Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Black Diamond Update

For those of you that have noticed TSA's Diamond Self-Select Lanes, you're not the only ones; Budget Travel magazine has rewarded TSA and the program with a 2008 Extra Mile Award for innovative efforts to make travel easier. For the past four years, Budget Travel has offered Extra Mile Awards as special recognition for notable ideas and advancements that make travel simpler, more enjoyable or more affordable across the travel industry. Thanks Budget Travel!

We also thank those who have commented on the Black Diamond blog posts (here and here) for your feedback.

Diamond Self-Select Lanes were first launched in Denver back in February and the program can now be found in 40 airports nationwide, from Honolulu and San Juan to Seattle and Manchester, N.H. The most recent addition was last week's roll-out in Omaha, Nebraska. Our goal is to try to provide travelers with dedicated screening lanes based on their needs, including "black diamond" lanes for frequent fliers who know the drill and "green" lanes for families and those with special needs who
need a little more time to go through security. To learn more about the program and to see which airports have self-select lanes, click here.

Guest EoS Blogger

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bar-Coded Boarding Passes – Secure, Mobile, and On The Way

As we’ve talked about earlier on the blog, TSA has taken a lot of steps to confirm ID: TSA Travel Document Checkers with magnifying loupes and black lights, the revised ID rules that affect people with no ID and developing Secure Flight. All that considered, we’re not na├»ve enough to say the system is foolproof. We’ve seen the “boarding pass generator” websites and know how to use Photoshop. In fairness, between the marking of boarding passes by TSOs at the checkpoint and the use of barcode scanners at the gate for most flights, it’s neither easy nor predictable to board a flight with a fake boarding pass. But the broader point is accurate – we could be better on this issue.

Some months ago, a team of people at TSA went to work on it. They’re working very closely with our airline partners to incorporate a strong digital signature into the barcode on every boarding pass. The technique we’ve selected allows existing 2D barcode scanners to read the basic flight information, but scanners equipped with the appropriate security keys can authenticate the information and determine if the name, date, flight number or any other information has been changed. It’s simple but very effective. The net result will be a boarding pass that is extremely resistant to tampering or forgery.

We’re already testing this concept in the field. Thanks to terrific cooperation from our airline partners, we’ve launched eight test sites where passengers can receive boarding passes on their mobile phones or PDAs (wait until you try it – it’s pretty slick). Click here to learn more about participating airports and airlines.

These mobile boarding passes have digital signatures embedded in the barcodes. Officers who do the document checking are equipped with handheld barcode scanners (generously on loan from our partners) and can confirm the authenticity of the boarding pass instantly. This isn’t rocket science – the (2010 NL East Champion) Nationals use the same process at their new ballpark – and it’s working really well for both TSA and passengers.

Next up, we’ll work on expanding from mobile boarding passes at a few sites to all formats of boarding passes across our system. Looking back on the progress that we’ve made over the past several weeks, we greatly appreciate the cooperation and commitment of our partners on this effort. In the meantime, you can check back here or at www.tsa.gov for specifics on where you can try the new mobile boarding passes.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven Years Later

As many of us reflect on 9/11, I wanted to share the story about how I came to TSA and what it meant to wear the TSA uniform. In September 2001, I lived in Fairfield, Ohio and was living the rock and roll dream as a musician. My wife was working third shift. When I got out of bed on 9/11, my wife was still sound asleep.

I went through my normal morning routine, making coffee and reading the news on the internet. I pulled up CNN and read a developing story about a plane that had just hit the World Trade Center. The first thing I thought of was the B-25 Bomber Plane that hit the Empire State Building in 1945. I was sure it had to be a similar type of accident.

I turned on the television and saw the World Trade Center tower on fire with giant plumes of smoke pouring out. Nobody quite knew what to make of it, but it was all too apparent what was going on after the second plane hit the south tower. America was under attack.

As I watched the news, my wife slept peacefully. I couldn’t bring myself to wake her. The world she knew when she went to bed that night would never be the same again.

It was hard for me to believe that I was feeling the same things as I had more than ten years earlier when the first Gulf War ground effort began. In 1991, I wore the uniform of a soldier of the United States Army while serving in the Persian Gulf with the 3rd Armored Division.

Thinking back, I remember wishing I was still in the Army so I could do something. In my college political science class, we talked about terrorism coming to America. I knew this was just the beginning and we’d get hit again eventually. So when I read about the formation of TSA, I was intrigued. I jumped at the chance to serve my country again. I proudly wore a new uniform, this time the one of at Transportation Security Officer, and serving again on the frontline to prevent another attack. Many other former military folks joined TSA along with me - today 25 percent of our frontline officers are veterans. Others also jumped at the chance to serve their country. I actually met people that took a pay cut to come work for TSA because the mission and the job meant that much.

