Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Better training, pay needed at our airports

Heightened vigilance in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks didn't stop hundreds of weapons from sneaking past security checkpoints at 32 U.S. airports, according to a report by USA TODAY.

Fortunately, the knives, guns and mock explosive devices that got through the screening points undetected were not carried by terrorists but by investigators working undercover with the U.S. Department of Transportation. The tests were conducted from November through early February when the danger alert should have been at an all-time high.

This is scary, but not altogether surprising considering the sheer volume of air travelers and lax security that traditionally has eased domestic travel in the United States. However, it seems those on the front line of security haven't kept up with the growing demands of the job. And it's hard to fault them. For the most part, those operating the X-ray machines and metal detectors are lacking sufficient training. Low wages — in many cases the $5.15-an-hour minimum wage —have also led to a high turnover among airport screeners.

Right now, a major overhaul of airport security in the U.S. is under way. Since Feb. 17, the new Transportation Security Administration has been overseeing private screeners at airport checkpoints. The congressional deadline to complete the federal security takeover is Nov. 19.

By then, the TSA says, it hopes to have turned the nation's airport screeners into a top-notch federal security force. Screeners will be taught to think like terrorists so they can guard the weakest points in the system.

Under the law, however, noncitizens are ineligible for airport security work. Right now, they make up about one-quarter of the nation's 28,000 screeners. If they quit, that will leave a gaping hole in the force. As a result, some are lobbying to expedite the naturalization of noncitizen screeners. We hope that the qualified screeners, including those at Hawai'i's airports, can find a way to keep their jobs.

A pay boost is also in the works for the federalized screeners. The TSA is looking at a starting pay of $32,000 a year with benefits. That and intensive training will go far in improving the standards and morale of our new federalized airport screening force. We can no longer afford weak links in airport security.