PDX improves security measures for employees

Airport security - KATU image.jpg

While no device can scan for a person's intentions, Portland airport managers say employees undergo rigorous background and criminal checks and receive training once a year or every two years, depending on their roles.

More than 10,000 employees work at Portland International Airport. That includes individuals who work in businesses, restaurants, for their suppliers, and for airlines, management and other companies.

PDX Aviation Security Senior Manager Sharon Green says the airport spent $60 million since 2015 on security improvements. The majority of that went towards employee-related measures.

Gordon says the airport constructed a new credential office where employee background and criminal checks are performed.

Identification badges were upgraded with new security features. They are more difficult to replicate and can be deactivated with a click of a button.

"We always make sure that employees only have access to areas they need to do their job, so it’s not a free-for-all clearance," Gordon told KATU. "It is specific to the job ."

Gordon added that individual employers, for example newsstands, can deactivate an employee's badge remotely using a computer.

"We also have some programs in place that randomly check backgrounds of employees, to make sure that there has been nothing that's happened since they got their badge," she said.

In addition to badges, PDX implemented biometric screening. Employees must swipe their badges and place their fingerprint on a scanner before accessing authorized areas.

An airline employee who needs special access to authorized areas of the airport must also apply for a PDX badge. Airline employees are required to undergo the same background and criminal history checks as non-airline employees.

In 2015, KATU reported there were no daily screening checks for many employees at PDX.

A former ground crew worker at PDX, who spoke exclusively to KATU on condition of anonymity, said many employees at the airport never face a metal detector or full body scanner.

"Cargo agents, customer service agents, ground service agents do not go through security at all," he said.

Those same employees have access to the tarmac and parked airplanes.

Gordon says that's no longer the case.

Employees are subject to random screening, which could range from badge checks to item searches, and sometimes the doors are locked, forcing employees to enter through security with passengers.

"It is a big push to make sure that employees do not have any prohibited items with them," Gordon said.

Security cameras, which are monitored, are placed near secure doors. They capture an employee's movements. If the doors do not closely properly, an audible alarm rings and an alert is sent to the airport's dispatch center.

In addition to employee security measures, the airport relocated its vehicle tarmac entry checkpoint and constructed new, more secure passenger exits, which feature three locking doors.

Following Friday's plane theft, Gordon says the airport has not made any security changes, but will if needed.

"We will look to see what Sea-Tac decides to do," Gordon said, "but we have reminded our employees, be on the lookout for things that are concerning and report something if you see anything."

Gordon says airport employees work by TSA's mantra, "if you see something, say something." She says employees are encouraged to be a safety network, similar to a city's neighborhood watch program.

"We ask employees to be aware of their surroundings," Gordon said, "and to know what’s normal and to know what's not normal."

Security protocols and requirements vary from airport to airport and airline to airline. All of them are required to follow guidelines set by the FAA and TSA.

Gordon says PDX is compliant with and exceeds some requirements set by the FAA and TSA.

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