A contingent of Maryland security officials returned from a weeklong tour of Israel yesterday armed with ideas for protecting shopping malls, office buildings and rail lines - ideas they hope they never need to use.
Tight Israeli protection of airports, ports, buildings and other installations was developed under the country's constant threat of terrorism. While Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. calls Maryland a "front" in the domestic anti-terrorism effort, measures such as bag searches before entering malls or luggage drops outside of airport terminals aren't necessary here yet, said Dennis R. Schrader, director of the governor's homeland security office.
"What we need are contingency plans," Schrader said in an interview last night. "Part of the outcome of this would be contingency plans."
Schrader joined state Assistant Transportation Secretary James F. Ports Jr., transit administration Police Chief Douglas DeLeaver, Charles County Sheriff Fred Davis and four others for a series of briefings with Israeli officials on security issues.
Ehrlich and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed to the exchange during the governor's visit to Israel last fall, said James M. Pettit, spokesman for the homeland security office.
"We want to learn from the people who do it," Pettit said.
The Maryland group toured the Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv, the port of Ashdod, a commuter rail line and station, and a mass-casualty hospital, among other sites, Pettit said.
Schrader said he was impressed with the "circles of security" in use in Israel - where personnel create a series of checkpoints inside and outside of facilities, screening entrants with increasing levels of scrutiny.
He said he was also struck by how Israeli citizens accept the tight security conditions.
While specific figures were not available last night, Pettit said the trip cost about $30,000, and that Maryland used federal homeland security funds to cover the tab.