The uniforms we wore weren’t the greatest, but we were proud to wear them. They identified us as frontline officers serving in the war against terrorism. Today, at airports around the country, passengers will see the new TSA uniform. I think the blue shirts look better, but most importantly, they better represent the dedication and professionalism of our officers. They also represent the evolution of our agency. The training, experience and nature of an officer's work today are far different than the job of a pre-9/11 "screener."

The uniform and badge are part of a series of changes at TSA, both cultural and operational. Soon, every person on the frontline, both officers and managers, will undergo two full days of revolutionary new training that will continue to change the focus from looking for bad things to looking for bad people. Security isn't better when officers follow a static checklist mentality - it's better when officers use their experience, judgment and training to assess the whole situation and look for the people with intent to do harm - people who might use common, everyday items like drinks or remote control toys converted into IEDs. That's why looking at behavior and other anomalies are so important.

Thinking back to 9/11 and when I joined TSA, I remember how people often said hello and even shook our hands. For the traveling public, it's been seven years without an attack in the U.S., and to many, the rules are now burdensome and our checkpoints are a necessary evil. For officers, it's one day at a time, with some days when you find a gun, a knife, hollowed out shoes, or items in bags that look like plastic explosives or an IED. Things that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, your heart stop, because it's a threat until you can prove it's not one. It happens far more than you think, so when an officer asks to get a better look at you or your bag, know that it's because they want to make sure everything's okay.

Today, at airports around the country, officers on duty at 8:46 a.m. participated in a moment of silence to mark 9/11. The new uniform also carries a reminder of 9/11. If you look closely at the patch on an officer's left shoulder, you’ll see nine stars and eleven stripes behind the eagle. If you look at the eagle’s wing, you will see the Twin Towers. We think about it all the time so passengers can get safely to their destination. Our personal creed is “not on my watch.”


EoS Blog Team

Monday, September 8, 2008

An Update on Checkpoint Friendly Laptop Bags

It’s been almost a month since we launched our new laptop bag procedures. As expected, there have been a few folks (including my Dad) who thought they could just leave their laptops in any old bag with cables and gadgets galore. We expected some confusion and just like any new procedure we’ve rolled out, we’re hopeful that the majority of folks will get the hang of it pretty quick. We put together a video that might help some of you out.

Click here to see a video on new laptop bag procedures.

Here are a couple of laptop bag related stories I found on the web.

USA Today: Flyers Cheer Laptop Policy Change

Jet with Kids: Airport Security and Laptops – Reporting Back (Lessons Learned)

But enough of my yackin’ – I wanted to share what others who have tried the new process had to say. Please remember that TSA does not endorse any of these bags specifically, we’re just sharing the insights and experiences of the travelers.

ZD Net: The Mobile Gadgeteer

PC World: Road Test: Checkpoint Friendly Laptop Bags

In case you missed it, check out our original blog post announcing the launch of the new laptop bag procedures.


EoS Blog Team

Friday, September 5, 2008

More on Passive Millimeter Wave Technology

Some folks are getting the wrong idea that the SPO-7 passive millimeter wave technology used at Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul airports during the recent conventions is a mobile Millimeter Wave portal and can see through clothing. That’s not the case. These are two separate technologies that look for threats in different ways.

The Millimeter Wave portal - the booth you walk into at checkpoints in certain airports - penetrates garments and provides an image. The SPO-7, which uses passive millimeter wave technology to detect threats from a distance, produces an image, but it’s simply the type of image you would see on a video camera. Images are not stored.

The SPO-7 unit consists of two separate sensors and a monitoring location. By simultaneously comparing the illumination levels from two locations on an individual’s body, the SPO-7 detects potential threats such as suicide vests and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that are hidden under individuals’ clothing. On the screen, it produces a light, using a red-to-green scale, that suggests anomalies such as the presence of explosives. That's why the screen and the officer viewing the screen doesn't need to be in a remote location.

Security officers operating the SPO-7 will work closely with Behavior Detection Officers. The teams will be equipped with wireless headsets to communicate with each other about possible concerns. TSA also partners closely with local law enforcement who will respond if called.

Unlike the stationary (and large) millimeter wave portal, the SPO-7 is mobile and only requires a few hours of training for use. This comes in handy to provide an additional layer of security in specific areas, in both the aviation, mass transit and maritime environments.

In crowded public areas such as ferry terminals, mass transit stations and most recently, airports, the SPO-7 works without breaking passengers’ stride.

And lastly, to address safety and privacy concerns, the SPO-7 does not shoot X-rays or any other type of radiation at people. It merely measures energy that emanates from the human body. Signage is prominently displayed where the SPO-7 is used to notify the public. SPO-7 enables TSA to add an unpredictable security measure without adding inconvenience to passengers.

The SPO-7 pilots will continue at the Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul airports for 60-90 days.

So, the two key things you should take away from this post are:

The SPO-7 cannot see through your clothing.

The SPO-7 does not project X-rays or any other types of radiation.

Here are some screen shots of what the operator sees:


TSA EoS Blog Team