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TSA Does Random Employee Searches at Port Columbus

The Transportation Security Administration demonstrated increased security measures today at Port Columbus. The new procedure randomly screens airport employees, contractors, vendors and others who have access to secure terminal areas.

The TSA says it started random searches after an incident in the United Kingdom last summer. It was suspected that liquids might be taken aboard airplanes and mixed to be used as explosives. The director of the TSA in Columbus says his agency does regularly screening of people allowed to by-pass passenger security checkpoints using government or airport issued clearance. Thomas Rice says just about any employee is subject to search.

"It's an additional layer of security at the doors that you have in any airport in the country or the gates coming into the airfield to add that unpredictable targeted screening to make sure that we have that additional layer of security," Rice says.

Taxi and shuttle bus drivers, parking lot attendants, and vendors inside the terminal may be randomly searched. The TSA demonstrated the system Tuesday at Port Columbus after employees entered a secure section of the airport. They unlocked a door with their security card and pass code, then were greeted on the other side by a pair of TSA agents.

"We just need to do a quick pat-down. Let me get you to set your items down over here."

The TSA started using the procedure in early October, 2006. Some of the employees screened Tuesday carried fast food lunches. While their paper bags were checked, their cups were not. Passengers, on the other hand, are not allowed to bring large quantities of liquids through security. Rice says airport workers are allowed to, because they have already been thoroughly investigated.

"You know our own people have to eat and they have to drink," Rice says. "The TSA is working with new technology right now being able to set a liquid on what looks like a little computer and tell if there's explosives in that our not."

But for now screeners will use the pat-down method. It's something that John Malabad, manager of business development at Port Columbus, says he's gotten used to.

"It's a random search as I understand it. I'd say 50% of the time I come through I get randomly searched at the by-pass for anything," he said.

The TSA's Rice says that since March, employee searches have turned up about 20 knives and 60 lighters. The penalties are the same for passengers or employees found to have weapons. Fines range from $1,000 to $3,000.