Prevention gaps filled by preparedness

Minot airport security depends on prevention, preparedness

Jill Schramm/MDN TSA personnel stand ready to screen passengers at the Minot airport Sept. 21.

Could an active shooter situation happen at the Minot airport?

An airline passenger who retrieved a gun from the baggage area, loaded it in the restroom and killed five people in a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., airport in January showed the vulnerability of airport terminals to random gunmen.

“It can happen in an airport or anywhere. We have the same concerns that any public building would have. We take steps to mitigate that,” Minot Airport Director Rick Feltner said. Part of the mitigation is preparedness.

Last spring, emergency responders rehearsed active shooter scenarios at Minot’s airport. An exercise to train for a bomb threat also has been held at the airport.

Although active shooter situations have become more common in this country, airports haven’t been frequent targets. An incident occurred in November 2013 when a Transportation Security Agent was killed in Los Angeles and in May 2013 when a mentally disturbed individual fired shots and then killed himself in Houston. Two people also had been killed at an airline counter at the Los Angeles airport in 2002.

Jill Schramm/MDN Minot Airport Director Rick Feltner, wearing his identification badge, reaches toward an electronic badge reader, which is part of securing restricted areas from unauthorized access

The protocol for airport personnel in event of an active shooter is to run first, hide if escaping isn’t possible and fight only as a last resort. Confrontation with the shooter is left to trained professionals.

Wayne Rowe of Minot, a former airport facility technician, said he had concerns about that element of active shooter training when he was recently employed at the airport. Rowe said running and securing himself in areas accessible only to employees while leaving passengers to fend for themselves never seemed right to him.

The self preservation training was activated at Fort Lauderdale, where news reports stated passengers looking to TSA for help were shocked when agents abandoned their posts and ran. However, media reports of investigations into the aftermath found some TSA agents did assist passengers.

Feltner said the run-and-hide protocol isn’t meant to exclude an employee from assisting the public to reach a safe place when possible to do so without undue risk. However, in event of any major security issues, or even just a suspicious package or person, airport staff are trained to contact the police, he said.

Rowe said he fears police could take valuable minutes to arrive, and he also is concerned about general complacency that nothing will happen at Minot’s small airport.

Jill Schramm/MDN Although entry is much like any other public building, Minot airport terminal is equipped with cameras and maintains security restrictions to ensure safe flights for passengers.

“Yes, we are a small airport, but I think they need to run it more like it can happen and will happen,” he said.

At one time, the airport hired a security firm. Feltner said security personnel carried sidearms, but their major role was traffic control and they were present only eight hours a day. Given the size and amount of traffic at the terminal, retaining a security firm wasn’t mandated by federal rules and it wasn’t prudent given the cost, he said.

The amount of required security depends on airport size. Bismarck, with 271,022 enplanements in 2016, is required to have armed security at its checkpoint, while Minot, with 151,745 enplanements, is not. For its size and passenger numbers, Minot is required to have a law enforcement response time of 10 minutes or less, and Minot Police typically arrive in half that time, Feltner said.

TSA manages the checkpoints, with the responsibility of making sure nothing gets into the secured area without review.

Airlines have amended their policies for firearms, Feltner said. Passengers must declare the presence of firearms in their luggage, and firearms must be unloaded. All luggage also is screened before delivered to the airplane, which would detect any undeclared weapons. Upon landing, any luggage for which firearms were declared is not sent to the baggage carousel but must be claimed at the airline’s baggage counter.

Along with the airlines and TSA, everyone who works in the terminal has a role to play in security, Feltner said.

“It’s a part of everybody’s job, whether you work for the airport or work for the airline or work for the restaurant,” he said. “It’s anybody who is a stakeholder here and is part of the day-to-day operation.”

The airport’s role is to restrict access to aviation infrastructure.

All employees who work in the terminal must pass background checks and wear identification badges. The badges allow electronic access to only those restricted areas required for their jobs. Access is tracked not only by badge readers but by cameras throughout the terminal.

Alarm systems that detect and alert staff to anyone leaving or entering through a wrong access point add another layer of protection.

Fed-Ex also works closely with the airport to ensure access to the airfield from its facility is secure and accessible by authorized personnel only.

Homeland Security regularly conducts reviews to test the effectiveness of the airport’s measures, from examining fences to detecting any lapses in protocol by employees.

Because airport employees are security conscious as part of their daily duties, it does carry over into their watchfulness over the unsecured, public areas of the terminal, Feltner said.