Miami airport to train all 35,000 workers to spot suspicious people

September 08, 2006|By Ken Kaye | Ken Kaye,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

MIAMI -- Passengers at Miami International Airport soon will be scrutinized by many sets of eyes, beyond federal security officers and police.

If officials have their way, all 35,000 of the airport's workers - including janitors, skycaps, even Starbucks coffee servers - will be trained to watch travelers for suspicious movements. At other airports, such training is typically limited to security and law enforcement officers, though Boston's Logan Airport has offered similar instructions to hundreds of ticket agents, curbside attendants and other workers.

Authorities at about a dozen airports around the country, including Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, are using "behavior pattern recognition" - monitoring passengers' actions and expressions in hopes of spotting terrorists. But Miami is to become the first airport in the nation where all employees will receive behavior recognition training to spot suspicious people or potential terrorists.

"Every employee who works around [the] airport goes to the bathroom and goes to lunch, and wherever they are, they're going to be trained to recognize behavior that is suspicious," airport spokesman Greg Chin said.

About 1,600 Miami-Dade Aviation Department employees started training yesterday. The first class included upper-level administrators. Eventually, the course will be offered to 35,000 airport employees. "The aim is to have as many eyes and ears in the airport as possible," Chin said.

About 88,000 passengers come and go from Miami International each day.

Miami-Dade County police officers, and specifically those under the airport's incident containment team, will be the course instructors. Those officers have been trained by New Age Security Solutions of Washington, D.C., Chin said.

Rafi Ron, president of that firm, is the former security director for Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, and he pioneered training employees to recognize potentially dangerous behavior.

"This is not profiling," said airport spokesman Marc Henderson. "You're looking for patterns that would be out of the ordinary."

Ann Davis, a Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman in Boston, where the agency launched its behavior screening effort shortly after Sept. 11, said the program has yielded about 95 arrests for fraudulent documents, money and drug smuggling, and other offenses. But she said it is unclear whether any of the arrests were connected to terrorism.

"It has been successful in catching bad guys, but not bad terrorist guys," said Richard Bloom, a dean who directs terrorism and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz.

Ken Kaye writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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