CHICAGO (CBS) — Lines have been building at O’Hare International Airport early Friday, as travelers prepared to celebrate the 4th of July weekend, but honoring the nation’s independence comes as the nation’s airports have been placed on high alert in the wake of a suicide bombing at the airport in Istanbul.
According to the AAA, a record number of people were expected to travel over the holiday weekend, despite fears of terrorism after the attack in Turkey.
Three million people were expected to fly through U.S. airports over the holiday weekend, and the Secretary of Homeland Security was encouraging Americans to travel and celebrate Independence Day while remaining vigilant. He also said it’s important not to let increased security at airports detract from security at other holiday gathering places.
“We’re concerned and focused generally on public events and public places across the nation,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said.
Three days after suicide bombers attacked Europe’s third busiest airport — killing at least 42 and wounding more than 230 — security has been ramped up at O’Hare. Bomb-sniffing dogs and heavily armed SWAT team members were patrolling entrances at Chicago’s busiest airport and others like it across the country.
“We continue to encourage the public to travel, to associate, to celebrate the holidays; but be aware, and be vigilant,” Johnson said.
Americans appear to be heeding the call to travel. The AAA predicts a record 43 million holiday travelers will take to the country’s highways and flyways. Euretta Ivy was among them.
“I’m pretty safe. I believe people are going to do what they’re going to do, and the only thing we can do is pray for our safety and keep it moving,” she said.
Many passengers at O’Hare on Friday said they believe arming Chicago Department of Aviation security officers will only help already armed Chicago police officers and federal agents thwart a potential terrorist attack.
However, others said adding guns won’t increase security.
“I think if you add more guns, it may make everybody feel better, but at the end of the day I don’t really see that it’s necessarily going to change their motivation to find a way to terrorize us,” said Brenda Sussna, of Northbrook.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin visited the Turkish consulate in Chicago on Thursday to sign a condolence book, and took time to weigh in on the debate about whether aviation security officers should be armed.
“Let’s try to do it in a thoughtful way, and not react and overreact. Let’s take a look at what they have, in terms of perceived threat, and the capability they need to answer it, and if it calls for arming those who are truly trained and deputized, I have no objection,” he said.
At Chicago’s airports, only Chicago police officers and federal law enforcement agents are permitted to carry weapons. Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) has introduced a proposal to arm aviation security officers as well.
“The patch on their shoulder says ‘police officer,’ and the vehicle that they drive says ‘police officer’ and the Department of Aviation is registered as a law-enforcement agency, but yet their officers are unarmed,” Taliaferro said.
Fourteen other aldermen have signed on as co-sponsors, and the measure has been assigned to the Committee on Public Safety.
The union representing aviation security officers has sent a letter to city officials warning them, without guns, the officers are not properly equipped to confront a terrorist threat. What’s more troubling is what these officers are trained to do in the event of an attack.
“The federal training for these officers by from the TSA says that they should run and hide, which is absolutely ridiculous,” SEIU Local 73 secretary-treasurer Matt Brandon said.