TAMPA — Tampa International Airport will enhance security at its employee parking lot and shuttle bus that crosses a runway, completing a fence around the lot, making random checks of bus riders' identification badges and adding lighting and patrols, airport officials said Thursday.
The enhancements will be phased in as soon as possible with new policies for badge checks in place by Thursday while the infrastructure improvements also will be completed soon.
Security issues came to light when airline employees contacted The Tampa Tribune last month.
More than three dozen crew members and ramp and ticket counter employees told the Tribune that lax security on the parking and shuttle system was a potential danger to the airport, passengers and crew.
They said the parking and shuttle operation did not appear to measure up to what they experienced at some other airports.
“We think the parking lot is plenty safe, but if employees don't feel safe, we re going to make some changes,” Tampa International Communications Manager Emily Nipps said.
“We are going to implement random identification checks at the employee lot and (airport) terminal. Everyone is going to have to have an airport approved photo ID badge,” she said. “We are enhancing security lighting as well, so it's brighter and easier to see, and increasing foot patrols in and around the lot,” she said.
One-time capital costs for the improvements will be about $10,000 and paid for from savings in the operating and maintenance budget.
“It's a cost effective way for additional security and to address the concerns,” Nipps said.
Security officials at other airports and military installations agree any perimeter defense can be circumvented, most if not all can be penetrated, but it is important not to provide a “free ride” for those who might have bad intentions.
“As security professionals we do our best to harden potential targets,” said Lauren Stover, director of security for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department at Miami International Airport.
“At Miami International, when I first got here in 2006, one of the initial countermeasures I instituted was securing our employee busses from a possible threat of an explosive being planted on the bus,” Stover said in an email.
“An exploding employee bus in front of the terminal is a potential threat. With suicide bombers all bets are off which is why checking IDs is nothing next to actually screening all employees if they're going into a secured area or will be near aircraft. That's a no-brainer.”
Airport security staff monitor Tampa International's shuttle buses remotely from a control center and can use a a device to “deactivate” or stop the vehicle if its strays off path or anything unusual happens.
But it's been possible for people to walk from the street into the sprawling lot, which is mostly but not fully enclosed by a security fence.
Airport officials met with airline station managers in recent days to discuss the parking and shuttle issues.
Nipps said employees who have airport identification badges will continue to be able to take friends or relatives on the bus. Some employees do that when using flights at the airport, a perquisite they did not want to lose.
The security concerns arose after Tampa International raised employee parking fees in October, along with parking fees for the general public. Some employees questioned what they were getting for the increase. Airlines pay employee parking fees at the Tampa airport with the exception of Southwest Airlines, whose workers pay their own.
Airport officials said they were losing $700,000 annualy on employee parking, creating the need to increase fees.