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Federal Screeners Take Over at Airport

Post-9/11 security measure begins at John Wayne. Bomb-detection devices are due by the end of year.

October 17, 2002|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta inaugurated the use of federal screeners at John Wayne Airport on Wednesday and announced that high-tech equipment to check baggage for explosives will be in place by December.

About 150 screeners hired by the Transportation Security Administration began reporting for duty earlier in the day at passenger security checkpoints.

John Wayne will have a full staff of 193 screeners by next month, Mineta said.

The new workers are federal employees who are doing a job previously done by a private security company. Mineta said the federal screeners received extensive training and will provide air travelers "world-class security and world-class service."

Federal security workers have to meet stiffer requirements than private screeners. They must undergo 40 hours of classroom instruction and 60 hours of on-the-job training. They also have to be U.S. citizens with at least a high school education or its equivalency. Private screeners had no citizenship, education or federally mandated training requirements.

Pedro Lopez, 42, of Santa Ana was typical of the new screeners. Lopez retired from the U.S. Army but was lured out of retirement by the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"That convinced me that I needed to do something to serve my country again. I feel that I am providing security to my fellow citizens again," Lopez said. "The knowledge I picked up about explosives and demolitions in the Army will help me here."

Mineta said John Wayne will be among the first airports in the country to get machines capable of detecting explosives and explosive residue in baggage. The equipment will be operational by Dec. 31, he said.

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