Editorial: Sounding the alarm
March 2, 2013
Security changes at Yampa Valley Regional Airport
The federal government either doesn’t take security seriously or hasn’t been honest with the American public about the value of body-imaging scanners
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, which makes the federal government's actions during the past couple of weeks as it relates to security at airports across the country all the more baffling.
Earlier this week, the Transportation Security Administration removed Yampa Valley Regional Airport's sophisticated body-imaging scanner and instructed airport officials to reinstate older security measures including a walk-through metal detector, handheld wands and physical pat-downs. Similar actions have taken place at other regional airports across the country.
The reason for the step backward in security measures? Political correctness gone awry. The U.S. government had contracted with a company called Rapiscan Systems to provide body-imaging scanners for airports. But that company's machines produced life-like images of the passengers being screened, leading to privacy concerns from citizens and lawmakers. So Rapiscan was given until June to push out a software fix that would create less realistic images of passengers. When it became clear the company couldn't hit the deadline, its contract with the government was cut.
The result is a shortage of body-imaging scanners made by L-3 Communications, whose machines create cartoon-like images of screened passengers. Yampa Valley Regional Airport had an L-3 machine, which TSA determined would be better used at a larger airport somewhere else. The significance of body-scanning machines is that they're supposed to be able to quickly identify metallic and non-metallic objects — including liquids — that could pose security threats.
Airport Manager Dave Ruppel is upset about the TSA's decision, and we can't blame him, nor can we fault his reasoning.
A security hole in the nation's aviation system is a potential risk whether it's at Yampa Valley Regional Airport or Denver International Airport. Once passengers make it through security at a regional airport, there typically is no additional screening at subsequent airports where flight connections are made. Worse, the current security situation was created only by a false sense of urgency from the federal government.
Most Americans understand that traveling by plane became a different experience after the tragedies of 9/11. For the most part, we've all adapted to the new reality and embraced the collective mindset that steps toward increasing national security might result in certain sacrifices. The minor inconveniences of taking off our shoes, removing liquids from our carry-on luggage and spending a few seconds standing still in a body-imaging scanner are part of that sacrifice. We do them because we believe we are playing our part in making our country more secure, and because our elected leaders have told us these measures are necessary for that security.
And that is why the government's recent actions are so frustrating. If the emphasis is on security, why would we take steps that have the potential to increase the risk of breaches in the system? It's hard to fathom that the privacy issues created by Rapiscan's life-like images trumped overall security in our nation's airport framework.
So now we're left to patiently wait for a new L-3 machine to eventually be sent our way, and to hope that less sophisticated equipment and security procedures here and at other smaller airports across the country don't lead to the unthinkable.
Conversely, if the federal government and the TSA aren't concerned about the shortage of body-imaging equipment because they don't believe it's as essential to security as the public has been made to believe, then we've been wasting a lot of taxpayer time and money throughout the years on expensive machines.