TSA awards grants to test airport security technology

The Transportation Security Administration awarded eight airports $7.8 million in grants to evaluate whether new technology will improve security and can be applied at other airports, an agency spokesman said Wednesday.

Under a new pilot program, selected airports will test technology ranging from advanced surveillance systems to secure communications systems and physical barriers.

While TSA has focused during the last year on improving passenger and baggage screening at airports, the pilot program is intended to find technology that can improve security at airport terminals and perimeters.

The agency plans to award another $9.2 million in grants within the next three weeks to other airports who also will evaluate new technology, said spokesman Darrin Kayser.

Airports selected for the initial round of grants are T.F Green State Airport in Rhode Island, Newark International Airport, Helena Regional Airport in Montana, Boston's Logan International Airport, Pittsburgh International Airport, Chicago Midway Airport, Denver International Airport, and Key West International Airport in Florida.

Congress allocated $17 million for the pilot program in fiscal 2002. The agency reviewed grant applications until Oct. 10 of this year, Kayser said.

In order to qualify for a grant, an airport had to demonstrate that new technology could be installed and evaluated within 12 to 18 months, used in broad ways, and applied at other airports, Kayser said.

"The airports are developing these technologies and testing them for us," Kayser said. "And then hopefully after a year we'll know which ones are good and can be used at other airports."

For example, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation was awarded $1.18 million to install a radar-based display system that can detect "rogue" people or vehicles inside the airport perimeter. The grant will help determine if an existing radar system that was installed to prevent ground aircraft collisions can be modified to include a security function.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Rhode Island Airport Corporation and Key West International Airport were each awarded grants to purchase and install video surveillance technology to detect and track people and vehicles that breach their perimeters.

Chicago Midway Airport will use its grant to purchase a new physical barrier system. If a passenger fails to follow screener instructions and leaves a checkpoint prematurely, or decides to circumvent a checkpoint by entering a terminal through an exit lane, physical gates would be deployed, which would help the airport avoid having to evacuate a terminal and re-screen all of the people in it.

Other technologies that will be tested through the program include sensors, network analysis tools and video systems to monitor exit lanes.

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