Our team: TSA Colorado

Wednesday, September 2, 2020
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The TSA operation in Colorado is home to 14 airports and more than 1,300 TSA employees.

Over 1,100 of those employees work under the iconic white canopies at the Denver International Airport (DEN), which serves as the hub for the state. DEN is actually the largest employer in the state of Colorado.

Many people recognize this airport for its unique artwork and the conspiracy theories that surround it, such as the plaque dedicated to the new world order that can be found near the South security checkpoint, or the statue of a blue stallion with glowing red eyes that is rumored to have killed its creator.

Unsurprisingly, several of Colorado’s airports see massive fluctuations in passenger volume as snow begins to fall in the Rockies. Airports such as Hayden (HDN), Aspen (ASE), Eagle (EGE) and Telluride (TEX) can see their volume skyrocket as local ski resorts open their doors for the season.

Other airports in Colorado like Grand Junction (GJT), Montrose (MTJ), Cortez (CEZ) and Durango (DRO) face the challenges of being nestled in the Rocky Mountains, and the winter weather that is intrinsic to  their locations. Suppliers, Officers and passengers must all brave the elements to arrive at the airport in time. The Logistics Team in Colorado has overcome this obstacle by implementing a decentralized supply structure, with the team split up between DEN, COS and GJT to provide coverage and accessibility to all 14 airports.

The smallest workforce in the state is located in TEX, with a staff of only seven officers. Still, that’s more than could be boasted at Fort Collins (FNL), where there actually aren’t any TSA employees stationed. A team of officers from Denver supports flights departing from FNL, as part of a locally organized TSO Volunteer team.

Colorado’s second-largest airport is Colorado Springs (COS). Serving the Fort Carson Army base and the Air Force Academy, COS sees lots of military personnel flying home on leave. Assistant Federal Security Directors for Law Enforcement Chris Higgins and Mike Neener field requests from over 170 law enforcement agencies, in addition to the federal agencies that have field offices in Denver, including Customs and Border Patrol, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Colorado’s canine screening program is one of the best in the nation. Primarily operating in DEN, the canine team consistently rates at the top of all airports in number of passengers screened by canines. DEN’s canine teams have been at the forefront of the development of the Open Queue Concept Canine Enhanced Screening operation, designed to allow the canine team to screen more passengers and to improve detection rates for the canines.

“I love working in Colorado because it affords me a quality of life that I never imagined was possible,” said Explosives Detection Canine Handler Lonnie Hutson.  “I love the four seasons and being able to quickly drive to the mountains for skiing, fishing and hunting adventures.”

But it isn’t even the geography, art or even the mountains that make Colorado so special. If you ask Federal Security Director (FSD) Larry Nau, it’s the people. Nau remembers arriving in Colorado for the first time from his former home in Rochester, New York and being blown away by the kindness of the people he met there.

One such person is Gene Manzanares, long time Coordination Center Officer (CCO) in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Manzanares joined TSA in May of 2010 as an Officer in EGE. He transferred to GJT a few months later, and was promoted to CCO in 2012. As a CCO, Manzanares coordinates much of the information and communications for the smaller Colorado airports. He also serves as the Personnel Identity Verification managing official in GJT, even extending those services to other agencies that would have to drive all the way to Salt Lake City or Denver without his help. He also enjoys his role as the Network Information Coordinator for the state, distributing briefings to Colorado’s many Network Information Officers.

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“Working in Colorado is the most ideal TSA job location, because we get to meet with and share the same scenic beauty and outdoor activities that people from all over the world are coming here to enjoy,” said TSO Lisa Barber of Montrose, Colorado.

Denver TSO Amanda Alvarez said this: “I love the diversity of our state, different backgrounds and perspectives. I feel there is always new things to learn when working in an international hub like DEN.”

TSA Colorado owes at least a part of its culture to the people behind the wheel, FSD Nau and Deputy FSD Anne Cross. Nau was recognized as the FSD of the Year for 2019, traveling to TSA Headquarters to accept the award from Administrator Pekoske.

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Nau and Cross have “absolutely changed the culture around here in vast ways,” says Transportation Security Manager (TSM) Gabe Saindon. “On countless occasions they’ve taken the feedback of their screening workforce and pioneered changes in support of them.”

Under the Nau and Cross leadership, TSA Colorado developed the TSA Bereavement Team, a group of employees who have made a commitment to be there when someone loses a family member. Members of the Bereavement Team are always ready to lend a hand with leave requests, explain bereavement processes, or even just talk.

The TSA Colorado leadership team has developed a vision statement specific to the state: “Be the model state for transportation security, empowering a unified workforce, fostering continuous innovation and stakeholder collaboration.”

Flying over Rockies

One innovative idea that TSA Colorado has put into place is the Colorado Leadership Symposium. The Symposium provides an opportunity for Supervisors, Managers and other leaders throughout the state to gather and discuss the most important issues impacting the state, and receive specialized training on topics such as employee relations, emotional intelligence and resilience.

Administratively, TSA Colorado has leaned into an employee-centric structure. The Human Resources department has established a system allowing employees easy access to retirement, payroll or benefits specialists with appointments made online or in-person (with adequate social distancing, of course), so that the person with the right information is always available when employees have issues.

TSA Colorado has taken TSA’s strategic goal of “Commit to our People” to heart, and put it into action.

“We’re trying to create a family here,” said Nau.