April 17, 2002
Having graduated from college, spent six years in Army intelligence in the United States, Tokyo and Korea and being a certified airport screener, I feel I have a right to have an opinion on airport security before and after 9-11.
I worked the ski season of 1999 and 2000 as a screener at Eagle Airport.
Prior to 9-11 the government, through the FAA, was responsible for the screening of passengers prior to boarding aircraft. A current FAA security inspector has been called a whistle-blower because he has stated that breaches in security, while documented, were never recorded.
As a screener at the time, I felt this was only window dressing to make passengers feel secure. The X-ray machines at each gate do not perform miracles. The machines are only as good as the person watching the X-ray machine, and I felt that, at best, only two screeners out of 10 could determine what was in the bags being screened. We have 30,000 screeners at our airports.
It is now six months since 9-11. Our program to upgrade screeners is only showing how difficult the job is. Our attempts to build machines at $1 million each to survey bags going into the hold is today rated as 50 percent efficient.
The government is just beginning to realize the scope of airport security in relation to safety.
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So guess what?
Eight airports in the United States have been selected to be the first to have a “Chief of Security.” This job will pay between $140,000 to $160,000 per year.
Who gets the jobs? Friends of the local politicians. I don’t know how many of the hundreds of airports in the United States are going to get a Chief of Security, but at $150,000 per year we will be paying $15 million per year to 100 people with no hands-on experience or responsibility.
The job of airport screener at $8 or $9 per hour is an unsatisfactory job, as shown by its turnover rate.
The job of airport screener will only be upgraded when a massive program of selection, training and knowledgeable supervision is put in place. This is unpleasant work when done correctly, and will always show a large turnover rate.
To criticize the current screeners for missing secret tests to detect guns and explosives without extensive training and equipment is only testifying to the extent of the problem and the need for a long-range program.