/11 was probably lax, and after that, that certainly prompted things to be ramped up," he said.

An X-ray machine has been put in place, the historic West Washington Street entrance has been closed to create a single entrance point, outside video surveillance has been set up, more personnel were added and courthouse security personnel have received additional training, Wilkinson said.

Commuters who use public transportation, such as the MARC train out of Brunswick, Md., may also have noticed increased security. The Maryland Transit Administration, which operates MARC, upped its police force, has direct FBI briefings and launched a "See Something, Say Something" awareness campaign and tip line, among other security initiatives, MTA spokesman John Wesley said.

Meanwhile, security measures taken by businesses and local governments have included increased caution in handling and opening mail.

Bill Sayre, president of Merkle Response Management Group in Hagerstown, said he saw an increase in interest in outsourcing mail processing following the attacks and the anthrax attacks that followed later that month.

"They just did not want to assume that risk in their operation," he said.

The Merkle Response Management Group receives and processes mail on behalf of clients. Its primary role is to process payments, but an added benefit is that mail is opened off-site by employees trained to recognize suspicious mail and respond to potentially dangerous contents, Sayre said.

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