Jul. 17--D/FW AIRPORT -- Sometimes it's because flights to Mexico and Japan are leaving at the same time.
Or Mary Kay conventioneers are in town.
Or thunderstorms in Chicago are causing cancellations and folks are trying to switch flights.
Or nothing in particular is going on.
There are times when one security checkpoint at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport may become choked with passengers even as checkpoints a short walk away stand completely empty. If one terminal is going like gangbusters, another might be as snoozy as a hibernating bear. That's the reality of a large, fragmented airport like D/FW, which often behaves more like five little airports.
For the Transportation Security Administration, that has caused headaches. (How many times since 9-11 have you heard someone complain about how airport screeners seem just to stand around, doing nothing?)
"What was motivating us was trying to better schedule screeners for the airlines that have traffic at a certain time of day," said Jimmy Wooten, TSA federal security director at D/FW. "We wanted to get the best possible use of our people."
Since Thanksgiving, the TSA has been putting together a system to monitor checkpoints. Located in a nondescript office in Terminal D, the Screening Coordination Center forecasts where crowds at D/FW will be by combining weather radar information, flight trackers, staffing grids, historical data and confidential passenger data obtained from the airlines.
Then, with a system of upgraded terminal cameras, TSA officers see whether the data jibe with what's actually going on.
TSA then uses the Skylink people mover to quickly deploy crews to different parts of the airport, opening and closing security lanes at the 19 checkpoints as needed, said Paul Forgash, director of the Screening Coordination Center.
D/FW's Skylink allows screeners to redeploy to another checkpoint in 17 minutes or less. Before the people mover's introduction in 2005, attempts to create a more flexible deployment often involved screeners taking airport buses from place to place, and long lines sometimes cleared up before they arrived, TSA deputy federal security director Jim Lair said.
It was not always the most effective setup, and the TSA had teams with stopwatches stationed around the airport, looking for better ways to deploy.
At Los Angeles International Airport, Forgash and the stopwatch teams are now helping to design a redeployment scheme that includes screeners walking from terminal to terminal. LAX has no train, but it is also not as spread out as D/FW, nor are the terminals split by a large highway like International Parkway.
The airlines have also chipped in with passenger data. Without even looking, the TSA already knows the busiest times will be Monday, Thursday and Friday afternoon.
During a typical day, 39 percent of passengers enter D/FW through checkpoints in Terminal D. Thirty-six percent will come through Terminal C, and 25 percent through Terminal A.
Meanwhile, Lair sends teams to Grapevine, Arlington, Dallas and Fort Worth to gather convention schedules. The worst screener checkpoint backups typically occur when a large group, such as a convention, comes through the airport. Often a single person will check in a large delegation, for example, making it difficult to predict where more screeners are needed, Lair said.
The system is not complete, Wooten said. More closed-circuit cameras are being mounted at security checkpoints.
Monthly checkpoint management meetings are held to determine how the checkpoints can be improved. Meetings are attended by staff members from the TSA, D/FW operations, airlines, the airport board and concessionaires.
Bryon Okada, (817) 390-7752 email@example.com
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