Port, Airline Security Ramping Up Again

By ALEXIS TONTI

As the nation moves toward the new year under a heightened terror alert, Island security continues to tighten at the direction of the federal Department of Homeland Security, which is again pumping money into port and airline security on the Island.

The Steamship Authority and Hy-Line Cruises have received $515,000 from the federal department to improve security measures at their Cape and Islands terminals.

At the Martha's Vineyard Airport, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) - one of 22 agencies of the Department of Homeland Security - has plans to fund seven new part-time security screeners. They will join the four full-time screeners already employed there.

On Tuesday night, the Bush administration still had the country on an increased threat status, from elevated to high, with officials warning that terrorist operatives may be planning a major attack in the United States or against U.S. interests abroad.

"Every airport that has commercial service needs to have a TSA presence," said Ann Davis, northeast regional spokesperson for TSA, in explaining her agency's activity at the airport here. "You can connect to major airports from Martha's Vineyard, and it's critical that every piece of baggage is checked so individuals connecting to other airports have undergone the same rigorous screening that they would go through at Logan or LaGuardia."

Of the $325,000 awarded to the Steamship Authority, $225,000 will be earmarked for the Nantucket terminal and $100,000 for Hyannis. The money will be used to improve waiting and boarding areas at the two terminals and to accommodate the screening of passengers and luggage called for by heightened security requirements.

This is the third round of federal money awarded to the SSA for security improvements. In June two grants totaling some $900,000 went toward port security on the Vineyard and in Woods Hole.

The Hy-Line will split its $191,149 grant between its Nantucket, Hyannis and Martha's Vineyard terminals. Company spokesman Murray Scudder said the company would use the grant for walk-through metal detectors, X-ray machines, cameras around the company's terminals and hand-held metal detectors.

TSA's expanded presence at the Vineyard airport has been planned since the spring, when agency officials did an airport-by-airport analysis to determine the appropriate number of screeners for each. At that time, the agency authorized nine full-time screeners (or their equivalent) at the Martha's Vineyard Airport. This round of hiring brings the staff size closer to that number.

Prior the arrival of TSA screeners, different airports managed security in different ways, according to Vineyard airport manager Bill Weibrecht. On the Island, each airline was responsible for screening and manning its own checkpoints.

In addition the West Tisbury police department has for years stationed a police officer on site, whose duties range from providing back-up during security screenings to parking enforcement in between flights.

When TSA was established as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act in November 2001, its congressional mandate required its managers to establish a presence at every public airport within a year.

"As they started out TSA had a mobile screening force - a go-team where they sent batches of people around and used them in a roll-out capacity. And as they hired locals they filled in and replaced the mobile screeners," said Mr. Weibrecht.

"This is an important effort to make permanent the staff at the airport," he said.

Ms. Davis said TSA still plans to use its mobile screening force to accommodate the Island's seasonal needs. In the summer the year-round staff will be supplemented by about 20 screeners.

The new screeners will go through a minimum of 100 hours of classroom and on-the-job training before they can begin work. They will receive instruction in screening techniques, standard operating procedures and equipment operation.