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Federal screeners take over at Twin Cities International Airport
All passengers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are now screened for weapons by federal workers. The change from screeners employed by private firms is part of a government mandate to boost security at the nation's airports by Nov. 19.

Frequent flier Michael Coleman has noticed a change in security at Minneapolis-St. Paul International. He says the screening process is much more intense since federal employees took over.

"Usually they scan you and it beeps, OK. But now they have you take your shoes off, empty your pockets and take your jacket; and every time it beeps they have to pat it down. He (the screener) was explaining to me what he was doing, that even in the private area, I'm going to use the back of my hand, but we have to check it," Coleman said.

The government has imposed two deadlines. First, all airports must have federal employees screening passengers by Nov. 19. Second, airports must be able to scan all bags for explosives by Dec. 31. That means the total number of federal screeners at the international airport will increase tenfold from 85 to 850.

The federal security director for Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, Kenneth Kasprisin, says it's impossible to design a security system that's 100 percent effective without shutting the airport down. But he says the new screening will be a vast improvement from the past.

"Are they going to get something on of a catastrophic nature to destroy that airplane through there? No, they're not," Kasprisin said. "Are they going to get something on they can commandeer that aircraft? No. Is there going to be small items that are going to come on board? Yes, but how much of a threat is that really?"

To meet the Dec. 31 deadline, airports must install bomb-detecting machines that will test all bags. Some airports such as Baltimore, Dallas and Seattle argue the government's timetable doesn't give them enough time to install thousands of bomb-scanning machines, and hire new screeners to run them. Some larger airports have asked Congress for a year's extension, but that legislation is stalled in the Senate.

Seattle airport spokesman Bob Parker says the new machines, some of which are the size of sport utility vehicles, not only require installation but major airport construction.

"That includes in some cases restressing the floors, building entirely new rooms to do the screening, and even just obtaining the permits to do that on the ambitious schedule is going to be a huge challenge for large airports," said Parker.

Tim Anderson, deputy executive director of operations for the Metropolitan Airport Commission, says the commission anticipated early on that there could be problems and phased-in the changes. He says the airport should make the year's end deadline with help from the Transportation Security Administration or TSA.

"The explosive detection systems and explosive trace detections equipment, some of it is enroute to us now from the TSA. It's their equipment basically. Much of it is in place and will be in place by the end of the year to meet that 100 percent requirement," Anderson said.

In the past, screeners were some of the lowest paid employees at airports. Officials say as a result, turnover was 400 percent a year nationwide. Now screeners' salaries will range between $26,000 and $46,000 per year in hopes of attracting and keeping better qualified workers.

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