Monday, April 28, 2008

Checkpoint Evolution Up and Running at BWI: Even More Changes Announced to Reduce Hassle to Passengers

In February, Secretary Chertoff told an editorial board that he had directed TSA to do a sixty-day, no-holds-barred review of what we do at the passenger checkpoint to see if we can weed out things that used to be needed but perhaps today could be stream-lined. This effort ties in with our longer term effort to update our security measures -- to go on offense rather than just wait behind the magnetometer and try to find prohibited items. Today at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), those efforts come together. And, starting today, they become reality.

Here are the ‘greatest hits’ that are in the works:

Airlines may now allow kiosk/at-home printing of boarding passes for almost everyone. Secretary Chertoff challenged TSA to reduce the hassle thousands of passengers have every day when they can’t print a boarding pass online or at an airline kiosk. They have problems not because they pose a threat to aviation, but because their names are the same or similar to someone whose name is really on a watch list and does pose a threat.

Think of it this way: for every actual person on the watch list, there are thousands of people – who don’t pose a threat – but whose name is close enough that they are flagged in the system and not allowed to print their boarding pass. These passengers must go to the ticket counter to resolve the issue by showing photo identification, and it’s a huge inconvenience to them. Many of these ordinary travelers feel that they have been watch-listed, which would make anyone mad.

TSA has asked airlines to create a secure system to accept passengers’ dates of birth, first at the ticket counter and subsequently in their frequent flier or other secure database. Passengers will be encouraged, but not required, to provide airlines with limited identifying information like their date of birth. If they do so once, the airline can clear them on future flights and they will be able to print their boarding passes at home or at the kiosk.

Better ID verification.

A key to an accurate watch-list process is making sure that people are who they say they are. TSA officers already are using more sophisticated methods to validate a traveler’s identity. In addition, TSA is today outlining the types of ID that will get you through security faster. Essentially, driver’s licenses with photos and passports are what we are looking for. If you left your wallet in a cab, or for some reason do not have the right ID, we will work with you, but it will take longer.

Make the physical layout work for us.

BWI’s “B” Checkpoint has a different look today – it’s the first place to rollout the Checkpoint Evolution elements. We’ve integrated all the elements to work together and get us a calmer checkpoint environment that benefits our active security measures like behavior observation. Easier divesting and bin loading, better light and less noise are examples of things that help security and also lessen hassle for passengers.

We’re excited about these initiatives, because they will improve the passenger’s experience with TSA, but more importantly, they will help our security officers carry out their critical mission. If you fly through BWI, be sure to come back to the blog and let us know what you think.

Click here for more information.

Kip Hawley

Friday, April 25, 2008

The TSA Puppy Program

TSA announced in March we were going to be training and deploying TSA employee-led canine teams. Since then, we’ve had two classes graduate at Lackland Air Force base. That’s 18 K-9s!

The deployment of additional explosives detection canine teams will significantly enhance TSA’s threat readiness and response capabilities at air cargo facilities nationwide. There are currently 500 K-9 teams in the field. Over the next two years the TSA plans to add 400 more teams. Of those teams, 85 will be TSA-led teams while the rest will be TSA-certified teams through our law enforcement partnership program.

Before our dogs can go through this training, they have to get through their puppy stages. You know… biting, barking, jumping, begging, digging and so forth. (My knuckleheaded dog is six and still does all of that) We have established a “puppy foster family” program to help accomplish the task of socializing our future bomb sniffers, and we’ve event sent some puppies to prison. I’m only kind of joking… they’re not bad and they’re not being punished. Like the puppies with the foster families, they are spending time every day socializing with people and getting used to sights and sounds and smells of their new unexplored surroundings.

The puppies are booked into the Travis County State Jail in Austin for a year and are cared for and offered companionship by prisoners on good behavior. It’s a win-win for all involved. The puppy foster family program is similar to puppy prison except the families are not paying a debt to society.

So if you’re interested, you either need to live in the San Antonio/Austin, Texas area or get locked up at the state pokey. (Make sure you stay on good behavior)

Shepherds, Belgian Malanoises, Labs, Vizslas and other types of dogs are used in the program because of their super sniffers and a successful history for this type of work. Each dog that is born into the TSA breeding program is named after a 9/11 victim.

The TSA provides all food, toys, veterinary care and kennels. Make sure you visit the puppy program Web page if you’re interested.

TSA EoS Blog Team

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Safety & Privacy Concerns Regarding the Millimeter Wave Whole Body Imager

We've received many questions on the safety and privacy of the Millimeter Wave Whole Body Imager. As you can see from the chart above, the Millimeter Wave emits a smaller dose than simply walking outside on a sunny day.

I’ll quote a few noteworthy items from the Privacy Impact Assessment for TSA Whole Body Imaging. (PIA) I suggest you read the entire assessment for more information.

