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Thoughts about airport security
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 10/11/2010

Airport scanner Corrections staff have a vocationally acquired inclination to think about security issue around the clock. This behavior does not automatically end when we leave the institution for the day. It is simply always on our minds.

I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but it seems to always happen to me. Whenever I travel, I can usually count on news of trouble in the air or in an airport. For example, while in the Milwaukee airport on the way back from the Winter ACA conference, I saw the story of Sully’s heroic landing on the Hudson River. And to end 2009, the attempted destruction of a plane from Amsterdam to Detroit occurred. I saw that on the television just before I was en route to the Orlando airport.

Certainly, I am not special. I know that the agents of fortune do not wait until I have my boarding pass in hand to move the many figures on the complex multi-leveled, multi-dimensional chess boards of events. But, it always makes me think of the many security measures in effect that corrections professionals see every day.

In June of 2001, I remember that I was in a hurry. I was trying to reach the gate in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport to make my flight. I was practically running. In my right hand, I held a gift from the Indiana Department of Corrections. As a token of their esteem for my presentation to the Human Resources Department on the topic of staff relations, they gave me a wonderful hickory cane from their prisoner industries.

In other words, in the eyes of some observers, I was sprinting while wielding a potential weapon in a crowded area.

When I arrived at the gate, I was asked to surrender the cane for the duration of the flight. Was one quick moving, cane wielding corrections person a threat? Perhaps not. However, the staff person was security conscious enough to recognize that the cane was not necessary. Please note the date. This was a few months before the world of travel changed – 9/11/2001.

So, in the spirit of gratitude over the years, I am very thankful for the vigilance of transportation staff – even before 911. They are, in many ways, like corrections staff. We do not think about their efforts when things run smoothly.

We, unlike the general public, tend to understand the underlying reasons for delays. Naturally, we notice that searches are different, but performed for the same basic purpose. Here are some thoughts how we behave during routine searched in airport lines.

In corrections, we are used to facing the back of the person that we search. This is different in airports, as security specialists typically face towards people when search them. I wonder if this is a more comfortable eye-to-eye manner of operation. In other words, the flight customer who is being searched would feel less nervous if they can see (and chat with) the searcher.

In the lines leading up to the metal detector, we have occasion to witness theorists. They are sometimes vocal in expressing their ideas about how security works. This may be to comfort themselves or their travel companions. I think that those who talk too much of how they understand security can make others in line more cautious. Whatever the reason, the people-watching in airport security lines is fascinating.

Corrections staff frequently play the “what if” game. When there is a mass of humanity, our training kicks in and we think of different scenarios that may play out. This occurs even if we are on the way to a vacation spot. We need to question ourselves. Does this behavior exude confidence and cast a calming feeling over the area? Or will hyper-vigilance raise tension?

Looking around too much does not necessarily calm others. When looking around with your back to the wall, you may, in fact, raise suspicion. You may be looking directly at another security conscious person, though one who is paid to do so rather than a recreational/off the job corrections specialist. This is a recipe for raised tension

It pays to have your eyes open. But sometimes we appear over alert to the point of anxious. This may produce problems for others. So, for the sake of safety, we may sometimes get overly zealous. It is a matter of balance. And it is an area which security specialists in all areas of the work world can appreciate.

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