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Airport security system draws Senators' ire

January 19, 2010 5:10:18 PM PST
U.S. Senators from our area are demanding answers after an Eyewitness News investigation found an airport security system has so many false alarms that it is not being used, all as a time when airports are on heightened terror alert.The Port Authority was the first to buy this intrusion sensor system for its airports. By now, it should have already been operational for more than a year. But as Eyewitness News first reported, it has yet to get past the testing phase, and that has some angry Senators calling for a refund.

A source tells Eyewitness News that the cost of rigging JFK, LaGuardia, Newark and Teterboro airports with a perimeter detection system has surpassed the original tab $100 million. Additionally, the Raytheon-designed virtual sensor system is more than a year behind schedule and is plagued by false alarms.

"Raytheon messed up big time," New York's senior Senator Charles Schumer said. "Now, the Port Authority is between a rock and a hard place. They don't have security system, but it's going to cost more money for overtime and other personnel. I think Raytheon ought to pay the whole tab."

A letter obtained by Eyewitness News shows how frustrated the Port Authority has become with Raytheon, putting the company on notice for an "inadequate performance" and '' lack of focus." The Port Authority warns Raytheon that it will not accept "the (perimeter) system as is."

The problem is the fencing system has failed to move beyond the testing phase. The reason is because its intrusion sensors constantly gives false alarms if it's too windy, rainy or if a squirrel gets too close. The Port Authority has stopped payment to Raytheon until the problem is fixed, but a source says Raytheon has significantly reduced it's technical staff at the airports. The standoff has also angered New Jersey's Senators.

"I also question the company," Senator Robert Menedez said. "Don't they understand what's at risk here, what's at stake? Not only their reputation, but more importantly the safety of millions of travelers."

A Raytheon spokesman says they fully recognize their responsibility to meet their contractual obligations. He adds that the company will continue to work with the Port Authority to help them achieve their objectives on this project.

Pictures obtained by Eyewitness News show the system's command center at JFK isn't even installed. And at LaGuardia, monitoring equipment remains in boxes. It suggests that Raytheon's untested system is a long way from being operational. The original target date was 2008.

"Why did it take us this long to get to this point, but most importantly, what is it that we do moving forward immediately to get to the point that we have the security that we want and that we need," Menendez said.

Eyewitness News has learned that Raytheon has assigned a whole new team to work on the perimeter project. The Port Authority insists that costs are still under the $100 million budget. They say they'll have a better understanding where the project is headed once Raytheon gets its new team in place.

If you have a tip about this or any other issue you'd like investigated, please give our tipline a call at 877-TIP-NEWS. You may also e-mail us at the.investigators@abc.com and follow Jim Hoffer on Twitter at twitter.com/nycinvestigates


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