Four-Legged Recruits Aid Port Authority’s Counter-Terror Mission

By Lenis Rodrigues and Claire Elamrousi, Media Relations Staff

 This morning, the newest class of Port Authority Police recruits joined the department after 14 weeks of training. No, not the two-legged, uniformed kind, but a canine corps of four German Shepherds who will assist in searching for explosives on agency property as part of the Port Authority’s counter-terrorism efforts.

The graduation ceremony, which took place at Building 1 at Newark Liberty International Airport, included the dogs’ handlers – Officers Spencer Newman, Tim Brennan and Paul Hugerich — as well as veteran handler Augusto Marin.

“Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, we have adapted and transformed into a counter-terrorism police department,” Port Authority Police Superintendent Edward Cetnar told the more 50 attendees at today’s ceremony. “The utilization of explosive detection K9s is a key aspect of our commitment to the highest degree of public safety to the people traveling through our facilities. The addition of these K-9 teams further enhances those efforts.”

The canines are trained by the PAPD from scratch, taught to detect 16 different odors and to undergo field training. The handlers are trained to notice the change in their dog’s behavior when they come across a potential explosive device or material. In addition to odor training, the dogs are taught basic obedience, leash handling and agility skills. They offer different cues to their handler when they detect explosives, such as laying down flat, sitting down or raising a paw.

Sgt. Thomas Hering, a 21-year veteran of the K-9 unit who oversees the program, said a recurring challenge is matching a new handler with a canine trainee, developing them into an effective team over the 14-week period. “During that time, one of the crucial tasks is for the handler and the canine to form a trusting bond, which will aid in keeping the traveling public safe while using the agency’s facilities,” he said.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Training isn’t always easy for the dogs, or their handlers. One challenge is aircraft searches. The canines are trained to duck down and search under seats, but German Shepherds are large and the economy class seats are not. So, dogs often jump on the seats instead of searching underneath them. The air on a plane also can give misleading hints, since the scent can be blown in the opposite direction.

During their training sessions, the pups’ skills were honed to be more accurate than machine explosives detectors. The dogs are successful more than 90 percent of the time, surpassing the estimated 65-percent find rate of machines.

After completing an explosive detection drill with his K-9, veteran PAPD Officer Rodney Arroyo, who has been working with the K-9 unit for 14 years and is preparing to be a trainer of the other handlers, described it as “like raising a child. I feel like a proud father.”

The department has one of the largest K-9 groups in the region, with 42 dogs. They serve Port Authority facilities, but are also available to local police agencies that request K-9 backup, and to train new handlers and dogs from outside agencies.

For the handlers, it’s a labor of love. All of the K-9 handlers have had their own dogs in the past, many starting in childhood. The dog lives at home with the handler during their service years and upon the K-9 retirement, they usually continue to live together. Officer Newman said that when it comes to training the dogs and their handlers “it’s all about the bond you build with them.”

 

Posted in Uncategorized

PA Employees Trade in Mass Transit for Two Wheels

By Joe Iorio, Media Relations Staff

As urban areas continue to flourish, more stress is being placed on the region’s transportation infrastructure to accommodate higher levels of passenger growth. While most people still commute by train or bus, from May to September a handful of motivated Port Authority employees have traded in their monthly passes for a two-wheel workout.

Each year, the National Bike Challenge encourages companies from across the United States to form cycling teams, register them online and compete for prizes. Over the five-month challenge, participants track their total number of commuting and recreational miles cycled via Strava, a mobile app for athletic activity. When the Challenge concludes in September, the overall team mileage is totaled and compared with other competing organizations.

The group of about 20 Port Authority employees competing in this year’s challenge works at different facilities across the region. So far, Greg Wong, a business and transportation analysis manager for PATH, is leading the pack with more than 1,000 miles biked this year.

“Our participation in this event is the byproduct of a larger, agency-wide initiative to provide our customers, tenants, employees and visitors with safer and more convenient bicycle access at Port Authority facilities,” said Alex  Levi, a principal architect in the agency’s Engineering Department who manages the PA Challenge Team. “From a transportation perspective, the agency has made great strides over the past decade to accommodate bicyclists at many of our facilities.”

0061

Alex Levi, en route to work at 4 WTC

Since 2008, when the Port Authority’s first Bicycle Master Plan was published, ridership trends have steadily increased at agency facilities. Between 2011 and 2015, the average number of weekday bicycle commute trips increased by 40.8 percent overall, with a 34-percent increase in mode share (a mixed use measurement, such as taking both PATH and a bike to work).

