Thursday, February 4, 2010

TSA Haiti Evacuation Effort: A Federal Security Director's Perspective

TSA has been lending a helpful hand in the evacuation efforts in Haiti. Our Office of Global Strategies (OGS) deployed a go team to Haiti to help support DHS with the evacuation. OGS also sent a go team to Santo Domingo to assist with departing U.S. evacuees. Also, TSA Team Sanford (SFB) transitioned to a 24 hour operation to accommodate the incoming evacuees.

John Daly is the Federal Security Director (FSD) for the Sanford International Airport (SFB). SFB is a hub for the Haiti evacuation efforts and we asked if he’d like to be a guest blogger and tell us a little about the operation. ~ Blogger Bob

The month of January is normally a time for TSA employees at Orlando/Sanford International Airport (SFB) to get caught up on training and to take some needed time off. The first month of 2010 has proven to be a very different experience. SFB has served as a hub of the Haiti evacuation efforts in Central Florida, turning an airport that normally shuts down security operations at around 8 p.m. into an airport that has been running 24/7 operations since January 16th. In fact, more than 50% of the Haiti evacuees have entered the U.S. in Sanford, FL. The most challenging part has been the nature of the flight arrivals. At times, multiple flights would arrive nearly simultaneously at SFB and then there were long periods of waiting for the next flights. Spikes of activity followed by periods of calm…

Initially augmented by employees from Orlando International Airport (MCO), SFB and MCO TSA employees provided additional layers of security throughout the airport in support of the humanitarian relief efforts. Transportation Security Officers provided security around the C-17 military aircraft as Haiti evacuees deplaned and walked the 150 yards to the CBP Federal Inspection Station (FIS), often stepping in on their own initiative to assist persons with disability, help families with small children or to lend a hand to weary people who just needed a caring arm to hold onto as they walked. Six TSA Creole speakers from MCO helped CBP efficiently process the evacuees through customs and immigration procedures.

All of the evacuees were processed by CBP at the Federal Inspection Station, followed by the American Red Cross and FL Dept of Children and Families (DCF) in part of the “sterile area“ of the airport that was sectioned off specifically for this mission. TSOs secured the perimeter of that area for security purposes. After processing, most evacuees were bused from Sanford to Orlando International Airport to catch connecting flights to other parts of the country where they would be met by friends or family. Our folks demonstrated innovation in helping the airport authority develop and build a wooden baggage chute to expedite the moving of personal bags from the airport terminal down to the buses. TSA employees screened the buses for any security issues on the tarmac and helped the evacuees board the buses with the few belongings they could carry. You could see the relief in the faces of the evacuees as they began to feel comfortable knowing that they would be with friends or family soon.

Watching the operation unfold from the beginning, I was impressed with the tremendous coordination and support provided by all of the players involved at the local, state and Federal level. Sanford Airport Authority, Seminole County first responders /emergency managers, TSA, CBP, USAF, FL Dept of Children and Families, American Red Cross and many other agencies quickly pulled together to create one of the most effective Emergency Operations Centers I’ve ever observed in my 24+ year career in public service and incident management. The quick sharing of information, tremendous teamwork and seamless interoperability was great to see and has clearly been critical to the success of the entire operation.

As the operation grew, TSA personnel from Tampa International Airport (TPA) deployed to MCO/SFB to provide much needed support by augmenting our MCO/SFB teams. Their weeklong commitment to assist proved critical to our success. Keep in mind that normal operations at SFB continued each day, with inbound and outbound commercial flights, in addition to the humanitarian relief efforts. Upon arrival of a 40-person team from the TSA National Deployment Force (NDF), the TPA folks headed back to their home airport. The NDF has helped us keep the operation running without skipping a beat. As the flow of evacuees begins to dwindle at Sanford, we will begin releasing the NDF resources.

Other locations in Florida and other states have begun receiving evacuees. We will start scaling back to normal operations at MCO/SFB soon. As I reflect back on the last 2-3 weeks, I swell with pride knowing that our TSA workforce had such a positive impact in this humanitarian effort. Our folks have demonstrated tremendous professionalism in maintaining security while at the same time showing heartfelt compassion for those in need. The stamina of our team was impressive. It has truly been an honor and privilege for those of us at TSA Team Orlando to be part of such a significant event. I’m proud to say that our TSA team and all of those involved in the Haiti relief efforts at Sanford clearly demonstrated tremendous leadership and upheld our TSA core values of Integrity, Innovation and Team Spirit.

John Daly, Federal Security Director (SFB)

Guest TSA Blogger