Wednesday, April 29, 2009

BWI Checkpoint Rollout Anniversary (And More...)

Did you know this is the 7th anniversary of TSA rolling out the first federalized airport checkpoint? It was at Baltimore Washington International Airport. (BWI)

It’s also the 1st anniversary of the day we launched Evolution at BWI. The nationwide re-training of our frontline officers is just about completed.

To celebrate these milestones in our short but rich history, I figured I’d post a few interesting TSA stories on the blog that I came across recently.

First off, check out this article from Rick Seaney, FareCompare.com CEO, on ABCNews.com: The TSA Nightmare: Airport Security. The headline is a bit misleading - it actually dispels a few common myths about our officers.

Secondly, while scanning the blogosphere as I do every morning, I came across a weekly column from a Transportation Security Officer in the Londonderry Online Hometown News called “Joe’s Two Cents.” His latest article describes a day where his checkpoint screened a group of Wounded Warriors. Check out his touching story: No Big Deal…

I just came across this one a few minutes ago on process improvement at TSA.

I hope you enjoy these links as much as I enjoyed my wife’s PB&J sandwiches she packed in my lunch today. Mmmm…

Blogger Bob

EoS Blog Team

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dishing the Dirt

I’ve been reading some statements around the web about a recent incident at Piedmont Triad Airport (PTI) in North Carolina involving dirt and fossils being mistaken for a possible bomb.

To the flying public, I fully understand that it has to seem ridiculous that dirt and fossils could be mistaken for a bomb. If I didn’t know anything about how x-ray images looked or what TSA was looking for, I’d probably be on the “you guys actually thought that was a bomb?” bandwagon.

I’m going to try to make this as simple as I can, saying what I am able to say.

1) Images of items on the x-ray monitor often look nothing like they normally do to the naked eye.

2)Dirt and fossils as well as many other normal day to day items can resemble what our officers are trained to look for on the x-ray monitor.

3) Bags often contain electronics and wires that overlap these items making them look even more suspicious.

As a former TSO I can think of a couple of times where by chance, everyday normal harmless items were laid out in a bag in such a way to look exactly like a textbook improvised explosive device. (IED)

In this particular case, a Bomb Appraisal Officer (BAO) was summoned and they eventually determined there was no threat. When you think there might be an explosive in a bag, you don’t just whip it out of the x-ray tunnel and dive into it. There are procedures that must be followed for the well-being of everybody involved. Of course, once the bag was opened, it was obvious what the items were and that they did not pose a threat.

I hope this clears things up a little bit in regards to items being mistaken for IEDs.

Thanks,

Blogger Bob

EoS Blog Team

Thursday, April 23, 2009

See SPO. See SPO Screen. Screen, SPO, Screen!

Keeping the flying public safe from curbside to cockpit is a major part of TSA’s mission. This post will hopefully provide some more insight about what’s going on before you even reach the security checkpoint.

Concerns about public areas in airports have been brought up time and again by security wonks and commenters on this and other blogs—and we’ve been listening.

Surveillance of non-sterile areas in airports is a no-brainer when it comes to mitigating risk in an efficient manner. There’s really no way to get around that. For a while now, several different TSA programs have been in place to satisfy this security need—and thus far, Behavior Detection has been getting most of the attention. However, Passive MMW, a.k.a SPO-7, might just steal the spotlight.

Since April 21, TSA has been testing and evaluating two tripod-mounted, highly mobile SPO-7 units at Boston’s Logan International (BOS). You may recall Blogger Bob’s post about Passive MMW back in September ’08; however, a few things have happened since then. Just as a quick recap, Passive MMW has been used in mass transit and maritime environments since 2007. In 2008, TSA tested the technology in non-sterile areas of Denver International and Minneapolis/St. Paul International during the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions.

The name “Passive MMW” may imply that this technology operates in the exact same way as the stationary Whole Body MMW machines at the checkpoint. This is definitely not the case. Both technologies are non-invasive and completely safe, but other than that, the only similarity is that both systems make use of millimeter waves in one way or another. To be clear, Whole Body MMW machines bounce harmless millimeter waves off of your body to generate a metallic image. Passive MMW on the other hand receives energy generated by an individual and the objects that they are carrying on their person. This energy can be detected by an appropriate receiver and can be used to detect anomalies.

Here’s an example of the image an operator would see:



As you can see, it looks a lot different than the robotic images generated by stationary MMW machines at the checkpoint. For this reason, Passive MMW machines and their operators will be in full view of the public in the non-sterile areas of BOS.

Security officers operating the Passive MMW will work closely with Behavior Detection Officers on the floor. If either group detects a potential threat, they will alert their counterparts. From there a variety of scenarios can occur, up to and including calling local law enforcement.

Signs will be placed in the vicinity of the screening area to make sure everyone is relatively well informed about Passive MMW:

So…Passive MMW…awesome idea right? Let us know what you think.

