ALBANY, N.Y. – Nineteen Transportation Security Administration employees from five upstate New York airports played a vital role in security efforts during the Papal visit to the United States last week, including TSA officers from Albany International Airport (ALB), Buffalo-Niagara International Airport (BUF), Niagara Falls International Airport (IAG), Plattsburgh International Airport (PBG) and Adirondack Regional Airport (SLK).
TSA officers from more than 70 airports across the nation, all volunteers, assisted with screening operations when Pope Francis visited Washington, DC, New York and Philadelphia. The TSA officers from New York were deployed to Philadelphia where they assisted with security at venues where the Pope was addressing large crowds in public. The Department of Homeland Security Secretary designated Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States and the 70th United Nations General Assembly as national special security events. When an event is designated as such, the Secret Service is the lead agency for implementing a seamless security plan which involves numerous local, state and federal partners, including TSA.
The Secret Service called on the expertise of the TSA officers who are well practiced at screening people.
At one of the checkpoints for the Papal mass, IAG supervisory TSA officer Andrew Wagner said he overheard a father talking to his son as they approached the checkpoint in the large crowd. The man leaned over and “said to his son that it was good that TSA was conducting the checkpoint screening because ‘nobody can do this better than TSA.’”
At the various venues the “screening experience was similar to what we were used to, but at the same time different from airport screening because the Secret Service was the lead agency,” explained BUF TSA officer David Daigler. TSA officers adhered to Secret Service protocols for screening, which differed slightly from airport checkpoint procedures. For example, the list of prohibited items at checkpoints where the public was cleared to see the Pope included items such as umbrellas, metal and glass containers and even pieces of whole fruit.
“Our mission was to protect the Pope and the public who were in attendance to see him and to do so, we had to adhere to the Secret Service’s standard operating procedures,” said Lead Transportation Security Officer Tahara Pleasure, who works at ALB.
TSA officers usually work indoors, but for these public events for the Pope, TSA officers conducted their screening activities outdoors, under tents and they discovered that windy conditions could sometimes cause the walk-through metal detectors to alarm. They also conducted physical bag checks of people’s items as required by the Secret Service—something that the x-ray machines usually do at airport checkpoints. The officers also used hand-held metal detector wands at the venue checkpoints, which is not common in the airport environment.
BUF TSA officer Jeffrey Daege said a few people asked him where the TSA Pre✓® line was to get into the venues. “I had to chuckle at that,” he said. “Everyone went through the same checkpoint experience for the Pope,” not like getting expedited screening at TSA Pre✓® lanes at airports.
ALB TSA officer Jacqueline Seabury skipped a family wedding to volunteer for the security detail. “I was very excited to have the opportunity to work for the Secret Service and experience the dynamics of working for them,” she said. Seabury was stationed to provide security near one of the main stages where entertainment was scheduled. “We got there at 5:30 p.m. and worked through the night. I went to bed at 4:30 a.m.”
“My family was concerned about my safety,” Seabury said. “But it felt like Philadelphia was the safest place to be in America” with so many agencies coming together to provide security for the public.
“I was proud to have the many TSA officers from the upstate New York region travel to Philadelphia to assist in this historic and significant event,” said Bart Johnson, TSA’s Federal Security Director for upstate New York. “All of the officers involved provided their invaluable expertise in keeping the community safe during the visit of Pope Francis.”
“My team was so excited to participate in this event. With their hard work and efforts, they were determined to ensure this historic event was a success,” said ALB Transportation Security Manager Ruth Germani, who headed the volunteer TSA officers from upstate New York.