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'Tis the season for safety at airport
by Jessica Garcia
Nov 25, 2008 | 983 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<a href=>Tribune file/Debra Reid</a> - Airline passengers walk into the luggage pickup area at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
Tribune file/Debra Reid - Airline passengers walk into the luggage pickup area at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
Tribune/Dan McGee - Carlisle DeWitt, the Senior Director of Operations and Public Safety, is ready for a very busy holiday travel weekend.
Tribune/Dan McGee - Carlisle DeWitt, the Senior Director of Operations and Public Safety, is ready for a very busy holiday travel weekend.
The hustle and bustle of holiday travelers fills the Reno-Tahoe International Airport this week, temporarily leaving their cares behind to be with friends and family this Thanksgiving holiday.

Others, however, remain vigilant in ensuring the customers are safe and well serviced. That task is leading the RTIA staff to take extra security measures.

One of the airport's top managers leading that charge is the newly appointed senior director of operations and public safety, Carlisle DeWitt, who sees potential from some of the airport's current projects.

"There's a lot of interfacing we have with the airlines and the facilities and the people," DeWitt said. "It's having an understanding of what their needs are to be there in a support role and we're able to facilitate that with these projects, especially at this time of year when there's so much going on."

DeWitt, who has a degree in criminal justice, has experience in law enforcement. In 1983, he took a job as chief of police at the Savannah International Airport in Georgia and climbed the ranks to deputy director of operations and public safety and in police and fire operations. In 1990, he moved to Florida where he had the opportunity to create an airport security department from the ground up, including recruitment and procuring equipment. Eight years later, he was hired at the RTIA as airport chief of security.

DeWitt said aviation security management is different than working for a municipality, such as the Sparks Police Department, because airport law enforcement oversees millions of customers coming and going very quickly.

"Our mission is completely different," DeWitt said. "While we do have a secondary role of traditional law enforcement, we're more customer service oriented. We're concerned primarily for the safety of the traveling public."

Brian Kulpin, airport spokesman, said about 4.3 million people go through the airport on an annual basis. When business picks up around the holidays, security needs also pick up.

"That's a constant flow of people that are here for a short period of time passing through, yet they can bring all of their issues right along with them," Kulpin said. "So it's a very different brand of law enforcement."

The RTIA is currently going through various projects intended to speed the check-in process for passengers and tighten up security of baggage. The major construction has involved the building of a temporary terminal while the main terminal with the ticket lobby is receiving a new luggage handling system. The RTIA once used a two-line system in which travelers would pick up their tickets and check in their baggage at the airline counters and then take their suitcases to a separate line and have them screened.

"It was a really difficult system and a very congested lobby, so all of the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) presence in ticket checking will be moved behind the scenes," Kulpin said, explaining that when construction is complete airline employees will take the passengers' bags at the counter for one-stop convenience.

Another improvement that was implemented this week is the division of lines at the security checkpoints that would help speed the process for experienced travelers and accommodate families who may not travel as frequently. The black diamond line is for those who travel frequently, such as businesspeople who fly for day trips. The green line is for those who travel somewhat often and are familiar with the security checkpoint process. For people who have larger families or are traveling with seniors or children who don't fly as often, a green line is available in which those passengers don't have to feel so rushed to get through.

The airport's public safety department has the full certification it needs to operate just like any municipality such as the Sparks Police Department or the Nevada Highway Patrol, DeWitt said, but it does have its distinct purpose for the city of Reno.

"We have incidents at the airport and we take the appropriate actions but our primary function is to be ambassadors for the city and we have to balance customer service with law enforcement and that requires a specific type of law enforcement," DeWitt said.

DeWitt called the airport a microcosm in the midst of a number of issues the aviation management faces on daily basis, such as weather, and all things must be handled simultaneously and efficiently.

"We have to balance (customer service and safety) all the time and there's no greater balance act when you have Thanksgiving week and snow systems are coming through," Kulpin said.

Kulpin said public safety remains RTIA's top priority in a post 9/11 nation.

"Someone asked me back in September, around the anniversary of 9/11, 'Do people still take 9/11 seriously?' " Kulpin said. "In our world, we take it seriously every single moment of every single day. It's a part of our lives and probably always will be, especially for those of us who were in the business when that happened."

This holiday season, Kulpin said passengers can help speed the check-in and security processes by doing the following:

• Print out boarding passes at home before going to the airport.

• Know how to travel with strollers or other special needs.

• For screening purposes, do not wrap gifts.

• When picking up a passenger, wait in the cell phone lot so the walkways in front of the terminal are free for immediate pick-ups.

DeWitt said one of the most important pieces of advice this season is to "pack your patience."

"Look around you," he said. "We know it's busy and we'll be as expeditious as we can, but be aware and be understanding. ... Be realistic about your surroundings."

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