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Greyhound bus passengers get screened, pat down in special TSA operation

Published: October 26, 2009
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Source: Orlando Sentinel

Bryce Williams wasn't expecting to walk through a metal detector or have his bags screened for explosives at the Greyhound bus terminal near downtown Orlando.

But Williams and 689 other passengers went through tougher-than-normal security procedures Thursday as part of a random check coordinated by the U.S.

Transportation Security Administration.

The idea is to keep off guard terrorists and others who mean harm, thereby improving safety for passengers and workers. There was no specific threat to the bus station on John Young Parkway south of Colonial Drive.

Although the TSA is best known for its agents at airports, the agency's Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response, or VIPR, teams stage periodic operations at bus and train stations, ports and other transportation centers. They began work in December 2006.

Thursday's daylong event was the first at a Greyhound station in Florida, said John Daly, TSA security director for the Orlando region.

Ashley Hartman, 23, arrived in the late afternoon from Tampa and was planning to transfer in Orlando to a bus bound for her home in Delaware. She told a security agent about the stun gun in her book bag that she carries for protection, and officials at the terminal helped her ship it home; stun guns are prohibited on buses, a TSA spokeswoman said.

"I think they have to have that with everything that's going on after 9-11," said Hartman, who was on her way home from a seasonal job running carnival games.

Normally, two security agents are on duty at the bus terminal, said Emma J. Gray, Greyhound district manager. They use a hand-held metal detector to scan people and also inspect luggage by hand, she said.

On Thursday, 50 officials from agencies including TSA, Orlando police, the Orange County Sheriff's Office, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection patted down passengers. Behavior and explosives experts and dogs trained to sniff out bombs and drugs also were used.

Everyone who walked into the terminal went through a metal detector like those at airports, and baggage was screened for explosives.

Five people were arrested on illegal-immigration charges, and one person was picked up on a local warrant. Glass bottles, knives, a bullet and the stun gun were found.

Michael Neal, 66, of Nottingham, England, was forced to remove a box cutter from his carry-on bag and place it in his checked luggage. He said he uses it to peel fruit, and he didn't mind the slight inconvenience.

"No problem," said the retired butcher, who is traveling around the U.S. on vacation. "It's for your own safety, really . "

But Williams, 49, and his son, Brice Williams, 20, were on their way to Minneapolis and weren't happy with the high level of security, particularly after they were forced to shift some tools from a carry-on bag to checked luggage.

Father and son said they skipped the airport because of the security hassles. Now, they're rethinking their choice.

"I'm driving from now on," Bryce Williams said.

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