Special report: post 9/11 security improvements at Hawaii's airports

Published: Sep. 8, 2011 at 8:49 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 8, 2011 at 11:38 PM HST
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Dennis Ah Yek
Dennis Ah Yek
Dan Meisenzahl
Dan Meisenzahl

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks draws near, Hawaii News Now takes a look at the many changes that have taken place at Hawaii's airports to improve safety for travelers.

Dennis Ah Yek carefully goes over the IDs and boarding passes of travelers coming through Checkpoint 3 at the Honolulu International Airport's main terminal. His co-workers screen the passengers and their carry-ons using the latest high-tech equipment.

It's a job Ah Yek, 59, takes seriously.

"When you go home and you sleep after a day's work and you wake up the next day and nothing has happened, you feel, wow, we really did that. We really protected everybody," the TSA security officer said.

Ah Yek used to earn a living as a musician in Waikiki. But everything changed on September 11th, 2001.

"It was really sad. It was really, felt really helpless," he said. "I felt that I can do something about what happened to our nation and all those people."

He immediately signed up for a job at TSA, when the federal agency began hiring in Honolulu in 2002. Changes in airport operations came swiftly.

"Just think about it. Back in the day, you could walk your family or your friends out to the gate," Dan Meisenzahl, state Department of Transportation, said. "You could pull up to the curb and actually wait for a little while as you know your family is coming off a plane. Those types of things, they just don't exist anymore."

Now, TSA's nearly 50,000 security officers across the nation screen about two-million passengers at more than 450 airports each day.

Since 9/11, the agency has screened nearly five-billion people and detected some 50-million prohibited items, including 4,600 firearms.

"You look at the new advance image technology machines we have right now. We have the automated threat recognition systems," Stanford Miyamoto, TSA assistant area director, said. "Our behavior detection officers that we have now that we didn't have before. We also have explosives specialists."

The state DOT, which oversees 15 airports across Hawaii and works hand-in-hand with TSA, says it has spent about $40 million on security in each of the last three years -- about triple the amount spent pre-9/11.

"A lot of the places at the airport were always secure -- the runway, the ramp area, all of those places, the underground where the baggage is," Meisenzahl said. "Now the secure area, the sterile areas, extend much further."

Ah Yek will be at work this Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the attacks, doing the best he can to prevent a similar tragedy.

"We're constantly reminded of what our mission is," he said. "Not only keep the public safe when traveling, but also make them feel comfortable."

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.