Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Anchorage Airport Police Overreact To "Bomb" Remark By WCHA Referee Peter Friesema; TSA Did Not Order The Evacuation

While it's wise to be slow to second-guess airport security measures, post-game analysis indicates that Anchorage Airport Police may have overreacted when they ordered the evacuation of the main passenger terminal of Anchorage International Airport on Sunday October 14th from around 1:00 A.M. to 3:00 A.M. after a passenger made a "bomb" remark to a ticket agent. In addition, it's now been confirmed that TSA did NOT order the evacuation.

Peter Friesema, a hockey referee employed by the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), was preparing to fly back to Colorado after refereeing in a UAA hockey tournament in Anchorage. According to Alaska Dispatch, Friesema checked in with a friend for his flight and observed an Alaska Airlines ticket agent attaching a sticker for his baggage on his friend's luggage by mistake. In the process of alerting the ticket agent to the mistake, Friesema says he facetiously asked the agent, "What if my friend's bag has a bomb in it?" It was simply an inopportune expression of humor.

But the ticket agent claims she heard Friesema say "but my friend's bag has a bomb in it". Preferring to err on the side of caution, the ticket agent alerted a supervisor, who in turn alerted Airport Police. TSA personnel were consulted, but it was the Airport Police who made the decision to evacuate the terminal, since TSA does not have the authority to order an evacuation. However, an evacuation isn't necessarily mandatory when someone says the word "bomb" or makes a threat at the airport; discretion and judgment are permitted. Meanwhile, Friesema had already cleared security; police found him in the Alaska Airlines boardroom. The FBI interviewed him as well as the ticket agent, and determined the threat was not credible. The bag had already been located, screened, and removed; an explosive disposal team was not needed.

Nevertheless, Peter Friesema was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. Because this is a state charge, Case No. 3AN-12-10766CR has been documented. The prosecutor was willing to allow Friesema to leave Alaska pending trial as long as he agreed not to fight being brought back here to face the charge, but Magistrate Catherine Rogers deemed him a flight risk and ordered him to remain in Alaska pending a November 26th court hearing, although this could jeopardize his employment as a referee. In fact, KTUU Channel 2 later reported that the WCHA has suspended Friesema. Rogers did agree to reduce Friesema's bail to $1,500. Rogers' decision to order Friesema to remain in the state was influenced by the fact that so many passengers were inconvenienced, and that at least a half-dozen flights were delayed in processing because of the evacuation.

Analysis: Based on what the ticket agent thought she heard, she cannot be faulted for her reaction; it's better to be safe than sorry. Furthermore, if one believes a bomb is aboard a bag, one does not want to just open the bag; it may be wired to explode. TSA cannot be faulted either, since they did not order the evacuation.

This leaves Airport Police. This is one of those borderline judgment calls which could go either way. The outcome shows that they overreacted, but sometimes you have to err on the side of caution. If it had been a real bomb, the outcome could have been quite unpredictable. Airport officials report that they are reviewing their procedures in light of the incident.

Alaskans Freedom to Travel USA has posted a link to the ADN story, and is holding periodic TSA protests at the First Amendment booth just inside the parking garage at the airport. The rest of the public is sharply divided in their reaction. Two separate comments from this story which reflect the division well:

willphish4food October 16th 7:29 A.M:
"At any rate, the bags were already headed along the conveyor belt to the sorting area below." So apparently the agent deemed that stopping the belt and pulling the bags would be too big a deal; too much hassle for her and the baggage handlers. So instead she reported a bomb threat that shut down the airport for 3 hours, costing untold thousands of dollars to the state, airlines and individuals, unmeasured inconvenience to all involved, and put a puzzled passenger in jail and out of his job. So concerned about her own personal liability that she would throw another human under the bus like that, just to cover up her own goof?

Reasonable1_AK October 14th 8:44 P.M:
I disagree about ticket agents power tripping at the airport. They are simply doing a job and trying to move the line. I personally do not understand why people think they deserve to have their butts kissed just because they purchased a ticket. Most problems are caused when the passengers do not follow established chech in procedures that are printed on websites and tickets when they check in. And sometimes it is just that stuff happens.

Overall I have had excellent customer service at the airport. And I do agree that remedial training should be given to the young lady in question. I am sure that she will have her "day in court" as will the gentleman who made the comment even if it was in jest.

1 comment:

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