Approximately 200 TSA employees and retirees were on hand as officials from the TSA team at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) commemorated the 20th anniversary of the federalization of the airport.
Roughly 900 TSA employees work at PHL today, and 137 of them have been with the agency for all 20 years. The 20-year employees and a handful of recent retirees were honored at the event as TSA leadership presented them with plaques and lapel pins to commemorate their years of service.
“From our initial federalization as a TSA airport on September 10, 2002, until the present moment, our TSA team here at Philadelphia has been focused on our mission with the thoughts of those who were murdered by the terrorists 20 years ago, imprinted in our minds,” said PHL Federal Security Director Gerardo Spero. “We are dedicated to our jobs so there is not another catastrophic 9/11-type event.”
Spero added, “In the early days, our airport team had no standard operating procedures, no computers and no cellphones. Our busiest day was July 1, 2005, when we screened 54,571 people at our checkpoints. The slowest day for us was on Jan. 23, 2016, when we screened only 160 people when more than 22 inches of snow fell at the airport.”
He said during the last 20 years, TSA officers at PHL have stopped more than 1,000 guns at the airport’s checkpoints.
The TSA team at PHL has screened more than 250 million people. “That is one quarter of a billion people,” Spero pointed out. “That also means roughly 500 million carry-on bags and millions of checked bags, but the most important fact is we’ve been 100% successful in carrying out our mission, and we couldn’t have done that without the first classes of folks who answered the call to duty 20 years ago.”
Nearly 4,700 employees have been “part of our TSA family at Philadelphia, but only 137 have been here from the beginning and are still here today,” Spero noted. He singled out Victoria Bunker, “who was our very first TSA employee.”
Bunker was one of the first TSA employees who started at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) as a member of the mobile screening force and ended up in Philadelphia. Currently a human resources specialist at PHL, she remembers that during TSA’s earliest days, the airport had very few women screeners. “We did a lot of walking” throughout the airport to get to where they were needed.
Linda Zimmerman, one of the first 300 TSA employees hired to help launch BWI, was also on hand for the PHL anniversary commemoration. Recently retired, Zimmerman said in the early days they worked seven days a week for 12 hours a day.
In the years since launching, TSA has developed and implemented strong security procedures, built a well-trained and highly skilled professional workforce, and introduced a wide array of state-of-the-art technologies to screen passengers, baggage and cargo.
During the past two decades, “we have met and overcome numerous challenges from the initial start-up to enhancing our security posture and procedures to make the adjustments necessary to address the evolving threats of our adversaries,” Spero said.
He pointed out that the Philadelphia team’s “dedication and perseverance is furthered by the fact that we have 137 employees who have been here at Philadelphia every year for the last 20 years – our entire existence. They are our leaders who serve as role models to our new hires, many of whom were just toddlers on 9/11.”
“We’ve rolled out so many new programs, it’s hard to remember them all,” Spero said, reciting a list of programs filled with acronyms, such as ASAP (Aviation Screening Assessment Program) now FET (Field Evaluation Team), VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response), Playbook, the K-9 program, EAPS (Enhanced Accessible Property Screening), ASLs (Automated Screening Lanes), CTs (Computed Tomography) and WTMDs (Walk-Through Metal Detector).
PHL, which was the Category X Airport (nation’s largest airports) of the Year in 2017, saw heightened security when the city hosted a historic visit by the Pope, the Democratic National Convention and most recently successfully supported Operation Allies Welcome. The city of Philadelphia issued a resolution declaring Nov. 19, 2019, as TSA Appreciation Day.
“We’ve lived through protests, strikes, construction, liquid and printer cartridge threats, bomb threats, periods of heightened awareness, severe weather, VIP visits, government shutdowns and a pandemic. We’ve even changed our uniforms from maroon and white to blue,” Spero added.
By Lisa Farbstein, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs