The Colony — Few places offer a better public display of post-9/11 changes than a US airport, and Albany International Airport is no exception.
The travel center off the Albany-Shaker Road has been the starting point for millions of trips since dawn 20 years ago when planes were turned into weapons of terror.
It is also equipped with new technology designed to keep people with bad intentions and hidden weapons away from planes, and it benefits from the presence of a national security force and an international intelligence network.
“9/11 really forced this airport to reevaluate our entire security program and our infrastructure from top to bottom,” said Doug Myers, airport spokesman from January 1999.
Everyone from airport runway firefighters to the FBI was involved in creating the blueprint, he said, and the result was “everyone involved.”
The Transportation Security Administration and the Albany County Sheriff’s Office employ men and women who provide on-the-ground security at the airport, but they are only part of the overall picture.
Behind them is an entire national and international infrastructure dedicated to alerting airports to threats and keeping those threats away from airports.
“We, the TSA, are literally the last line of defense,” said Bart Johnson, federal security director for 13 commercial airports north and west in upstate Newburgh, New York.
Johnson said the first line of defense is developing intelligence on who can attack and when and how and where. “It’s all about identifying the things that you know could go into a terrorist attack.”
before the attacks
In the year 2000, passengers boarded ALB 1.46 million times, as it is known in the aviation world. Each journey began with a visit through a contractor-run security checkpoint that was one of a series of private companies using an assortment of equipment to keep US airports safe.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, a few hundred passengers departing Albany that day made their way through the Albany checkpoint—bottles of water in hand, full-size tubes of toothpaste in their carry-on bags, shoes tied to their On foot, laptop computers are under no scrutiny by security agents.
Very soon, they would all be back on the ground, some nowhere near their destination and with no immediate way to get there or go home, as US airspace was closed and fired by fighter-ready fighters. was patrolled.
Two decades later, whatever has happened, the security arrangements at US airports seem almost bizarre that morning.
A comprehensive analysis of its failures and extensive upgrades will come soon. But as the attacks struck, and their enormity sank, shock and terror were the feelings ruling the ground.
Myers recalled: “I was on the phone with Capt. Paul Courcelle of the Albany County Sheriff’s Office when he said, ‘Are you watching TV?’ I was the first to know about the attack.”
He remembers shedding tears at his desk later in the day.
The terminal was closed to visitors for check-in, but passengers were already allowed inside. Ground personnel prepared for airliners that would make an unscheduled landing at the nearest airport because US airspace was closed to civilian aircraft.
Access to the front of the terminal was blocked and additional police officers rushed to the scene to patrol. Television trucks arrived and airport officials briefed the media.
Later in the day, abandoned rental cars traveling north from New York City were covered with a fine gray dust.
Local residents lit candles along the perimeter fence at the end of the runway.
In the weeks that followed, air travel resumed to the point that 2001 was a busier travel year than 2000 at Albany International.
But the airport experience will never be the same.
As TSA and the technology it needed were being conceived and planned, soldiers armed with assault rifles provided a blunt-force safety upgrade in the interim.
In a broader approach, Myers said, what differs today is a complex combination of local, state and federal government security agencies working to identify and thwart threats; Arrival of TSA; and technological innovation.
To do all this work is the cooperation of the traveling public.
In the midst of a stressful journey, it may be difficult for someone to take off their shoes. For other passengers, especially frequent fliers, it’s part of the routine, Myers said.
Changes at Albany International Airport since 9/11 include:
- Non-ticketed people can no longer leave the checkpoint except in limited circumstances such as escorting a child or a disabled person.
- Full-body scanners check passengers before boarding them.
- An explosion resistant wall is erected between the surface parking lot and the terminal to thwart a car bomb.
- Internal and external patrolling has been increased.
- All incoming shipments are scanned for the Airport Concourse Merchant.
- Contractors have their equipment with them when they come and when they leave.
- Behind the scenes, an array of high-definition displays in the control center show all areas of the airport. Its uses go beyond safety: On a recent morning, a child with autism was separated from her family and went missing until a control center operator was alerted, and able to locate the missing child on a video monitor Was.
“It really is a collective effort on the part of everyone at the airport,” Myers said.
change of focus
Johnson’s 44-year police and security career has spanned from patrol of the Peakskill Police Department to a colonel of the New York State Police to a deputy undersecretary of US Homeland Security.
But through all the years and agencies, there is a distinct division in their duties that can be summarized as homeland security and “everything else.” The dividing line was 9/11.
“That’s all I’ve been doing since that day,” he said in mid-August 2021.
Two friends Johnson had worked with earlier in his career – New York firefighter Sam Otis and Port Authority police officer Paul Jurgens – were killed in the Twin Towers collapse.
A few days later, Johnson was among hundreds of state troops assigned to Ground Zero. In the years to come, he would work to develop counter-terrorism preparedness, response and prevention capability within the state police, which led to the formation of the Office of Anti-Terrorism as its commander.
Johnson moved on to the Department of Homeland Security and had somewhat similar roles at the national level, assisting a growing network of state and local counter-terrorism agencies across the country and directing the creation of an intelligence-sharing network.
He went to work for the TSA in Albany in 2014 to be closer to home.
Johnson said Albany International and other US airports benefit from intelligence-sharing networks that have formed and matured over the past 20 years, by which the CIA and NSA feed information to the FBI, which analyzes it and converts it to regional intelligence. sends to the centres.
Rounding out the picture are police officers, customs agents and thousands of others in the field monitoring things that just don’t look quite right – suspicious activity that could indicate more than simple criminal intent.
That network and all the technological improvements are designed to do one thing: keep dangerous people and their weapons off planes.
Every year, guns and knives and other dangerous objects are confiscated at Albany International Airport, but most are attributed to forgetfulness or ignorance. So far no one has been found to be involved in the terror plot. Other US airports have a similar record.
Some of this is likely due to the deterrent effect of Johnson’s last line of defense: the TSA airport checkpoint through which shameless travelers file.
Albany features next-generation computer technology, including improved 3D visualization for baggage X-rays and CAT – credential authentication technology, which verifies the validity of a passenger’s ID and cross references with airline ticket records .
More is on the way: TSA headquarters, Johnson said, “has a huge cadre of experts working on the next generation whatever it is.”
One of the few things in an airport terminal that hasn’t changed since 9/11 is the airport terminal itself.
It was designed and manufactured in the late 1990s, with not enough room for an extended safety net, which would be added only a few years later.
“It’s all before 9/11,” Albany County Airport Authority CEO Philip Calderone said of the passenger arrivals area. “Where you see that TSA was completely open, what we call the Times Square community-gathering space, and TSA fit into that space.”
As a result, the line to check through security can fill the second-floor vestibule area and extend from the pedestrian bridge to the parking garage.
The airport authority plans to replace the 12-foot-wide bridge by extending the second floor to the garage – essentially building a bridge that is two hundred feet wide.
“You’ll achieve two things by doing this,” Calderone said. On the other side of the checkpoint “you’ll ease the congestion we experience now, but you’ll also create space” where travelers can gather their families, reclaim their possessions and put on their shoes.
The $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill approved by the US Senate would send $28 million to Albany International Airport for this and other projects.
Previous COVID stimulus funding in 2020 allowed the airport to maintain its operations without any layoffs, despite a shortage of air passengers.
It was essentially a lifeline: The funding kept the airport afloat.
Calderone said this next round of funding is about growing the airport and making it better in the years to come.