Seattle airport tries to cope with more security demands

Published 13 February 2006

Congress mandated that the newly formed TSA begin screening all outbound baggage by 31 December 2002. That deadline was extended a year, when it became apparent that federal authorities would not reach that goal. Since then, Sea-Tac airport in Washington state has been through a series of temporary solutions that technically achieved the mandate, but were far from secure. Large EDS machines first were placed in the ticket lobby where travelers could see agents X-ray, then pick through, their bags. This created massive congestion, a security threat in itself, in Sea-Tac’s narrow lobbies. The congestion also created hazards, and some passengers and airport workers were injured. TSA then sprinkled smaller trace-detection machines, called ETDs, throughout the baggage sorting areas. These machines require agents to swab the bags and test the swabs for explosive residue. Because every bag must be screened, this system required many more agents, and much of the screening at peak travel times was spotty because of the intensive labor required, officials said. The swabbing and handling of so much baggage increased on-the-job injuries because of excessive lifting and hauling, said airport spokesman Bob Parker. Because there was not enough room in the main sorting areas to hold all the needed machines, some luggage ended up being screened in unsupervised private offices.

TSA assures the public through its Web site that most baggage screening is done in public and under video surveillance. There is no video surveillance of baggage screening in the Sea-Tac sorting area, however.

How does Sea-Tac cope with the requirements of TSA and increasingly impatient passengers?

-read more in Candace Hackman’s SeattlePIreport