T&T: Airport threat
A manpower shortage and overworked officers at the Estate Police Association (EPA) are compromising security operations at the Piarco International Airport in Trinidad and the Arthur NR Robinson Airport in Tobago.
The Sunday Express has learnt that for the past ten years there has been an inadequate number of security officers stationed on a daily basis at both international airports.
But the situation has worsened in the past few months as more capacity is needed by to meet international standards at several check-points.
Already there have been security breaches, the Sunday Express was told, and failure to act now could compromise security at the exit points and the integrity of the officers themselves.
The deficiencies have already been brought to the attention of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which was recently audited by the US-based Federal Aviation Authority.
Security sources told the Sunday Express that importance is placed on ensuring that all passengers are cleared at the checkpoints so that flights are cleared without hiccups.
On days when they are short of workers, they explained, large areas of the airport remain unmanned while officers have to be redeployed to ensure that flights are secured.
The Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (AATT) is aware of the security shortage and in April 2011, Joseph Edwards, the deputy general manager of security had written a memo to all shift sergeants about complaints being received about security.
Edwards had subsequently ordered that duty sergeants periodically visit the international passenger security checkpoints to ensure that they are adequately staffed and efficiently discharged.
“To do so, it may become necessary to redeploy other security officers,” he advised. Last year, the issue of airport security was raised twice- to former general manager Louis Frederick and to Edwards again in September by the EPA.
A letter was sent by president of the EPA, Edison Munro to Frederick and copied to Ramesh Lutchmedial, director of the CAA, as well as several managers at the AATT. It noted: “Over the years, new duties and responsibilities have been added to the workload of the Security Department. As a result, it was determined that on each shift a set number of officers would be required to perform duties. In the present scenario, this quota is not being met and shifts are operated way below this requirement. The latest instruction from the Security Management is that there should be no ‘call out’ when shifts are not up to strength, allowing only persons to continue from pervious shifts.
Since then, shifts are continuously operating short of the required strength and in some instances; persons are ‘forced’ to continue duties to make up for this shortfall.
Information obtained by the Sunday Express noted that for the past six months show that perhaps once a month there is a 100 per cent turnout of security officers. On most days, turnout averages about 70-75 per cent but has dropped to 70 per cent on certain days.
An audit of the airport operations conducted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in February this year also point to security issues such as: screening checkpoints being inadequately staffed, screening personnel appeared fatigued, no contingency plan to deal with acts of unlawful interference at the airport, no records to indicate increase in patrols during the night and no foot patrol of the airside was observed, no records to show that foot patrols were carried out and an AATT internal report showed that no records of action being taken to address the deficiencies identified.
The burden of having adequate numbers in place is that of the EPA. However, the EPA remains embroiled in wage dispute with the AATT at the moment. The EPA is contesting the AATT’s decision to offer contracts to 80 per cent of its membership in lieu of the proposed salary adjustments offered by PriceWaterhouseCoopers in their job evaluation exercise.
Vedesh Bhagwandeen, vice president of the local branch, told the Sunday Express yesterday that the estate police officers were different from regular security officers.
“We perform three functions–one is policing, the other is screening and the third is aviation security. Trinidad and Tobago is unique because it is one of the only countries in the world where we perform all three functions. It’s actually a cost saving to their AA,” he told the Sunday Express.
“It was established that there was a manpower shortage through the audits so what is the reason they are not recruiting for meeting the required strength? Is the airport one of the areas to privatise so that (Government) supporters get contracts at the airport seeing as so many of them have security companies? Are the security officers being made scapegoats for them to satisfy their party supporters? asked Bhagwandeen.
He noted that the EPA boasted of a 30-year track record and was worried that it would now be compromised in some way.
Chairman of the AATT Gerald Hadeed told the Sunday Express yesterday that since the audit has been conducted by the CAA, there have been continuous upgrades. He said the AATT has hired a security consultant and is reviewing the issues seriously.