Wednesday, February 25, 2009

3 oz or 3.4 oz? What gives???

Short answer: 3.4 oz. For more details, read on…

OK, here’s the scoop. If the U.S. would have switched to the metrics system in the 70s, this wouldn’t be an issue. How many of you out there had to learn the metric system in school only to never use it…

When TSA lifted the total liquid ban and implemented the 3-1-1 program, the permissible amount of liquids, aerosols and gels was 3oz. Press releases went out, WebPages were updated, and signs were printed and shipped out nationwide to 457 airports.

When TSA rolled out 3-1-1, the European Union was not on board yet. When the EU decided to lift the ban and allow liquids to travel, the amount permitted was 100ml. Well, as those of you who like me had to learn metric conversion in grade school, youmight remember that 100ml = 3.4oz. not 3 oz. In order to align with the EU, we decided to allow liquids in containers up to 3.4oz. We also decided to keep our signage the same to maintain consistency. (Besides, 3.4-1-1 just doesn’t have the same ring to it.)

From a marketing perspective, 3 ounces was easier to remember than 3.4. For the European Union, 100 milliliters was easier to remember than 89. So, behind the scenes, we’ve been allowing up to 3.4 ounces, but it hasn’t been reflected on the web or in signage.

We’ve read your concerns here on the blog, so from now on, we’ll use 3.4 on the blog when talking about liquid limits, and also make changes (as soon as possible) to the TSA web site. I worked with Lynn on this and she has crafted a new response for the contact center to use when communicating with the public. We are also going to send a message to the workforce as a reminder.

Some people have asked why we don’t convert the net weight of the toothpaste to volume since they are different. Good question. The 3.4 container/volume rule was created to make it simple and streamlined for both passengers and our officers. As you could imagine, taking weight into consideration would be a wrench in the spokes. I’m sure the public doesn’t want our officers using scales or conversion charts, etc.

I hope this has helped you better understand the 3.0/3.4 oz. conundrum.



EoS Blog Team

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pilot Program Tests Millimeter Wave for Primary Passenger Screening

This week, TSA began testing MMW technology in the place of a metal detector at Tulsa International Airport to assess passenger throughput and acceptance.

Currently, 18 airports have millimeter wave equipment installed at checkpoints in a “secondary” screening configuration, which means that metal detectors are still the primary method of screening passengers. At these airports, randomly selected passengers and those requiring secondary screening can be screened by millimeter wave technology as a non-invasive alternative to a pat-down from an officer.

In Tulsa, instead of walking through the metal detector, passengers will go directly through the millimeter wave machine. A passenger can opt not to go through the unit, but will go through the metal detector and get a pat-down instead. Signage at the checkpoint informs travelers about the technology and lets them know that using it is voluntary. We’ve included one of the signs below.

So far the pilot seems to be going well, as noted in an article in USA Today. In the first three days of primary MMW at Tulsa, 3,780 passengers have been screened using the technology and only 8 people have opted for the metal detector and a pat-down.

In addition to the security benefit of whole body imaging – it can detect metallic and non-metallic threat items – the technology also reduces the need to pat-down passengers with hip replacements, prosthetics and other surgical implants. At airports without Whole Body Image machines, when passengers alarm the metal detector, the alarm must be resolved through a hand-held metal detector and a pat down. This often takes two to four minutes as opposed to about 15 seconds with millimeter wave.

For every person who is hesitant to go through the millimeter wave portal for whatever reason, there are 100 people with metallic surgical implants that are rejoicing. Here is a quote from Thomas Frank’s USA Today Article:

“For passengers with metallic hips or knees, the scanners were a relief from metal detectors, which invariably sound alarms that lead to pat-downs. ‘I walked through, raised my arms and was done,’ said a beaming Larry Brenden, 43, of Albuquerque. ‘I was like, what, no pat-down?"

And yes, whenever we talk about whole body imaging we get lots of comments and questions about privacy. We suggest checking out 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl’s commentary on millimeter wave or this article by the producer of Ms. Stahl’s segment. For anyone just hearing about millimeter wave and wanting to know more, please read Blogger Bob’s two previous MMW posts: [link 1] [link 2]. The short version: the technology is completely safe, WBI images are never transmitted, printed or stored, the officer at the machine cannot see the image and the officer viewing the image cannot see the passenger.

In the next two months, the pilot program will expand to San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, Albuquerque, and Salt Lake City.

If you have the chance to go through a millimeter wave machine – in primary or secondary – please share your thoughts here on the blog.

