Three TSA officers - Terry Johnson, Walter Francis and Warren Haga - were instrumental in converting a former U.S. Postal Service air mail facility into a facility for rapidly and safely screening 4,600 airline passengers evacuating New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Gustav.
On the grounds of the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, the facility was in its Katrina evacuation state – with 18-month-old food still in the lockers – when it was chosen in early 2007 by the officers as the facility to help local TSA operations screen up to 800 passengers per hour. The preparation was in response to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) inquiry into how to screen such a large volume of evacuating passengers and enhance storm response.
Johnson, Francis and Haga worked on everything from design to physical infrastructure logistics to get the facility ready. They also cleaned and repaired the floors and emptied the trash. Six portable checkpoint lanes were eventually set up inside the building.
The U.S. Postal Service facility, once converted, enabled passengers to be screened for evacuation flights without impacting operations in the airport terminal, where another 28,000 passengers were screened by TSA in the two days leading up to the Sunday, Aug. 31 shut down of all air operations.
During the evacuation efforts, a team of 533 individuals, comprised of officers, federal air marshals and management staff from nearly 40 airports across the country, operated the airport’s four checkpoints. They also conducted the screening operations for evacuees in the U.S. postal facility.
The deployment of these special teams allowed New Orleans-based TSA staff to focus on preparing their families and homes for the storm and evacuating if they were in areas of mandatory evacuation or areas they felt were unsafe. The force of 533 who came in to handle the New Orleans’ evacuations was safely airlifted out of Louis Armstrong before Gustav made landfall.
Just as TSA took action to prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Gustav, the workforce - who evacuated after screening more than 32,000 residents in 48 hours – is preparing to return to Louis Armstrong to resume operations once the airport is reopen. Currently there is no time set for operations to resume as the airport is still without power.
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Photos of TSA operations and facility at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.