Blogger Paul

EoS Blog Team
-
*Edit: The second sign was changed from "WARNING" to "ALERT"

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Missing Crematory Remains

Many stories are circulating that TSA lost crematory remains that were checked as baggage at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. After working with the airline, TSA was able to determine the bags belonging to the passenger in question were never handled or opened by TSA officers. The bags were screened by our automated inline baggage system and sent directly to the airline. Each bag has an ID number and the computer logs every bag that alarms and is sent to the resolution room for secondary screening. The bags in question did not alarm and therefore went directly to the airline..

To date, the family has not contacted TSA.TSA has made attempts to contact the family and will continue to try to do so. TSA regrets the family has to deal with this during their time of mourning.

The guidelines for traveling with crematory remains are correct and up to date on TSA.gov.

Bob

Eos Blog Team

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

TWIC Casts a Security Net Over Ports

Today is not only the deadline for your taxes, it’s the national compliance day for TWIC! Through a maze of streamers, cake, and party hats, I found my way to Greg, (The TWIC-Meister) and asked him to write a little about TWIC for us. What is TWIC? Read on… ~ Blogger Bob

To most folks, TSA is synonymous with airport security, planes and really spiffy blue uniforms. But for the past few years we have been working hard to add a layer of port security that the maritime industry has never seen before. That’s right; spread the word, TSA is involved in securing other modes of transportation too. They don’t call us the Transportation Security Administration for nothing.

Today, the U.S. Coast Guard began ensuring port workers and mariners nationwide have a new security biometric card known as a TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Credential). Having a TWIC in hand means the holder received a thorough background check, and is now allowed unescorted access to secure areas of ports and vessels. Beginning today, the card must be presented at the more than 3,200 U.S. maritime facilities and 10,000 vessels from Maine to Guam to gain access. It is a huge win for security to know the folks working at our nation’s ports are not known terrorist threats.

The card itself is huge security benefit. Now instead of security guards examining more than 500 different driver’s licenses and hundreds of other port IDs, there is one uniform card accepted to gain access. TWIC uses advanced technology to embed a template of the owner’s fingerprints as well as a host of other security features that make it nearly impossible to fake.

TWICs are designed to be read by a card reader. TWIC card readers have gone through initial lab testing and approved equipment will be tested further in severe port environments (extreme heat, cold, wind, salt water, etc). At this time, some ports have already installed new readers and more will be soon. Readers are not mandatory yet because TSA listened and responded to industry concerns about cost and the need to test readers at port facilities and on vessels to ensure durability and functionality. We have worked closely with industry every step of the way to maximize security and minimize the effect on commerce.

To date, approximately 1.1 million workers have been vetted and participated in making the Homeland more secure.

Greg, EoS Guest Blogger

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Traveling With Large Amounts of Cash

Since the St. Louis incident blog post, we have received many questions about traveling with cash and whether or not you are required to answer questions about the cash you are traveling with. Francine Kerner, TSA’s Chief Counsel was kind enough to take some time and address your questions. ~ Blogger Bob 

Sometimes a TSA officer may ask a passenger who is carrying a large sum of cash to account for the money. You have asked why such a question is posed and whether a passenger is required to answer.

In reacting to potential security problems or signs of criminal activity, TSA officers are trained to ask questions and assess passenger reactions, including whether a passenger appears to be cooperative and forthcoming in responding.

TSA officers routinely come across evidence of criminal activity at the airport checkpoint. Examples include evidence of illegal drug trafficking, money laundering, and violations of currency reporting requirements prior to international trips. 

When presented with a passenger carrying a large sum of money through the screening checkpoint, the TSA officer will frequently engage in dialog with the passenger to determine whether a referral to law-enforcement authorities is warranted.

The TSA officer may consider all circumstances in making the assessment, including the behavior and credibility of the passenger. Thus, a failure to be forthcoming may inform a TSA officer’s decision to call law-enforcement authorities. 

Francine Kerner
TSA Chief Counsel

Friday, April 10, 2009

What to Know Before You Go

All I’ve done here is basically take all of the links for air travelers from TSA.gov and placed them on one page. You can bookmark this or copy and paste it and save it on your desktop.

To stay up to date, follow this link and you can subscribe to an e-mail announcement service that will notify you as changes are made.

What would you like to know that you can’t find in these links? Please take a look and post a comment with your suggestions.