- Poster Paul

EoS Blog Team


TSA’s partnership with European civil aviation authorities has also had a significant impact on TSA’s decision to begin the Primary MMW pilot. A Primary MMW trial at Schiphol airport in the Netherlands has been underway since late 2006. Prior to TSA’s pilot program, TSA technology experts met with Dutch civil aviation authorities and technology experts to discuss the process and recent results.


Including the above, three signs will be on display at the security checkpoint for airports participating in the Primary MMW pilot. See the other two below. All three are currently on display at Tulsa.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Why We Do What We Do: Shift Briefs

Lynn’s husband asked a question similar to this after a recent trip, and we also get this question from people on the blog:

“When I’m going past the checkpoint, I see a group of officers standing over to the side. What are they doing? “

Maybe it’s happened to you, too: you’re in the line waiting go to through the checkpoint and you see a large group of officers near the checkpoint standing around and talking. Your first thought is probably “why in the heck don’t they use these officers to open more lanes?”

Are they trying to figure out how many officers it takes to change a light bulb? Are they getting ready to make a human pyramid? Nope…

The most likely reason is that it’s time for a shift change. Officers receive an in-brief and out-brief at the beginning and end of their shifts. During the course of a day, officers on the same shift are routinely assigned different tasks and are never in the same place at the same time. These two occasions are opportune times to get the entire shift together and disseminate important information and assign tasks for the day etc. This is a time when officers can communicate with their supervisors and managers and bring things to light. This is when critical intelligence is shared or information relating to an FBI BOLO or Amber Alert is distributed.

Sometimes these briefings take place in rooms outside of the public view and other times there just isn’t any space at a particular airport and briefings have to be conducted in a public area.

There can also be other reasons for smaller groups of officers to convene at the checkpoint.

Officers are sent to breaks and lunches in groups and before they return to duty, they usually meet near the checkpoint to wait for a lead or supervisor to give them their next assignment.

We also have teams of officers sent to various locations to randomly screen airport employees. Even if nobody is being screened, officers need to stay at this location for a specific period of time.

Officers also frequently use cell phones to communicate in larger airports where radios might not reach everywhere. So while it may look like an officer is making a personal call, they are in fact doing their job. Use of personal cell phones while on duty is not permitted.

We understand it’s human nature to assume folks are just doing nothing, but in a public job like this one, our officers are like the gold fish in the bowl swimming around for everyone to see. Everything they do is open to a different interpretation by each passenger. I just wanted to give you a few explanations to clear things up.


EoS Blog Team

Monday, February 9, 2009

Why We Do What We Do: Screening People in Wheelchairs

On February 4 at Los Angeles International Airport (better known as LAX), TSA officers found two 6x6x2 packages taped to the abdomen of a passenger.

The passenger arrived at the checkpoint in a wheelchair and was given the option of walking through the metal detector or being patted down in his wheelchair. He chose to walk through the metal detector. Because he was wearing bulky clothing, he also received additional screening - in this case a pat down.

That's when an officer found the two packages. The packages were tested and initial results were positive for explosive content. A TSA Bomb Appraisal Officer eventually cleared the packages through additional tests at the checkpoint and LAX police determined that the packages contained cocaine. The passenger was arrested, and federal charges are pending.

Now we know what some of you are thinking - TSA’s mission is not to find drugs, and that’s true. But finding drugs isn’t the success story here – the success story is that the officers found suspicious items intentionally concealed on a person’s body and that person was someone who would appear to pose no threat. We know that people who want to sneak something through a checkpoint – like improvised explosives devices and their components – often look to the techniques of drug and money smugglers and other criminals. In this case, it was drugs (which are admittedly not a threat to a plane), but when an officer finds these kinds of items, they don’t know what the contents are until the package is tested.

And because it’s a hot topic, it bears repeating that because transportation security officers are federal officers, if they find drugs, they must report it to law enforcement. Often on the blog we get questions like: “how is granny a threat?,” “what can a person in a wheelchair do on a plane,” etc. To us, this story is about the importance of screening everyone, and not giving anyone an exemption that a terrorist could use to their advantage.

Case in point: in 2005 in Colombia, a man in a wheelchair was allowed to bypass the metal detectors to board his flight. He and his son then tried to hijack the plane with two hand grenades they got through security. According to the media reporting:

“Duque said the older hijacker boarded the plane in a wheelchair. It may have helped him smuggle the grenades aboard. The wheelchair was too large to pass through an airport metal detector, and the man was not patted down by security agents, Luis Octavio Rojas, director of the Florencia airport, told The Associated Press.

“But they did give him and the chair a visual inspection,” Rojas added.”
- Lynn
EoS Blog Team