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Security upgrades around West Michigan following 9/11

Security upgrades at GRR following events of 9/11
Posted at 4:24 AM, Sep 10, 2021

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A lot has changed since September 11, 2001 when terrorists attacked America.

One of the biggest differences across the country is security.

From airports to event venues, companies and governments have upgraded safety measures that still remain to this day.

“We didn’t check IDs at people boarding - checked luggage was never run through any sort of machines to check for explosives,” said WMU Cooley Law Professor Michael McDaniel.

The retired brigadier general was the first Homeland Security advisor for Michigan who also served at the Pentagon. In his classes, he teaches that lawmakers had to move fast to keep people safe.

“One of my big themes on the whole Homeland Security is that we want the law to follow policy decisions, and in this place, we sort of put the laws in place with little debate and then debated the wisdom of those laws afterwards,” said McDaniel.

McDaniel says no one could have predicted that we’d still be focused on these laws 20 years later.

One of the biggest changes still in affect is the Aviation and Transportation Security Act that President Bush signed into law after 9/11.

It required federal officials to screen 100% of checked bags, expand the air marshal service, and reinforce cockpit doors.

It helped form the TSA which added explosives detections systems, required people to take off their shoes following a bombing attempt and implemented the 3-1-1 liquid carry-on rule.

“It’s liquids and gels and really it was in direct to what TSA officials had seen was a threat,” said Stephen Clark, Director of Commercial Development at Ford International Airport.

Before 9/11, visitors at GRR used to be able to walk right up to gates to greet family members and park out in front of baggage claim.

But now, there are concrete pillars there protecting passengers and the building.

“We certainly don’t want vehicles sitting on the front curb because obviously it is a security item,” said Clark. “If a vehicle is unattended, it’s difficult to know exactly why it’s there or not but really at the end of the day it’s all about getting our guests through the facility as quickly as possible.”

Before 9/11 airport screenings were fairly limited.

GRR was one of five airports in the entire country shortly after 9/11 to be part of a pilot program that housed an explosive detection device about the size of a minivan. In fact, it was used for years.

“For the longest time after 9/11 up until the last two years, passengers would get their baggage checked at the ticket counter, take it over to that detection machine, and then drop that bag off with the TSA rep,” said Clark. “We’ve automated that now so the airlines just takes your bag and put it behind but those machines lives out there for a long time and helped serve as a test bed for all of the other machines that were later deployed around the United States.”

The airport has eight TSA stations and also consolidated two concourses into one after 9/11 basically creating one security checkpoint.

There are cameras all over the place and new technology’s being used including biometrics and TSA’s pre-check screening program.

“They’re actually helping to try to speed the security process and also increase the overall safety,” said Clark. “At the end of the day, bricks and mortar aside one of the biggest enhancements to airport security is behind the scenes.”

More security upgrades could be coming to GRR too making sure travelers are safe from potential future attacks.

There are 2,000 badge holders at GRR helping passengers make it on their flights and to their destinations.

“So, airport security is a team sport, right? So, TSA takes on a big piece of it with the screening but it begins at the ticket counter,” said Clark. “So, the idea now – particularly with our partners at TSA in cooperation with us at the airport we’re working together to try to ease that anxiety. What can we do, what technology pieces can we do to make sure that when folks come through the airport they can get through quickly and safely?”

Similar, sometimes hidden, upgrades are all throughout Grand Rapids - including major event venues like Devos Place, Devos Performance Hall, and the Van Andel Arena.

ASM Global, which operates all three, says the locations partnered with local law enforcement long before 9/11.

They also work with Homeland Security.

Since September 11th, they’ve made security upgrades due to the changing landscape of live events.

Those include metal detectors for the public, “no bag" policies, removing exterior smoking areas, redesigning the plazas with built-in security features, upgraded security cameras, and upgraded access card readers on doors throughout the facilities.

Click here for a full timeline on security upgrades from the TSA.