Sky Harbor International Airport is prepared to spend up to $15 million on surveillance equipment designed to detect terrorists or other criminals lurking around the airport's edges.
The technology, known as a perimeter intrusion detection system, could consist of lasers and closed-circuit televisions, new fence-line wiring and below-ground sensors.
None of the upgrades is being mandated by the federal government. While security at Sky Harbor meets or exceeds current standards, airport officials say they still believe the expense is necessary.
"Every airport in the country met the standards the day of the September 11 attacks," said Carl Newman, assistant aviation director. "No one said the folks in Boston didn't meet those standards, but clearly there was room for improvement."
The intrusion system could better protect Sky Harbor from such remote threats as terrorists launching shoulder-fired missiles from just outside the airport, to petty criminals who try to outrun police by climbing over the fence.
The TSA is testing similar perimeter security systems at a handful of airports nationwide, said Nico Melendez, an agency spokesman.
The technology likely will not be in place until 2007 or later. Currently, the airport uses police patrols and other measures that officials declined to discuss -- for security reasons -- to protect Sky Harbor from attack.
Officials are not yet sure which technologies and sensors will be used where. A subcommittee of the Aviation Advisory Board is expected to vote Monday to hire a consultant to evaluate the airport's
14 miles of fencing to determine what is needed. That process is expected to cost $650,000 and take six to nine months to complete.
The move to shore up the perimeter is not the result of a security breach this summer in which a man in a stolen truck plowed through the fence and wound up on the taxiway.
The man sped past several airplanes before crashing into a second fence.
It prompted officials to re-evaluate the airport's fence line; more than $16 million in improvements, including cable restraint systems, concrete barriers and hydraulic gates have been recommended.
But those upgrades focus more on vehicular threats.
The new proposals are designed to stop covert people from breaching the perimeter and are the result of a master security plan commissioned by Sky Harbor officials after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Airport officials have earmarked about $100 million over 10 years for improvements, which so far have included bomb-proofing, installing explosive-resistant garbage cans, instituting a new fingerprinting system, placing barricades in front of doors and beefing up the number of dog teams on the premises.
Money for the work comes from Sky Harbor's capital improvement program.
Feds consider relaxing carry-on rules
Phoenix officials' desire to beef up perimeter security at Sky Harbor International Airport comes at a time when federal officials are actually considering loosening the rules that control which items passengers can bring with them on airplanes.
The differing tactics underscore how fluid homeland security can be and how officials are constantly trying to adapt so they can better respond to threats.
The current passenger screening regulations were adopted by the Transportation Security Administration shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
These days, passengers are prohibited from bringing a range of items with them on a plane via their carry-on luggage. Some items are fairly obvious, such as guns and long knives. But others, including lighters, razors, eyelash curlers and toy weapons aren't as well known, despite efforts by the government to publicize what is and is not allowed.
Last year, the TSA found more than 7 million banned items at security checkpoints, but most of those were not firearms, explosives or knives with blades more than 3 inches long.
So the government may change what is allowed so it can better focus on prohibited items deemed especially dangerous.
Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesman, said this week that it would likely be January before any revisions to the banned items list are announced.
A complete list of what can and cannot be brought on a plane in checked or carry-on luggage is available at www.tsa.gov.
-- Ginger D. Richardson
Sky Harbor pleased with 'puffer' tests
One of the newer homeland security technologies in place at Sky Harbor International Airport is the Explosive Detection Trace Portal, commonly known as the "puffer" machine.
The device, which is at Security Checkpoint "A" in Terminal 4, is designed to screen people for explosives, without pat-downs.
So far, it appears to be a success, officials say.
The machine, which has been in place since May, works by releasing several puffs of air on the passenger. The puffs dislodge microscopic particles from the person's clothing. The device then analyzes those particles and the air for explosive residue.
A computerized voice lets the passenger know when it is OK to leave the machines. The devices are considered state-of-the-art technology in detecting plastic or other non-metallic explosive substances.
The Transportation Security Administration is testing the machines at 14 airports nationwide, including Los Angeles International, Las Vegas McCarran and San Francisco.
The agency hopes to expand the program in January, eventually putting the machines in the nation's 40 busiest airports. It's not clear, however, if or when Sky Harbor will get another of the devices.
-- Ginger D. Richardson
Reach the reporter at ginger.richardson@arizona republic.com or (602) 444-2474.