Security at BWI is eased a little Precautions still surpass those before gulf war.

June 04, 1991|By Jon Morgon | Jon Morgon,Evening Sun Staff

You can check your bags at the curb, walk your friends to the gate and maybe park illegally a little longer before getting towed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

But don't be fooled. Life is not back to normal at the state's major airport.

Federal authorities have lowered the "threat level" -- and the accompanying precautions and procedures -- implemented at airports nationwide during the Persian Gulf war. But the current level of security is still higher than it was before the crisis, and may stay that way permanently.

"Just because the conflict over there is over does not mean the terrorist threat is over," said Fritz Korth, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.

In the early stages of the gulf crisis, before U.S. bombers launched raids on Iraq, the FAA for the first time established a series of specific airport security regulations. When the shooting broke out, airports were put on the highest level of alert to guard against terrorism.

At BWI and many other airports, that meant no curbside baggage check in, longer and more thorough checks of baggage and passengers, no non-passengers in the gate areas, no vehicles parked within 100 feet of a terminal, and vigilance against unattended baggage.

Extra security guards, including undercover agents, were brought in and the sensitivity of the metal detectors was increased to detect smaller objects. Tow trucks were posted at the airport to swiftly remove cars left unattended.

Those precautions have been gradually eliminated in recent weeks, and now stand at a level where most passengers probably would not notice a difference between current security levels and those before the crisis.

BWI has resumed curb-side check in and is again allowing non-passengers to accompany passengers past the metal detectors and to the airline gates.

It is still illegal to park in the loading and unloading areas adjacent to the terminal, but the on-site tow trucks have been replaced with a private towing service on call near the airport, said Nick Schaus, deputy administrator of the Maryland Aviation Administration.

The no-parking regulations will be more vigorously enforced than they were before the crisis, and the administration has begun the process of raising the $20 fine for violators, Schaus said.

The sensitivity of metal detectors, operated by the airlines, appears to be back at its pre-crisis level, he said.

The 50-member State Police security detail at the airport was expanded during the crisis and remains larger than before, but Schaus would not say how many extra troopers are on duty.

Patrols by undercover police, begun during the crisis, may become a permanent part of the airport's security, he said.

Police and airpoirt personnel will also remain alert--probably permanently-- for unattended baggage, he said.

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