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08.11.16 – Luncheon Notes

SPOKES Notes written by Teresa Schaal

President Michael Sytsma welcomed everyone and brought the meeting to order.  After announcements he introduced Paul Arnold to lead us in song and Carl VerBeek provided the invocation.  The meeting was then adjourned for lunch.  The meeting reconvened after lunch with President Michael making “Rotary Relevance” remarks about fellow Rotarian, Phil Catlett, being mentioned in MIBIZ, and then announced Rotarians with 25+ years of membership in our Club.  Danielle Rowland introduced the three guests who were in attendance.

There were pictures from the Annual Golf Outing scrolling on a PowerPoint presentation prior to the meeting starting and President Michael hoped people had a chance to see these photos (they are also posted on the website).  Co-Chairs Randy Murphy and Jim Voogd were pleased with the results and Jim announced that more than $18,000 was raised.  He thanked Alan Abraham for being the lead sponsor and Dawn Smith for her help with the event.

Marcie Lewis introduced new member Jessica Scalabrino, Director of Philanthropy at Pilgrim Manor, who then introduced herself to the Club and shared some personal information about herself.

Our keynote speaker was introduced:  Roger Dubuc is the Federal Security Director for the TSA for the Gerald R. Ford International Airport and a number of other airports in northern Indiana and in the Upper Peninsula.  His message is focused on “what we do” and “TSA Information for travelers.”

Roger was with the Coast Guard for 21 years before taking this position and he is also a graduate of The Ohio State University, much to the dismay of members who either align with the University of Michigan or Michigan State.  Today is his 14th anniversary with the TSA.

Roger reminded us of 9/11/01 when four aircraft were high jacked by travelers who took over the airplanes using box cutters, which were allowed to be carried on airplanes at that time.  Two of these hijacked planes hit the World Trade Centers, one hit the Pentagon and the fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.  The men who hijacked these planes were trained in the United States.

In response to this tragedy, the TSA was started on 11/19/01 for all types of transportation, not just airplanes.  In 2003 the TSA became part of the Department of Homeland Security.  Immediately decisions were made to lock cockpit doors to block access to the pilots and the plane’s control mechanisms; air marshals were added; the list of prohibited items was expanded; checkpoint stops were added; positive identifications were initiated; and advanced vetting procedures for employees were introduced.  Over 16,000 people were hired and because this was all new to the country there were a lot of unknowns.  Early on the TSA was jokingly referred to as “Thousands Standing Around” because the strategy was not as refined as it is today and the government had essentially given the TSA a blank check to do what it felt needed to be done to make transportation safe for our country.  Since then, staffing has been adjusted and more staff is on hand during peak hours and fewer are there during slower travel times.

The screening process has changed to identify non-metallic items.  The strategy for those who want to cause trouble is to have many parts of an explosive packed in a bag of some sort that can be assembled when needed.  Terrorists have gone so far as to implant explosives in bodies.

In 2006 liquids were no longer acceptable on airplanes.  Advanced imaging machines were developed to pick up non-metallic items.  Many people had privacy concerns about these advanced imaging machines but we were assured that these images are not saved, shared or transferred.  If a “problem area” arises then that specific area is “patted down” to determine what is causing that image on the machine.

The scanners that view travelers’ personal effects are similar to a CT scanner.  Roger shared a story about a traveler who wanted to have a CT scan so went through the scanner himself.  The bad news is that he came through the scanner traveling 33 miles per hour on the conveyor belt!

Roger recommended that frequent travelers sign up for TSA pre-check approval:  it’s only $85 for 5 years to join and saves the traveler a lot of time and hassles when going through security at airports.

The United States is very attractive as a destination for training foreign pilots.  These students are being thoroughly vetted to help avoid another 9/11 catastrophe.

Most of Roger’s staff have studied criminal justice and related fields.  He has 200 FTEs, with about 100 in Grand Rapids.  He uses a “hub and spoke” model with the Gerald R. Ford International Airport being the hub and the other surrounding airports as spokes.

There are typically 70 departures daily from the GR Ford International Airport from five carriers, which means that 3,500-5,000 passengers are screened each day.  There were 2.8 million travelers screened last year.

He receives daily threat alerts and all of his employees and travelers are on camera every day.  They use Close Circuit TVs for evidence, and for watching employee performance.  The average wait to get through security is 3 minutes; during peak times it’s 10 minutes.  They can process 400 people an hour in 3 lanes.  Next May there will be 6 lanes that can be expandable to 7 lanes (a $60,000 investment) to cut line waits.  Regulatory inspectors assure that the screeners are doing their jobs.  What keeps him up at night is thinking about insider plots:  plots by employees who have unlimited access to aircrafts.

His advice when traveling is to arrive early, particularly if you are on the first flight of the day, or traveling mid-day or between the hours of 3 and 5 p.m.  All alarms are checked and employees practice “pat downs” of travelers.  He advises that you check what’s in your luggage and avoid carrying drugs or guns.  Don’t make bomb jokes.  What sets off alarms are cargo pants, body piercing, and clothes that are “bedazzled.”  When asked to take everything out of your pockets, do so!  There is no profiling.

After a brief Q & A time, President Michael thanked Roger for speaking to the Club today and presented him with a certificate for a clean water filter to be given in his name to a needy family in Nicaragua.  President Michael announced future meetings and noted that there will be no meeting on 9/1 due to the Labor Day weekend.

The meeting was adjourned.


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