Detroit Metro Builds $3.9 million Training Center

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Police at Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) sprang into action when the infamous "underwear bomber" unsuccessfully attempted to bring down a Christmas day flight en route from Amsterdam. First to board the aircraft after it landed, they apprehended the suspect and assessed his medical condition before discharging him into federal custody.

Two days later, DTW police were back in full crisis response mode when a passenger aboard the same Amsterdam flight locked himself in bathroom and prompted another emergency landing. Upon arrival, the aircraft was directed to an isolated inspection area. Passengers were bussed to the airport's U.S. Customs and Border Protection area for processing, where they remained in the Federal Inspection Service area until their luggage was individually inspected on the ramp before being returned to them.

Apparently, the passenger was simply ill, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force deemed the December 27 incident "non-serious." But it was another unusually eventful day for airport police - the kind that makes recent construction of a $3.9 million public safety training center seem proactive and full of foresight.

"The response played out just as it should during serious circumstances," notes Wayne County Airport Authority (WCAA) spokesman Scott Wintner. "It was a testament to the quality of training our pubic safety team receives."

Ahead of the Curve

As one of North America's busiest airports, DTW requires a "formidable" police force to ensure the safety of 18,000+ badged workers and more than 31 million annual passengers. In order to maintain its strategic advantage, airport officials don't quantify how many officers are on the job at any given time. They do, however, note that all are certified and trained to the same standards as any other Michigan law enforcement agency.

In the past, the airport shuttled officers to a county law enforcement facility about 30 minutes away for training - and paid maintenance and user fees. These days, DTW officers train at a new on-airport complex that includes an obstacle course, firing range, repelling tower and live fire house.

The necessity of various elements was questioned during development of the project. Some, for instance, considered a repelling tower "overkill" because DTW police calls rarely escalate beyond arguments in the parking garage or frustrated passengers flaring at ticket agents.

"Unfortunately, the Christmas day incident was a perfect example of why police need such extensive training," says Wintner. "No one would have predicted that Detroit would be the site of terrorist activity, but in reality, every airport is a potential target. Airport police are the first to respond in these situations; they must have the best training possible. We've always stressed training; it's just more efficient and environmentally conscious now that it's on site."

Frangible bullets used in the $2 million, 8,215-square-foot firearm training facility is one notable "green" element. The bullets, officially known as Reduced-Hazard Training Ammunition (RHTA), turn to copper dust upon impact with the ballistic steel paneling on the back of the range. Because the bullets don't contain toxic materials like traditional lead-based ammunition, the facility can be maintained by airport authority crews rather than by special hazardous material teams.

"Although the RHTA costs about 30% to 40% more than traditional ammunition, the saving in operation and maintenance expenses it provides will reduce the total cost to operate the facility in the long run," explains Wintner.

Officers also use the environmentally sensitive bullets in the center's live fire house.

Other features added by PBS&J, the architectural/engineering firm that designed the new training new center, further boost its sustainability quotient. The live firehouse, which is used to train SWAT teams in clearing a building, is designed to handle hazardous material such as lead components by collecting it through a ventilation system that keeps particles airborne and retains them in the mechanical systems for disposal.

In a touch of poetic justice, drug forfeiture money generated at the airport helped to pay for the new four-building complex. Proceeds from airport authority bonds funded the rest of the project.

On Site, On Guard

The proximity of an active runway - roughly 100 yards away - added safety and logistic challenges during the design and construction of the new training complex. To quell concerns regarding the potential for stray bullets, the firing range was built with bullet-resistant ceilings and exterior walls lined with steel panels, notes Matthew Leiner, division manager for PBS&J.

Crews from the Synergy Group modified their usual work practices to allow for the unusual work site. "We had to use some extra precautions for security reasons and be extra careful to contain any debris from the construction site," recalls Randy DeRuitier, vice president of operations.

Cooperation from airport officials, adds DeRuitier, made construction run smoothly. "It is an amazing facility," he notes.

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