ANCHORAGE - Airports in Alaska's rural communities are part of the new front line in the U.S. war on terrorism, and travelers soon can expect the same scrutiny as they get in big cities.
Some scoff at the idea that travelers in Kotzebue, Kodiak, Cordova and 15 other rural communities should get the same treatment as Boston travelers, but not if they've heard Ken Jarman, the U.S. Department of Transportation's security chief for central Alaska.
"The federal government sees passengers flying through those (rural) airports as important as everybody flying through Anchorage, and accordingly they need the same kind of protection," Jarman said.
"Conversely, we don't want terrorists ... getting into the transportation system because of lax security. If we strengthen security just at the major airports, the terrorists are going to go where there is no security or lax security. That's the way they operate. They will take advantage of identified vulnerability."
Congress gave the new Transportation Security Administration until Nov. 19 to put passenger screeners in every large and medium-size airport in the country.
The screeners are the frontline soldiers, Jarman said. Throughout rural Alaska local residents are being hired for the jobs. In Bethel, for example, 25 people will be hired. Petersburg will get 11 new jobs, Sitka will have nine.
About 35 screeners began working at Juneau Airport in late September.
In all, more than 600 screeners will be hired throughout the state.
They will receive nearly three weeks of intensive training, which includes classes and hands-on experience at the Anchorage airport. Base salaries range from $23,600 to $35,400, although most of the screeners will work part-time and earn less, Jarman said.
Security levels will ratchet up further by Dec. 31 as bomb-sniffing devices are installed, Jarman said. Like passenger screening, the explosives detectors will be required in the state's 21 largest airports, including Juneau.