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Public safety officials say communication is biggest change since the attacks

Posted: September 11, 2011 - 12:07am

From city ambulance crews to U.S Coast Guard crews on patrol, from the way one boards a commercial aircraft to the way fire crews do their jobs — everything changed after Sept 11, 2001.

Agencies large and small, national and local, are talking and sharing information and procedures in a way some say might never have happened without the coordinated terror attacks.

Members of Juneau’s public safety community say the changes are easy to see, and the effort to thwart future terror attacks while planning for how to respond should one occur is ongoing.

Law enforcement communication improved

“To me the most significant changes that have occurred since 9/11 in regards to law enforcement in general is the increased communication between agencies,” Juneau Police Department Chief Greg Browning said. “One of the things that came out of 9/11 was that there was poor communication between federal, state, county and local agencies. The information was actually out there but it wasn’t communicated on where it needed to go.”

Browning said advances in that ability have now been implemented not only between local agencies but also all the way up through Federal agencies.

That includes joint terrorism task forces, new electronic systems that can access data from Federal agencies and allow Feds to access JPD data and intelligence information.

“It is a lot more complex than it seems,” Browning said.

That complexity includes a problem of agencies computerizing through different vendors that are dissimilar, so the information does not format correctly.

Browning is chairman of the Alaska Law Enforcement Information Sharing System, a system that allows communication to be shared within agencies and became funded due to 9/11.

“It never would have happened if not for 9/11,” Browning said. “There is still much that is needed to be done.”

Browning attended the Technologies For Critical Incidents Preparedness Conference in Washington, D.C. last week, paid for by the Department of Homeland Security through a initiative to assist first responders, to discuss the technology gaps between agencies and how DHS could help solve them. Law enforcement members from across the U.S. attended.

“We worry about the potential for terrorism with our cruise industry, state ferries and things like that,” Browning said. “It is something we are working on through license plate readers and biometric identification systems. Officers would be able to take someone’s fingerprints in the field or be able to compare them to terrorist databases. When you talk about what has changed since 9/11 it is the communication between agencies.”

A more visible, hands-on Coast Guard

U.S. Coast Guard District 17 Ports and Waterways Coastal Security Section Chief Lt. Matthew York remembers 9/11 well. He had just gotten out of the Coast Guard in 2000 after 11 years to start a family. He was at a hospital in New York for the birth of his second daughter, born on Sept. 10, 2001, when the planes hit the Twin Towers.

“Long story short I came back into the Coast Guard,” stated York. “It really kind of inspired me to come back in. It had quite a profound impact on me. It just felt like the right thing to do.”

York said he thought like everybody else in America when the first plane struck.

“How could a plane hit the Twin Towers,” York said. “Then the second one hit and obviously there was something going on. It was very sad and tragic.”

The Coast Guard has what they term a “layered defense.” Their security posture starts far outside their territorial sea.

The have implemented an Automatic Identification System with vessels, required for foreign and U.S. flagged vessels, which broadcasts their speed and identification.

“It gives us a better picture of our maritime domain awareness,” York said. “We kind of know what is coming and what is going.”

Additionally, notice of arrival for vessels was increased from 24 hours prior to 96, giving the Coast Guard time to look at crew and cargo lists, lasts ports of call and its registry. That information is shared with other organizations within the Department of Homeland Security.

In Alaska, the Coast Guard is making itself seen out on the water a lot more than pre 9/11. Even though the threat is lower in Alaska the Coast Guard posture is just as strong as in the Lower 48.

“You’ll see us with guns mounted on vessels a lot more,” York said. “There are requirements to escort cruise ships, and patrol more. The vessels and facilities themselves are required to have security plans. And we have not lowered any of our other missions. We still do search and rescue, fisheries enforcement, aids to navigation and pollution response.”

On a national scale the Maritime Safety and Security and Maritime Security Response Teams, specialized units within the Coast Guard whose primary function is security, are deployed to different cities to perform specific duties. That might include security at an high-profile event or a need for military personnel.

The Coast Guard has also formed Area Maritime Security Committees, a security partnership of other organizations within a community or town.

Said York, “Basically it gets everybody talking. That was the big lesson from 9/11. People had pertinent pieces of information but they weren’t telling other folks.”

Juneau’s AMSC provides the Captain of the Port, Sector Juneau Commander Captain Scott Bornemann, with advice on how to conduct security activities in the area and how they will affect the industry.

