The average airline passenger might not consider Charleston International Airport a target for terrorism, but the officers charged with keeping an eye on things there work driven by that possibility.
Debra Engel, federal security director for the Charleston and Myrtle Beach airports, shared some of their tactics Thursday at the Homeland Security Innovation Conference at the Charleston Area Convention Center.
The strategies range from standard screening procedures to less obvious tactics.
Charleston International employs eight behavioral-detection officers, for instance, who watch how passengers act.
"No Sept. 11 hijacker ever looked up," Engel said. "They behaved erratically."
The officers take into account flight delays, cancellations and other travel stresses but then look for people who still seem amiss.
The Transportation Security Administration, for which Engel works as local director, emerged after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when, almost overnight, a new agency had to train 45,000 agents in counterterrorism.
Charleston International became "federalized" with Engel's staff in August 2002.
She described the work now as "a layered approach," which means hardened cockpit doors on the airplanes and bomb-appraisal officers in the terminals but also a rotating playbook for screening people passing through airport facilities.
A passenger could have his luggage searched on one trip and have his hands swabbed for traces of explosives the next time.
"We don't want the bad guys knowing what we're doing on a consistent basis," Engel said.
Charleston International has three explosive-sniffing dogs in training, the only TSA canines in South Carolina, which can travel to other airports around the state. The local airport also should roll out advanced image technology, controversial among civil libertarians for its detailed body scans, in 2011.
Engels said she envisions the future screening process starting not in the terminal, but in passengers' cars as they arrive at the airport. She spoke about the need to implement new strategies in a matter of hours, based on terrorist attempts.
"They find a method of attack they like," Engel said. "And they like the aviation industry."
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or email@example.com.