THIS MAKES JUST TOO MUCH SENSE FOR THE MORONS WHO RUN THE SHOW AT THE GERALD R. FORD TO TRY...BESIDES, THEY WOULD HAVE TO GIVE BONUSES TO SCREENERS INSTEAD OF THEMSELVES. THAT, AND IT SOUNDS LIKE COVENANT SECURITY A SUBSIDIARY OF LOCKHEED MARTIN HAS MORE AND BETTER CONTROL OVER SECURITY THEN THE SCHMUCKS WHO DIRECT TRAFFIC JAMS AT THE TSA.
USA TODAY/By Thomas Frank, USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO — In a windowless control center inside San Francisco
International Airport, Roger Bell punches codes into a computer and
swivels a joystick to maneuver any of the 1,200 cameras tucked
throughout the airport.
Bell can pan across a terminal or zoom in on someone waiting to
check in. But as he watches seven screens on a wall, he is looking
for one image: hordes of people about to flood a security checkpoint.
That's code-red, and Bell's signal to grab the phone, hit speed dial
and direct supervisors to move screeners from quiet checkpoints to
ones that are about to be swamped.
Screeners are shifted 100 times a day. That helps give San Francisco
some of the fastest airport security lines in the country and
exemplifies how airports can minimize delays.
San Francisco is one of five U.S. airports where security is not
provided by the federal agency created after the Sept. 11 attacks.
As the debate continues over whether the nation's airports should
use a private or government security force, San Francisco is an
example of how private security can make a difference — if
Security waits at San Francisco were longer than 10 minutes only 2%
of the time from June 2004 to mid-May, a USA TODAY analysis of
federal records shows. At other large airports, lines exceeded 10
minutes nearly four times as often.
"It's an efficient airport," says passenger Luke Alexander of San
Jose, Calif., who regularly takes international flights from San
After Sept. 11, the Transportation Security Administration took over
passenger screening from airlines, which had security companies
plagued by high turnover. The law creating TSA let five airports
have private security with TSA oversight to provide a comparison.
Despite San Francisco's experience, TSA says there's no clear
evidence that private management shortens lines.
A TSA-commissioned study in April 2004 found that
passengers "experienced shorter wait times" at San Francisco's
checkpoints and that security there was no more or less effective
than at other large airports.
But TSA spokeswoman Yolanda Clark says "any number of variables" can
explain San Francisco's security lines, such as flight schedules or
the number of security lanes. Other large airports with TSA
screeners, such as Detroit, Minneapolis and Charlotte, also have
A division of labor
At San Francisco, Covenant Aviation Security of Illinois hires,
trains, schedules, manages and pays San Francisco's 1,140 screeners.
The TSA pays Covenant $79 million a year and dictates training,
security procedures and minimum salary for its screeners.
Deputy airport director Tryg McCoy cites an "inherent advantage" in
San Francisco's model: "The private sector can concern themselves
with the human resources efforts, managing the workforce and
complying with regulations the TSA issues, and the (TSA's) federal
security director can concentrate on security."
Covenant says it has improved management in the following ways:
• It employs a large number of part-timers — about 30% of its
screeners compared with 15% for the TSA. Most are college students,
says Covenant's chief recruiter, Heidi Funk. Part-timers often work
four-hour shifts and are assigned to the busiest travel periods to
maximize the number of security lanes.
• It says it has sharply cut the number of screeners out on workers'
compensation. That reduces absences that can force security lanes to
close. Covenant safety manager Dana Heimdahl required injured
workers to report to the airport in case they were needed to work
light duty instead of waiting for a call at home. "There were a lot
of miraculous cures," she says.
• It stations human "queue masters," instead of signs or video
monitors, to instruct fliers at checkpoints on protocols such as
removing shoes. "They pay more attention to an actual person who's
talking to them as opposed to staring at a screen," says Brian
O'Dell, Covenant's San Francisco general manager.
• It closely monitors worker performance. Covert teams go through
checkpoints to see if proper procedures are used. Computers track
how often screeners detect images of fake weapons flashed on baggage
X-ray machines during a work shift. The best screeners operate X-
rays during busiest times and mentor sub-par screeners, says
training director Ryan Yee.
• It rewards top screeners with bonuses of up to $2,000 and pins
denoting them a "master screener" or "customer service ambassador."
• It runs an intricate computer program that forecasts how many
passengers will go through each checkpoint every day at every hour.
That determines how many screening lanes should be open.
"You'll never see a bunch of screeners standing around at lanes that
aren't being used," says Covenant President Gerry Berry, a retired
Marine colonel who worked for six months at TSA headquarters after
its creation in 2002.
At the other airports with private security, the record is mixed.
Kansas City and Tupelo, Miss., had short lines, USA TODAY's analysis
of wait times recorded at each airport from June 2004 to mid-May
shows. Lines were about average at Jackson Hole (Wyo.) Airport and
longer at Rochester (N.Y.) International Airport.
McCoy, San Francisco's deputy airport director, says the airport
increased the number of security lanes from 33 to 39 — which many
airports have done to shorten lines — and added 800 cameras to its
Covenant paid for 20 or so cameras at checkpoints, but the idea for
the monitoring center came from the airport and TSA.