Local Security Scare After 9/11 Tests Airport Security

By Megan Trent

September 8, 2011 Updated Sep 8, 2011 at 4:14 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - In our continuing look at a post 9/11 world, one decade after the attacks, we examine the evolution and controversy of airport security.

In the last decade since the September 11th attacks of 2001, increased security in airports have become common place.

Tory Richardson is the Executive Director of Airports with the Fort Wayne Airport Authority. He says, “The biggest thing that we see is just the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, or the TSA. That’s sort of the over arching. Everything else sort of falls underneath that – whether that be procedures and regulations and some of the technology that we’re using for screening people and things.”

But that hasn’t eliminated all threats. Richardson says, “It’s surprising how many incidents still happen at checkpoints, even though most people know you don’t bring weapons to the checkpoints at airports. If you go on the TSA website, literally right now today, you can see that happens, unfortunately, more common than what you would like or perhaps think would happen.”

In 2004, the Summit City had its own scare when a college professor brought rose water back from a trip to the Middle East. Not a banned substance, rose water is used in perfumes and baking. However, when it broke, several employees became ill and the airport was shut down for more than 10 hours until the substance was positively identified.

Jeff Neumeyer reported on both the attacks of 9/11 and the Fort Wayne rose water incident. He says, “I remember thinking after 9/11, that if the terrorists really wanted to strike fear into our country, they needed to do something outside of New York City – something in middle America. So, that day, when I got the call saying you’ve got to get to the airport to cover this rose water incident, my first thought was, wow. It’s happening, and it’s happening right here in Fort Wayne.”

Richardson recalls, “Things can escalate very quickly, and in this case it was a situation where, literally before we knew it, there were briefings at the White House level.”

During the event, the crew here at Indiana’s NewsCenter were keeping the entire country informed minute by minute.

Jeff Bowman was a photojournalist covering the rose water incident. He says, “If you’d done that in August 2001, it was no big deal. Ah, Fort Wayne’s got something going on. Big deal. We’ll see what happens. But because of the nature of it, everyone was much more attuned to it. Everyone wanted to know, what was it? Could it possibly be?”

"It was really the first time that we had to deal with something like that," says Richardson. "So, it was a little bit of a learning curve for us to go through that, but overall the agencies that responded, responded very quickly and efficiently. We worked very well together.”

It was another example of how the world had changed. It was a new era of air travel.

“Prohibited items – what you can and can’t take through the checkpoint has changed," says Richardson. "Whether you can have your shoes on or have to take your shoes off to go through the process has changed. The devices that they use for screening people have changed.”

Airport authorities say they’re constantly trying to find that perfect balance between what technology is capable of (like body scanners), and what the public is willing to accept when they go through security checkpoints.

Randy Cole Sims Sr. of Fort Wayne says, “I think there’s a point for those of us that are flying that it could become uncomfortable to the point of invasiveness.”

BJ Stuller of Fort Wayne says, “I think it’s great that we have that much security. Some people feel like it’s an invasion, but at the same time, it’s everybody’s right to be safe.”

Robert Anweiler of Fort Wayne says, “Look, it’s not 85 year old women who are taking down buildings and things along those lines. So, maybe we do have to take a more pragmatic approach to it.”

But Patti Dreiband says, “Whatever it takes - it’s just really important.”

Even with today’s security measures, American airports are still less strict than many other countries.

Anweiler says, “Even traveling through Frankfort, Germany, you’d walk into the airport and were always armed guards with sub-machine guns, which you would never see here. And they were doing that long before anything else happened over here – 9/11. So, I think in a lot of ways we’ve caught up to what the rest of the world’s done.”

Have all the security measures paid off? Several terrorist plots have been foiled and fliers seem to be gaining confidence, but it’s that sense of security that may be cause for concern.

Neumeyer says, “I think over time, we’ve probably sunk back into some old habits – sort of feeling as though once again, maybe, we’re not at risk like we once were. Probably not a good thing in the sense that our guard has probably been let down once again.”

Bowman adds, “As time goes by, it’s easy to forget. So, you have to have those reminders of ‘we can not go back to sleep.’ Whether it’s going through security, or the way you travel, or you just do your daily lives, you cannot afford to go back to sleep, because there are people out there who are just waiting to take advantage of it.”

Poet and philosopher George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Turns out, complacency may be the biggest security threat of all.

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