“To provide local flavor so to speak,” CG District 17 Port Security Specialist Keith Merchant. “Of what will work best in the particular area.”

In April of 2011, then CG Sector Juneau Commander Captain Melissa Bert presented Andrew Greene, chairman of the AMSC as well as port manager for the Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska, with an award for exemplary service.

The AMSC consists of various federal, state and local government partners and industry representatives and stakeholders working to implement security standards in relation to the maritime environment. It is basically an advisory board to the COP.

The AMSC was implemented out of the Marine Transportation Security Act of 2002 in response to the events of 9/11. Merchant deals with security facility plans, committee functions, and port risk assessments.

Merchant was in the Air Force at Anchorage’s Elmendorf Base when attacks occurred.

“It affected me several ways,” Merchant said. “I remember I was up all day after that. We worked 30 days straight with no days off, and then we started deploying a lot. I went to the Philippines, and Kuwait. I spent a lot of time away of home. There were so many different feelings.”

Merchant stated the biggest improvement since 9/11, as far as the Coast Guard is concerned, is the working relationships between the port stakeholders.

“Because before that they had port security committees but they were not as robust or had as much emphasis on the security aspect,” Merchant said. “But now, everyone who has a stake in the ports works together to make sure everything is as secure as it can be.”

The evolution of a more efficient TSA

Juneau’s Homeland Security Transportation Security Administration Program Manager Keith Whitehead said there is a lot more openness between State and Federal agencies since 9/11.

“Obviously communication has changed dramatically,” Whitehead said. “You have a lot more intelligence groups tied together communicating on a regular basis.”

TSA has 20 different layers of security, the most visible being the work forces at checkpoints, but they also have regulatory components and canine components.

Juneau TSA covers Southeast Alaska. There is a second hub in Anchorage that covers Central Alaska and another in Fairbanks that works the Northern region. There are about 27 airports in Alaska that are federalized, seven in Southeast. TSA also has responsibility for General Aviation Airports, smaller landing areas like Hoonah or seaplane bases as in Craig.

The TSA regulatory component oversees the aircraft operator’s security plans and airport security plans, to ensure compliance to national standards as far as fencing, access and such. They also work with cargo carriers on inspections and security compliance.

Juneau has three canine units used for explosive detection to service Southeast. They also work with other agencies performing security inspections for cruise line companies.

“Anywhere is at risk,” Whitehead said. “Here’s the reality, you are only as good as your weakest link. If somebody intended to do harm they would look at the easiest place to do it. So is that in Alaska? Is that in Texas? Who knows? The goal is to keep security at a very high level and constantly improve.”

Whitehead said he started as a TSO, and they would screen passengers in the Juneau airport lobby with Explosive Trace Detection devices by hand. They now have advanced to the 3D-type CAT S devices and millimeter waves and backscatter technology; devices that use radio waves instead of x-ray. TSA is also encouraged by new technology that will enable passengers to not have to remove their shoes at checkpoints.

“Technologies out there have greatly improved what we are doing,” Whitehead said. “And what our capabilities are and what we can screen for. You always need to consider that the threats are constantly changing. We are on a heightened awareness every day, because that day could be the day.”

Ongoing training keeps TSA employees from becoming complacent. They have five hours of training each week in addition to their duties.

“We challenge them on a regular basis,” Whitehead said. “We are upping the bar to the next level all the time. The bad guys are never going away. They are still out there. We clearly want to ensure that the public is safe. The most difficult thing is balancing high quality security with high quality customer service. I think our folks here in Southeast do it exceptionally well. The reality is things are in place for a reason.”

Whitehead has been with TSA since it’s start in Alaska. He joined in 2002 after the events of 9/11.

“I was stunned,” Whitehead, a Juneau electrical engineer at the time, said. “It was disbelief, the planes going into the buildings, the collapse, it was just a shock.”

A year later he came to TSA.

“I felt, obviously, a form of patriotism,” Whitehead said. “Like many I was frustrated with what was going on and wanted to help. I felt like I had some skills that could support the organization.”

The layers of U.S. aviation security implemented since 9/11 include intelligence, customs and border protection, joint terrorism task force, no-fly list and passenger pre-screening, crew vetting, visible intermodal prevention and response, canines, behavior detection officers, travel document checker, checkpoint and transportation security officers, checked baggage, transportation security inspectors, random employee screening, bomb appraisal officers, federal air marshal service, federal flight deck officers, trained flight crew, law enforcement officers, and the hardened cockpit door.

