Airports gear up for Iraq war

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 20, 2003

With a U.S. war in the Middle East beginning, security has become even more important in and around our nation's airports, including major ones in Alabama.

Gil Wilson of the Montgomery Regional Airport said the airport is carrying on its aggressive security measures, but said the airport is rushing into a panic mode.

"At this point nothing has changed (as far as security measures taken at the airport)," said Wilson. "We are still on orange status (or high alert status) which we have maintained for some time."

Wilson said there has also been no dramatic decrease in flights at the airport during the last week or so.

He added that people flying from the airport have maintained a cooperative attitude for the most part when dealing with any heightened security risks at the facility.

"At various times there has probably been some inconvenience with our customers as we've tried to educate them," said Wilson. "But for the most part, everything has gone well and our customers have been very cooperative."

Yolanda Clark, who is the Public Information Manager for the Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, said she expected heightened measures to take place very soon.

"We will probably be hearing from the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) soon about new measures based on new security orders," said Clark. "The last time we received these type of new orders, we implemented items such as conducting random vehicle searches and allowing restricted access within 300 feet of the airport, so I imagine our new orders will be along that line."

Frank Miller of the Pensacola Regional Airport said his airport is also waiting for any new instructions.

"We are still waiting on word from TSA regarding any additional security measures," said Miller. We expect that word to come either (Tuesday) afternoon or sometime on Wednesday.

He added he feels that the facility already has a particularly strong security plan in place already.

"We do have measures that the public sees, such as bag screening, but then we also have other measures that we don't talk about, and the public does not see, but those things are in place," said Miller.

He said he has been pleased with the attitude of those flying at the airport.

"For the most part the public has been very cooperative, and even in regards to having their bags screened and checked," said Miller. "They have made comments also that they appreciate the security measures, so that has not been a problem."

Al Denson of the Birmingham International Airport said he expects moderate changes at best in regards to security measures at the facility.

"The only changes I would expect is we might possibly do random screenings on vehicles entering the terminal," said Denson. "We pretty much, though, have a good force in place already in terms of operators and staff people. All of us should be very aware of the environment we are living in right now."

He said customers at the Birmingham facility have always been cooperative in terms of respect for safety measures."

"The public has been very cooperative and have observed a very good mindset," said Denson. "I have been very impressed with our travelers and they have taken an ownership in keeping our planes very safe."

As part of the Department of Homeland Security's increased security efforts with war apparently imminent, the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) will implement airport security measures that are proactive, sustainable and focused, based on intelligence information.

One of the most visible changes will likely be the increasing presence of law enforcement officers on patrol and in airport facilities.

The TSA has advised air carriers to review and ensure the validity of all personnel identifications for those who have access to secure areas.

In addition, TSA screeners will also continue to remain at a heightened state of alert.