TSA checkpoint security technology evolves

Posted: 7 February 2009 | Robin E. Kane, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Security Technology, TSA | No comments yet

Over the course of 2008, TSA deployed, piloted and tested several technologies that greatly enhanced the screening process for travellers all across the country. The ultimate goal is to create an environment that harmonises a high level of security with the need to ensure freedom of movement for travellers.

Over the course of 2008, TSA deployed, piloted and tested several technologies that greatly enhanced the screening process for travellers all across the country. The ultimate goal is to create an environment that harmonises a high level of security with the need to ensure freedom of movement for travellers.

Advanced technology X-ray

One new technology TSA deployed in 2008 is Advanced Technology (AT) X-ray, used to screen carry-on luggage. These new X-ray machines may look the same to travellers, but they are a significant improvement for our transportation security officers who view 3.5 million bags a day. AT X-ray is a name for a group of systems that provide clearer, more defined images of baggage than traditional, single view X-ray. AT X-ray has been used worldwide for checked baggage screening for some time. TSA’s deployment of these more advanced X-ray systems marks the first time that this technology has been used exclusively for carry-on bags at the passenger security checkpoint.

AT X-ray creates multiple views and a greatly enhanced display that is much clearer and more detailed than current generation X-ray. Giving security officers the best tools available to detect explosives is important in deterring attacks. These new machines are also programmable and upgradeable so as threats evolve, this technology will evolve with them.

In addition, AT X-ray has a stable, low maintenance platform and a smaller profile than other explosive detection systems currently available.

TSA will deploy 900 multi-view X-ray systems by the end of 2009, to airports across the United States.

Whole body imaging technology

Whole body imaging technologies enable TSA to screen passengers for prohibited items quickly and unobtrusively, detecting weapons, explosives and other metallic and non-metallic threats concealed under layers of clothing, all without physical contact. In 2008, TSA piloted millimeter wave technology, a type of whole body imaging, to 18 airports nationwide. The technology creates a three-dimensional image of the passenger and takes a matter of seconds to complete a single scan. A remotely located security officer then views the image and ensures no threat items are concealed on the individual.

TSA also tested another form of passenger imaging called Backscatter. Backscatter scans an ionising X-ray beam over the body surface at high speed. The reflection, or backscatter, of the beam is detected, digitised and displayed on a monitor, displaying threat items.

In 2008, whole body imaging technologies were used in a random continuous protocol, meaning passengers were randomly selected to walk through a unit after they had already passed through the walk-through metal detector. Some airports also used it for secondary screening of passengers who elected to use the technology as an alternative to the traditional pat-down.

Whole body imaging is safe for all travellers, including pregnant women and individuals with implanted medical devices. The energy emitted from millimeter wave is 10,000 times less than a cell phone and each full-body scan with Backscatter produces less than 10 microREM of emission, equivalent to the exposure a person receives in about two minutes of airplane flight at altitude.

Before using whole body imaging technologies, travellers are asked to remove all objects from their pockets (including non-metallic items). A transportation security officer then guides passengers through the screening process.

TSA has gone to great lengths to ensure privacy measures are in place to protect the public. Transportation security officers attending the passenger cannot view the image of the person being screened and the officer assigned to evaluate images is remotely located and unable to associate the image with the passenger. The system does not store, export, print, or transmit images and facial features are blurred. All images are automatically deleted from the system after they are reviewed by the remotely located operator and all machines have zero storage capability.

Participation is voluntary and public acceptance of whole body imaging technology will be considered as part of the overall evaluation. There will be opportunity for continued public dialogue as we continue to test the technology in the airport setting.

Passive millimeter wave technology

TSA partnered with the U.S Coast Guard and the Staten Island Ferry in New York in April 2007, and in July 2007 TSA partnered with AMTRAK at Union Station in Washington, D.C., to use tripod-mounted ‘passive’ millimeter-wave sensor systems, also known as Stand-Off Detection, to detect explosives, including improvised explosive devices (IEDs), concealed on individuals. In 2008, TSA tested passive millimeter wave at Minneapolis St-Paul International Airport and Denver International Airport as part of its security posture for the Republican and Democratic national conventions. It was used in public areas of the airports in Denver and Minneapolis, not necessarily near a security checkpoint.

Passive millimeter wave is a flexible, mobile and safe technology that measures the millimeter waves generated by the human body. It is completely safe, non-invasive and does not store information. The display produces a light bar on a red-to-green scale that suggests anomalies that could have security implications, including the presence of explosives. Security officers operating passive millimeter wave at these airports worked closely with Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs). BDOs are officers trained to identify suspicious behavior as well as individuals exhibiting involuntary, physiological reactions to stress, fear and deception. The teams were equipped with wireless headsets to communicate with each other about possible concerns.

TSA will continue to evaluate these and other technologies and will continue to seek enhancements and new ways to utilise these important security tools in all transportation environments.

Shoe scanning technology

TSA tested shoe scanning technology in 2008 in its transportation security laboratory and at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Testing of this technology is a key step towards eventually allowing passengers to keep their shoes on when they go through the checkpoint. Requiring shoes to be taken off is the biggest passenger complaint about the security screening process.

Two different units at LAX were used to collect data to evaluate the technology’s potential use in the checkpoint environment. Since the testing was solely for data collection, the shoe scanners were positioned in front of the walk-through metal detector and passengers were still required to remove their shoes to go through the screening process.

TSA will continue to examine new technologies, like the shoe scanner, that can improve security and convenience for travellers.

Cast and prosthetic screening technology

In an effort to improve and enhance the screening of casts, support braces and prosthetic devices, to meet ever-changing threats, TSA sought a technological solution that could allow for an interior view of these items. In 2008, TSA deployed cast and prosthesis imaging technology to 11 airports. These systems, known as CastScope, are an additional layer of security that gives security officers a way to ensure that a cast or prosthetic does not contain a concealed threat, while still maintaining the dignity and privacy of the passenger.

CastScope uses harmless backscatter technology that does not emit a magnetic field and will not damage medical equipment, implanted medical devices, or any other disability-related equipment.

The disabled community was intimately involved in the development of CastScope and key disability coalition members participated in testing and development phases by demonstrating the machine at disability conferences, providing people to wear the devices for testing as well as obtaining passenger feedback.

TSA is committed to an adaptive technology strategy to address a wide spectrum of evolving threats. The technologies being tested and deployed substantially improve the capability to identify threats on people, or in carry-on bags, in a non-intrusive manner. They provide platforms that will continue to evolve in a dynamic risk environment and will continue to improve the passenger experience.

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