“That was one of the first things TSA did,” Whitehead said. “They required those doors so no one could get in anymore. But obviously the passengers make up one component of security, because they are no longer going to willingly go along with an incident. They are the last line of defense.”

Dramatic changes at the airport

At the Juneau airport the public sees the changes at the passenger and baggage screening checkpoints.

“As far as the airport itself and what we do there are things that are transparent within our security program that have changed dramatically,” Deputy Airport Manager Patricia deLaBruere said. “Security used to be a good portion of our jobs but now it is larger by ten-fold than what it used to be.”

Due to the sensitive security protocols deLaBruere could only provide information on things that are visible to the public.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Civil Aviation Security Field Office transitioned after 9/11 into a whole different group of people and new rules inside the Department of Homeland Security and TSA.

“Things changed on a more intimate level with the airports,” deLaBruere said. “There are things within our security program that makes sure we are in compliance.”

Juneau airport still has their own security guards performing rounds in addition to the TSA officers.

DeLaBruere stated there are constant changes involving security directives based on intelligence.

An example after 9/11 was the screening of vehicles in the parking lot at the airport and closing down the road that led to the terminal for a short time.

“There are still things like that going on but they may not be as visible to the public,” deLaBruere said. “A lot of what the airport does is from the regulatory standpoint.”

On the morning of 9/11 deLaBruere remembers awakening to the television reports, immediately reporting to work and receiving a deluge of phone calls from the FAA regional directors in Anchorage regarding the shutting down of airspace and airports.

“We were closing everything down,” deLaBruere said. “We were living here for days.”

Medevacs had to be cleared through NORAD in Colorado.

“It was eerie, too, at the same time,” deLaBruere said. “To not hear any traffic and to watch the screens at the tower offices of flights that just were not anywhere on airspace.”

Commercial jets coming from overseas to Anchorage opted to land in Whitehorse, flights were getting out of U.S. airspace immediately and Anchorage International Airport was stuffed and could not take any more landings.

“We were charged here with making sure everything was cut off,” deLaBruere said. “Getting everyone out of the airport that was in here. People were not allowed to access their personal floatplanes. I remember that my mother called and told me not to go to work that day.”

Firefighter protocols changed

Capital City Fire and Rescue Fire Chief Rich Etheridge stated that department protocols changed nationally since 9/11.

“In the past you could go online and find policies and procedures in how departments operate,” Etheridge said. “That is few and far between anymore.”

Etheridge said emphasis is on working with different federal agencies and includes responding to calls, sharing information and going to mutual training.

Etheridge recently attended a program on underwater explosive devices and the hazards and risks Juneau could face. CCFR is sending five members to Valdez in October to go through a Marine firefighting program that will feature attendees from around the world.

CCFR has also improved their own security, changing door combinations, building awareness, daily apparatus checks, and grants for security cameras.

“In our training the big thing we look for is secondary incendiary devices,” Etheridge said. “One explosion to draw everybody in, one big fire to get everybody in one spot and a second explosion designed for first responders.”

In the event of a major terrorist event in Juneau, CCFR’s first line of defense response is their 911-dispatch center, which coordinates all the law enforcement and rescue teams in town. The second point of contact would be the rescue coordination center in Anchorage.

“They would coordinate the different agencies and make phone calls for us,” Etheridge said. “Arranging for military aircraft, National Guard forces, or trying to get a group of firefighters from Anchorage or Fairbanks. The security of operations and how we look at things and do things is constantly evolving.”

Terrorism aside, what looms for Juneau first responders is budget cuts.

“We haven’t had the drastic cuts that a lot of departments have had,” Etheridge said. “But with the budget deficit the city is facing this year it is pretty likely we will be taking some cuts. Seventy-five percent of our budget is personnel costs and the other big chunk is training and quality equipment. The only places we have to cut is training or some of the public services we have to offer. We are trying to see how we can absorb things in the department so the public doesn’t feel that impact.”

Etheridge stated that the nation’s and Juneau’s first responders have a long history of doing more for less.

“As was evident on 9/11,” Etheridge said. “We react to 911 calls and fix what the problem is, no matter of budget shortfalls or equipment that is broken down.”

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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