Tightening Security

A look at airport screening and explosive trace detection technology


The Transportation Security Administration has ramped up security measures at airports of late due to the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day. President Obama’s directive to pursue advanced screening technologies not only means increased security procedures at airport checkpoints, it also equates to a push in the planning and deployment of imaging and trace detection systems by technology companies. AIRPORT BUSINESS spoke with two high-tech firms at the forefront of enhanced airport security.

Since its creation, TSA has deployed advanced imaging technology which safely screens commercial air passengers for metallic and non-metallic threats, including weapons and explosives, that are potentially hidden under a passenger’s clothing.

Currently, according to the agency, there are 40 millimeter wave imaging technology units at 19 airports. In the fall of 2009, TSA purchased 150 backscatter imaging technology units and has plans to deploy approximately 450 units in 2010. Deployments are scheduled to begin within weeks and are to be complete by year’s end. The deployment locations have not yet been finalized.

TSA also employs Explosive Trace Detection (ETA) technology, which is currently in use at checkpoints to screen carry-on and checked baggage items, and to screen the hands of passengers. Officers may swab passenger hands or a piece of luggage to test for the presence of potential explosive residue. Says Deparment of Homeland Security’s Sarah Horowitz, “ETD is one of the random measures of security passengers may see more of since December 25th.”

Smiths technology
Comments Brook Miller, VP for government affairs for Smiths Detection, “We work daily with TSA, certainly in the procurement and planning areas, but also with their evaluation of technologies.

“Our latest generation of body scanners, a millimeter wave technology, is in the final stages of the lab portion of the evaluation process. I would guess that in the coming weeks, maybe within a month of this article’s publication, we should be finished with the lab portion and will then initiate the field evaluation portion of the testing process,” a process that takes some 30-60 days, says Miller.

He says there is a lot of ‘fresh’ technology in relation to security at airports, and Smiths is involved in nearly all of it. According to Miller, TSA has been looking to deploy AT — Advanced Technology X-Ray Systems — for a couple years now. “The machines are very sophisticated systems with a great deal of technology headroom for advanced algorithms and software to do more and more automated detection calculations,” relates Miller.

Additional advances in technology have taken place with regard to bottled liquid scanners and automated explosive detection systems.

“Trace detection is a very competitive field; we sensed for some time now, certainly given the Christmas day incident, that TSA would be expanding their use of trace detection in a variety of different ways,” remarks Miller.

On an international level, Miller adds that business abroad is “huge” for the company. “Our products are probably in some 85 percent of the world’s airports. The U.S. tends to be more experimental and aggressive in addressing security problems than the international community.

“However, it’s a very positive development in my view that nations are working much more closely together than they ever have in the past to come up with a more consistent procedural approach to the evaluation of technology with regard to security in the mass transit environment.”

Backscatter inspection
“TSA has been and is one of our top customers,” says Rapiscan’s VP of marketing Andrew Goldsmith. “

“We recently received the ‘qualified’ designation from TSA for our Secure 1000 Single Pose Advanced Imaging Technology body scanner. The agency has given us a specific contract for some $25 million to start to procure the first round of systems and to deploy them at airports across the U.S.”

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