Attention, all air passengers flying into, out of and around Liberia: if you thought airport security was tight and tedious during Ebola time, think again. This time, according to the Liberia Airport Authority/Liberia Civil Aviation Authority (LAA/LCAA), the threat is terrorism and the authorities are taking no chances.
On April 1, 2016, the LAA and LCAA introduced a series of tough measures at both the Roberts International Airport (RIA) and James Spriggs Payne Airfield in response to recent terrorist attacks in neighboring Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Mali that killed and wounded several people.
In a statement, the LAA/LCAA says they have installed “the physical presence of armed security personnel” will from be within both airport facilities; mainly areas of departure, arrival and ramp during operational period.
The armed security personnel will comprise officers from the Liberia National Police Emergency Response Unit (ERU).
Prior to the measure, only trained airport security personnel and officers of the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) have been in charge of guarding the various airports.
The LAA/LCAA further said security authorities may also set up road blocks at various locations in and around the airports when necessary, to aid in the physical search of vehicles.
Familiar rules from Ebola
“Only travelers with valid traveling documents will be allowed entry within the airport’s facilities,” the announcement added.
A similar measure was introduced during the height of the Ebola epidemic during 2014 until Liberia was declared Ebola-free in 2015. Unlike before when families and others coming to meet or escort their loved ones and guests entered the airport facilities, no escorts will be allowed to enter the airport premises. Travelers may be conveyed onto the airport grounds only by a driver and dropped off at the terminal. The driver must then exit the airport premises and wait outside the fence. In addition, “Meeters and greeters are to wait for their visiting people at their final destinations, instead of at the airport,” the LAA/LCAA says, adding that parking lots and drop-off points will be rearranged as deemed necessary.
The new measures aim, in part, to disallow large gatherings around the airports. Although large gatherings were discouraged nationwide in 2014 as a way to prevent the spread of the highly contagious Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), crowd control protocols appear to be even more heightened for airport security.
Interestingly, however, during a visit to RIA yesterday, our reporter observed that the Ebola preventive measures had been suspended, in spite of the new outbreak that has claimed on life infected 2 others and committed nearly 50 or more to quarantine and close observation. There were no handwashing stations or temperature taking procedures in place at parts of the airport – the main gate and management offices – where our reporter visited.
“Airport Security and its Joint Security counterparts, at all times, [may] conduct random searches of all persons within the premises when necessary,” LAA/LCAA says.
Nevertheless, authorities say considerations will be given “only to high profile government officials, embassies, companies, non-governmental organizations and visiting delegations, provided notice is served LAA/RIA 48 hours prior to arrival or departure.”
People interacting with businesses such as GSM companies, customs and banks within the airport, the release said, will be required to use valid identification cards of their respective institutions and submit to security checks or inquiries at all times.
In the wake of the March 23 deadly terrorist attacks at the international airport in Brussels – one of the world’s busiest travel hubs and the leading conduit for travelers to and from Liberia via Brussels Airlines, local air transport authorities are going out of their way to ensure safety of passengers, staff and airport facilities.
The Brussels attack occurred on March 23, killing over 30 people, including a Liberian woman.