For about two hours yesterday morning, Maryland Transportation Authority Police searched every vehicle entering the terminal at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the first time such extensive searches had been conducted without a specific threat.
The searches - among a number of new federal security measures in response to the heightened terror alert announced last month - began at 10:15 a.m. about a half-mile from the terminal, delaying traffic slightly.
Uniformed police spent about a minute looking over each vehicle, peering into the windows and checking trunks.
Maryland Transportation Authority Police spokesman Greg Prioleau said the "100 percent searches" were done on at least several hundred vehicles.
"We're varying our tactics so as not to be too predictable," said Prioleau, who added that the police also were using mirrors to check under vehicles. "Each agency is doing everything in its power to protect this nation here locally."
Typically, BWI conducts random vehicle checks at posts along airport roadways during an Orange Alert, a higher-level code for possible terrorist attacks that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued last month.
Yesterday, authorities continued random vehicle searches at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport. Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said police aren't searching every car at those airports and plan to continue the random checks while the alert continues.
No flights were delayed at BWI because of the searches, which ended about noon. After that, authorities checked vehicles randomly.
"This is just simply another facet of the Orange Alert designation," said BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean. "It's one of a number of measures in place that the public might not even see."
Airport patrons appeared unfazed by the checks.
"I understand why they're doing it," said Sterling Jackson, a Howard University senior who was picking up a friend yesterday afternoon when he was pulled over for a check.
Ken Kammeyer, who was picking up his wife from a Florida flight, said he wasn't stopped because he arrived after noon, when security officials were performing random stops. But he saw several cars stopped.
"I wondered what the purpose was, whether they have something specific they're looking for," said the Clarksville resident. "If they were looking for something specific, I think I would feel safer that they were doing the checks."
Police knew of no arrests as a result of the searches. Prioleau said the motorists were patient and cooperative.
The stepped-up search comes as authorities began this week fingerprinting and photographing foreign visitors entering the United States at 115 airports, including BWI. The program, called US-VISIT, was announced Monday.