The Millimeter wave technology uses non-ionizing radio frequency energy in the millimeter wave spectrum to generate an image based on energy reflected from the body. The energy projected by the system is 100,000 times less than a cell phone transmission (.00000597 mW/cm2 for millimeter wave technology compared to 37.5 mW/cm2 for a cell phone)

The images created by whole body imaging technologies are not equivalent to photography and do not present sufficient details that the image could be used for personal identification.

While the equipment has the capability of collecting and storing an image, the image storage functions will be disabled by the manufacturer before the devices are placed in an airport and will not have the capability to be activated by operators.

The TSA is not the first organization to use Millimeter wave technology. It's currently used in various government locations across the United States, as well as international aviation and mass transit environments including:

Domestic locations Federal Court House (VA), Colorado Springs Court House (CO), Department of Corrections facility (PA), Los Angeles County Court House (CA), Cook County Court House (IL)

International airports U.K., Spain, Japan, Australia, Mexico, Thailand, Netherlands

The results in the first week of use at LAX and JFK speak for themselves.

LAX: 544 passengers were screened from 4/18 to 4/22 using Millimeter Wave technology. Only 18 passengers chose not to undergo the screening.

JFK: 1212 passengers were screened from 4/17 to 4/22 using Millimeter Wave technology. Only 33 passengers chose not to undergo the screening.


TSA EoS Blog Team

-----Update 5/25/2008-----7:00 PM EST-----

These are the signs that are displayed in front of the millimeter wave whole body imagers.


TSA EoS Blog Team

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Catch a Wave and Avoid a Pat Down

Since we posted information about Checkpoint Evolution and the expanded use of millimeter wave technology, we’ve noticed a number of comments from many of you questioning the use of this technology and the images it captures during the screening process.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there so we thought it might be worth a few words to see if we can address some of your concerns.

The expanded use of the millimeter wave in our nation’s airports actually goes back to the 9-11 Commission report, which recommended increased use of explosives detection technology for passengers at the security checkpoint. Of course, with the timing of the commission’s report and the bombing of two Russian airliners shortly thereafter, TSA deployed the highly invasive physical pat-down and deployed explosive trace portals to many airports nationwide. Otherwise known as the puffer machines, we continue to help fine-tune this technology while working with private technology companies to develop additional screening equipment that will scan passengers for any and all concealed weapons and explosives, thereby eliminating the need for the invasive pat-down. We more than recognize that passengers don’t like being patted down by our officers and, though some of you may think differently, our officers don’t like patting down passengers either. It’s uncomfortable for everyone involved.

So over the last year, TSA has piloted the millimeter wave whole body imaging machines. We have been so pleased with the millimeter wave that we are moving to deploy additional machines to LAX and JFK airports. Assistant Secretary Hawley recently announced the purchase of 30 additional machines. The millimeter wave allows our officers to see a rotating image of the passenger so they can see any threat items that might be hidden on a person’s front or back without them having to turn around. Many of you have commented on a CNN story we rolled the dice on last month. We allowed CNN to film as we ran one of the many covert tests conducted at security checkpoints everyday. Using a physical pat-down, our officer was unable to locate the threat item that one of the covert testers concealed in a back brace and, while we demonstrated for the public that our officers are tested regularly and the tests are meant to be challenging, unfortunately we failed that test on a nationally televised stage. We are confident that millimeter wave whole body imaging technology would have found that threat item.

Now I do remember a post someone wrote a few days ago, asking about cell phone cameras, suggesting officers could use them to take photos of passengers’ whole body images. First of all, as we’ve shown you, the image looks like a fuzzy negative…there’s nothing to see. And second, every airport using whole body imaging technology installs a separate, closed and remote viewing room for our officers to view the image projected from the machine, and in each case so far, those viewing rooms have been at least 50 feet from the machine. This distance ensures the officer viewing the image for concealed items has no way of interacting with or identifying the passenger. The officer staffing the equipment communicates with the officer in the viewing room with wireless microphones. No one is allowed in the room while the officer is screening those images and the officers are not permitted to carry cell phones, back packs or any other devices while they work in the viewing room.

Additionally, these monitors have no ability to save, print or transmit the image. Once it’s deleted, or once the next passenger steps into the machine, the previous image is gone forever.

I believe it is worth noting that whole body imaging machines are already in use in state and federal facilities around this country, including public courthouses.

As a married father of five small children, I wouldn’t think twice about sending my wife, my four boys or little girl into this machine. I’ve seen the image it produces and I am not only confident as a TSA employee - but as a citizen - that TSA has done everything possible to address passengers’ privacy concerns regarding whole body imaging.

For those of you who remain skeptical, you’ll be happy to know that, as we expand the use of whole body imaging to JFK and LAX, it remains an optional screening method for passengers. It’s voluntary so if you’re selected for additional screening and you prefer the physical pat-down, just let our officers know.

Millimeter wave, a form of whole body imaging technology, is currently in use at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Since its introduction there, more than 90 percent of passengers have elected to undergo screening with this technology instead of being subjected to a pat-down.

