Yampa Valley Regional Airport director confident in security

The federal government has been working for a year to improve security at airports in an attempt to prevent another tragedy like that of Sept. 11, 2001. And those measures, thus far, have not been fully successful.

Several people, including media crews out to prove a point, have slipped past "tightened security."

But Routt County Sheriff John Warner said he believes the Yampa Valley Regional Airport is secure, and was secure before the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I've got no concerns," he said. "I believe a small airport like ours has better security than the large ones. The screeners are good and there are generally fewer passengers."

The minute he heard that airplanes crashed into the World Trade Centers as the result of a terrorist action, he dispatched deputies to the airport, not even knowing the full circumstances of the attack or what the recommended law enforcement response was to be.

"We were seeing what was happening on television quicker than we heard from the FFA," he said.

He took two actions he made sure a law enforcement presence was felt at the airport and helped set up a blockade that prevented any vehicle from getting closer than 300 feet to the airport.

That blockade is still present, even if sheriff's deputies are not.

Warner pulled his deputies from airport patrol three weeks ago when airport officials contracted with an independent security firm.

But the extra duty was a drain on Warner's department. He had two officers a day stationed at the airport, which took two officers off patrol and drove overtime up for the entire department.

"It basically lowered the level of service we could provide on patrol," he said. "We ran pretty short on patrol from Sept. 11 until three weeks ago."

Though he was short manpower, he wasn't short money to fund the additional stations. The federal government reimbursed the Routt County Sheriff's Department for the manpower used to protect and screen at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

Yampa Valley Regional Airport is a small airport with only three flights arriving and departing daily all of them on small, commuter planes.

The airport closed Sept. 11, as well as all other airports in the United States. It did not reopen until Sept. 14 when it could assure the Federal Aviation Administration required security measures were in place. These measures included establishing a 300-foot perimeter and having an armed law enforcement officer stationed at the security checkpoint in addition to a National Guardsman stationed there by Gov. Bill Owens.

"It was nice to have the National Guard there, but they had no enforcement authority," Warner said. "It was a duplication of a service we were already providing."

Owens removed the National Guardsmen from the airport in May.

According to Airport Director Jim Parker, other security measures taken are not being released to the public.

The biggest effects Sept. 11 had on airports are the changes to security. Beginning in November, the federal government will take over all passenger and baggage screening. The Yampa Valley Regional Airport has contracted with the Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA) to provide that service and that agency will be in charge of hiring and training screeners.

"I'm comfortable the screening of passengers is going well," Parker said.

Warner said he was completely confident in the airport's baggage and passenger screeners.

"I've got no security concerns," he said. "I believe the screeners and the private security do an excellent job."

The increased security measures have impacted the airport's budget in that a security guard must be paid to man the airport for 10 hours a day.

"My budget didn't include an armed security officer," Parker said.

Some of that expense will be reimbursed by the federal government, but ongoing security will not be covered.

The federal government's initial security grants provided funds to purchase concrete barriers, signs and a portion of the labor needed to install those additional security measures.

"The impact on the budget is short term because we'll be reimbursed for some of those costs," Parker said.

The major impact new security procedures will have on the airport's budget is the possible remodel of the terminal to accommodate a requirement that all baggage be screened. Currently, checked baggage is screened randomly, Parker said.

"I'm concerned about where the space to accommodate the tasks set forth by the TSA come from," he said. "Does it come from the terminal, the concessions, the passenger lounges?"

Today, Yampa Valley Airport employees are aware of the threat of another attack, but no specific additional security measures were required as of Tuesday.

"We'll tighten security on our own and make sure every one is vigilant," Parker said.

Warner, too, will be aware.

"We have to remember that this isn't over yet," he said. "What a time to hit us when we're memorializing the tragedy from a year ago."

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