Accordingly, the Port Authority has followed its long-term vision to institutionalize bicycle planning, practices and policies outlined in the Bicycle Master plan.  The proposed strategies and potential implementation measures have helped in monitoring cycling demand at PA facilities and to make improvements where financially and operationally feasible.

The four bridges that connect New York and New Jersey, the Bayonne, Goethals and George Washington Bridges have undergone extensive improvements to enhance bicycling conditions within the past year.

0062

New Goethals Bridge mixed use path, opening later this year

Additionally, bike access and parking the airports and the World Trade Center and the Port Authority Bus Terminal have been increased within the past few years to allow for greater levels of ridership. Ultimately, these significant upgrades reflect a long-term vision the Port Authority is committed to achieving.

“It’s free for any company to participate, so I think that this event is a fun way to challenge yourself and your colleagues while also competing on a local, state and national level,” said Levi. “Not only will the increased use of bikes positively impact our environment, but it also promotes strong personal fitness that is critical to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

0063

Renderings of the new north and south George Washington Bridge paths

To learn more about bicycling options at Port Authority facilities, click here.

Posted in Uncategorized

A Summer Spent “Moving The Region”

By Claire Elamrousi, Media Relations Staff

When you think Port Authority, you may think first of the Midtown bus terminal, or the Port Authority Police Department.

For a group of about 120 Port Authority summer interns, their view of the agency is a whole lot broader. For future engineers, planners or lawyers, those interested in government and community relations and media, marketing or finance – whatever it is, there is an opportunity to grow and learn at the Port Authority. The bi-state agency employs about 7,000 people across its numerous facilities. The operation is large and dynamic enough that it provides opportunities for students pursuing almost any major under the sun.

“The most interesting thing I’ve learned at this internship is the large number of moving parts that all come together to make up the PA,” said Chris Zelante, who is working in the Management and Budget Department. “I was not aware how many different aspects made up the Port Authority.”

The 10-week paid summer internships begin at the start of June and end in mid-August. Many interns work at the 4 World Trade Center headquarters, while others are assigned to PA administrative offices at 2 Montgomery Street in Jersey City, the agency’s major airports, PATH headquarters in Jersey City, or other locations.

“The Port Authority’s Summer Internship program provides not only a real-world summer education for college students, it brings added energy and enthusiasm to our facilities in New Jersey and New York, and to the Port Authority employees who help move the region,” said Lindsay Steinbach, who manages the agency’s Campus Recruitment programs. ”It is a wonderful experience for everyone involved, and it is so moving to see how involved and engaged the interns are during their time here.”

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For PA interns, the opportunities include networking sessions, resume-building workshops, and engaging, behind-the-scenes tours of the Port Authority’s various facilities, including a trip to the top of the George Washington Bridge, a tour of LaGuardia Airport, and a look inside One World Trade Center.

Marc Antonios, an intern with the Project and Asset Management Division at the World Trade Center, said that “senior members of the department have been very helpful throughout this process — first, in patiently getting me up to speed with the terminology and scope of the different projects, and then in letting me get involved and taking my opinions and work to heart.”

The work day looks different for all Port Authority interns, depending on the department. For Orena Wong, an Aviation Department intern at John F. Kennedy Airport, her experience working with terrapins is assisting with her Master’s thesis for Integrative Biology at Hofstra University.

“We are starting a project that involves putting GPS tracking devices on select terrapins to track their movement patterns, which will be the main focus of my master’s thesis,” she said. “Every morning I check to see what time high tide is, so that I know whether I should prepare for a busy terrapin day or not. If it’s a busy day, sometimes it can take hours to process more than 100 turtles.”

Elias Guseman interns with the Major Capital Projects Planning Department, part of a team involved in developing plans to replace the aging Port Authority Bus Terminal. “It always keeps us on our toes,” he said. “Almost every day we are tasked in aiding some portion of the Bus Terminal Replacement Project, which could involve anything from site measurements to developing a programming plan.

One of the most attractive things about the Port Authority internship program is that it can evolve from a 10-week program into a career. Many interns who start in their sophomore year of college return again for their junior year and then seek permanent employment with the agency upon completion of their college education.

 Micaela Weinert, a Service Delivery intern in the Human Resources department, is considering a career at the Port Authority.  “In the weeks I’ve been a part of the PA, I have learned so much about our company and everything we provide, and it would be a privilege to be part of the thousands of employees that “move the region,” she said.

 Internship applications for next year are available this winter. Be sure to check the Port Authority career website for available positions: http://www.jointheportauthority.com/search/college-programs/jobs/?jobcat=1&per_page=10

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Uncategorized