Nico Melendez

TSA EoS Blog Team

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The First Significant Deployment of Aviation Security Technology Since the 1970s

If you weren’t watching C-SPAN today, you missed Kip's testimony before the Committee on Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The Congressional Hearing was centered on how the Transportation Security Administration will continue to enhance security for all modes of transportation.

Kip announced the purchase of 580 AT X-rays (in addition to the 250 we’ve already planned to deploy). While technology isn't the only answer, this is the first significant deployment of proven aviation security technology since the 1970s. This equipment is part of the Checkpoint Evolution and will greatly strengthen our Layers of Security while also streamlining the process for passengers making things a little faster.

The AT X-rays allow TSOs to view multiple views of the item in the X-ray which will reduce the amount of bag checks and allow the lines to move faster while improving the quality of security. The AT X-rays are upgradeable so they can evolve with any future threats. Once we deploy these 580 machines, nearly half of the lanes at our checkpoints will have this new technology.

Millimeter wave will allow our TSOs to view a noninvasive image of a passenger revealing any items that were not divested. These images are friendly enough to post in a preschool. Heck, it could even make the cover of Reader’s Digest and not offend anybody. Privacy and security go hand in hand, so the millimeter wave must pass muster with the public. It’s important to keep the public safe, but it’s equally important to protect the public’s privacy. The millimeter wave is currently in use at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. More than 90 percent of passengers have elected to undergo screening with this technology instead of being subjected to a pat-down.
TSA EoS Blog Team

Friday, April 11, 2008

Passengers Asked For It, Passengers Got It: Passenger Feedback Used in Checkpoint Evolution

While screening 2 million people every day, you learn a thing or two. In addition to this on-the-job learning, we specifically sought out passenger feedback on how a checkpoint could be designed to make their lives a little easier. Easier processes equal more relaxed, patient people. More relaxed, patient people equal better security for everybody.

What we leaned and incorporated is: People want someplace to get ready for screening, people want to move at their own pace and people want somewhere to sit down and put themselves back together after screening.

That’s why we have introduced the prep stop and re-composure benches to the Checkpoint Evolution.

The prep stop allows passengers that need to prepare for screening an unhurried, plastic-bag, trash can and recycle bin-filled environment in which they can make those last minute preparations. This part of the Checkpoint Evolution also helps these travelers better prepare for screening without the cold shoulder from the pinstripe-suited business traveler tapping his wing-tips on the tile floor.

The re-composure benches are specifically designed to accommodate two people and are even split-level to foster sharing and tying those wing-tips when you're done with screening. It's a place to put yourself back together before heading off to your gate.

A lot of thought and feedback has gone into these and the other elements of Checkpoint Evolution and we welcome any suggestions you might have to make this concept even better.

EOS Blog Team

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Checkpoint Evolution: Passenger Engagement

Passenger engagement… What is it? Is it the new romantic comedy about two passengers who meet at an airport and decide to get married? Not quite.

Passenger engagement is all about the way we are moving to an entirely different environment at our checkpoints. Checkpoints are noisy, confusing places that often leave passengers feeling as if they just ran through a gauntlet.

While we are adopting process and technology upgrades, we are also enhancing the training of our officers to include a heavy focus on better communication at the checkpoint between officers and passengers.

We’d like to change the environment for two reasons. First off, passengers deserve to travel through our checkpoints without feeling stressed. We all have enough stress in our day to day lives don’t we?

Secondly, the more relaxed passengers are, the easier it will be for our Behavior Detection Officers to pick out folks who are displaying signs of fear and deception.

In a relaxed environment, someone with ill intent will stick out like a man in a plaid suit at the Oscars.


TSA EoS Blog Team

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Behavior Detection Officers Lead to Arrest in Orlando

(UPDATE 04/02/2008: Read the updated story. )

You might have seen on the news or the web today that Behavior Detection Officers at Orlando International Airport spotted a passenger in the airport lobby, well before the screening checkpoint, who was behaving suspiciously. Because of the passenger's highly irregular behavior, the officers ensured he was under surveillance as he moved through the airport, and requested that his checked bags immediately be searched.

As a result of the bag search, a variety of suspicious items were found. (Since the FBI is leading the investigation, we're not saying exactly what these items are although there is speculation in the press and on the web). The individual was taken into custody by Orlando Police and the FBI is now questioning him. If you’ve been watching the news, you’ve probably seen the bomb squad removing the passenger's clothing curbside to ensure he did not pose a threat.

Since the passenger was stopped before he could get to the checkpoint, checkpoint operations were not affected and flights continued to take off and land. A perimeter was established in Terminal A while the bomb squad did their work.

This is an excellent example of the layers of security in action throughout the airport. This is also a good example of using specially trained Behavior Detection Officers to look for people with hostile intent as well as the items they intend to use. It's a further testament that the behavior detection program works (yes, I'm partial...).

For the official TSA statement, click here.



TSA EoS Blog Team