How to Get Through the Line Faster
Step-By-Step Screening (WMV, 3 MB)Female business traveler (WMV, 3 MB)Male business traveler (WMV, 3 MB)Traveling with a baby or small child (WMV, 3 MB)Travelers with special needs (WMV, 3 MB)Ad Council 3 Simple Steps to Security Video (WMV, 3.5 MB)

Liquid Rules: 3-1-1 for Carry-Ons
Why the bag?
Learn more about packing your liquids and gels
Important information on duty-free items

Prohibited Items

Acceptable Identification at the Checkpoint
Click here to view samples of acceptable documents (PDF, 159 KB).
Safe Travel with Batteries & Devices
"Checkpoint Friendly" Laptop Bags
Special Items
Alcoholic Beverages
Batteries and Devices Camping Compressed Gas Cylinders Crematory Containers and Deceased Remains
Currency, Coins, Precious Metals, or Valuable Jewelry
Firearms & Ammunition
Food & Beverages (through security checkpoints) Hunting & Fishing Knitting Needles, Needlepoint & Sewing Lighters and Matches Medications Musical Instruments
Paintball Equipment Parachutes Pets
Photographic Equipment & Film
Scuba Equipment Service Animals Sporting Equipment

Baggage Locks
Safe Skies Luggage Locks
Travel Sentry

Travelers with Disabilities and Medical Conditions
Introduction
Before You Go
Tips For The Screening Process
Mobility Disabilities
Hearing Disabilities Visual Disabilities Hidden Disabilities Pacemakers, Defibrillators, Other Implanted Medical Devices, & Metal Implants Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Machine Medical Oxygen and Respiratory-Related Equipment
Diabetes
Medications
Assistive Devices and Mobility Aids Prosthetic Devices, Casts, and Body Braces Walkers, Crutches, and Canes Augmentation Devices Orthopedic Shoes, Support Appliances, and Exterior Medical Devices Dressings
Service Animals
Children with Disabilities
Medical Conditions and Special Situations Military Severely Injured Program

Traveling with Children
Travel Tips
Baby Formula, Breast Milk, Juice, and Other Liquids
Children with Disabilities

Customer Service
TSA Contact Center
Claims Management Office
Discrimination Lost & Found Screening Process Travel Links
Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) Got Feedback

Have a great weekend!!!

Blogger Bob

EoS Blog Team

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Two Scabies Cases Reported at Boston Logan International Airport

We’ve received some e-mails as well as several blog comments asking us to address the Scabies incident at Boston Logan International Airport.

You just never know what you’re going to write about around here. Formaldehyde, tin mint cans, frozen monkey heads, pie, exploding chickens, scabies, what next? Please don’t answer that…

As Google will show you, scabies is not all that uncommon. Dermatologists estimate that more than 300 million cases of scabies occur worldwide every year. The disease can strike anyone of any race or age, regardless of personal hygiene.

With that said, here is the lowdown on what happened at BOS and how TSA reacted. I think you’ll find that we thoroughly and swiftly addressed the issue.

TSA management at BOS was made aware of 8 suspected cases of scabies. TSA management immediately reached out to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Boston Public Health Commission and Massport. The Boston Public Health Commission informed TSA that only 2 of the 8 suspected cases were actually confirmed cases of scabies, and one of those cases was described as “mild.”

CDC and Public Health inspectors visited the airport and provided advice on how to proceed, ensuring every precaution was being taken. The Boston Public Health Commission also sent an Environmental Specialist to perform an onsite assessment.

Health experts have continued to tell TSA that transmission to passengers is highly improbable given that prolonged skin to skin contact is required. Keep in mind, TSOs are required to wear gloves during the screening process while handling passengers’ belongings. You can always request that a TSO change gloves prior to a bag search or pat down.

TSA worked with Massport to ensure the checkpoints, break rooms and other offices where these employees are assigned were professionally cleaned, including the floors and carpets.

Information on scabies (provided by the CDC) was shared with the TSA workforce, including recommendations on how to protect oneself. Employees were all instructed to wash their uniforms and coats as well as other personal belongings before bringing them back to work.

Blogger Bob

EoS Blog Team

Update ***04/09/2009 10:10 PM***

I have just been informed that 3 more cases have been confirmed at BOS. If there are any new developments, I'll post them here on the blog. ~ Blogger Bob

Update ***04/10/2009 1:17 PM***

TSA has provided details on these new cases to the Infectious Disease Bureau of the Boston Public Health Commission for their vetting and also made arrangements to have another checkpoint professionally cleaned. Additionally a local hotline for communicable diseases is available for personnel at the airport and for the general public to address any concerns (617-534-5611 or www.bphc.org). Again, health experts have continued to tell TSA that transmission to passengers is highly improbable given that prolonged skin to skin contact is required. ~ Blogger Bob

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Welcome New Blog Team Members

Many of our officers have participated on this blog and spent their own time helping to answer your questions. They’ve been a huge help. It’s great to have some folks on the blog who are actually out there working at our checkpoints.

With that said, it’s with great pleasure that I announce to you the three newest members of the TSA Blog Team. Our regular readers will know them well as Kelly-Mae, (Kelly, TSO at Louisville International Airport) Happy 2 Help, (Tim, TSO at Sacramento International Airport) and GSOLTSO. (West, LTSO at Piedmont Triad International Airport)

They will not serve as moderators, so please don’t beat them up for what does or doesn’t get posted. They’ll continue what they’ve been doing, (responding to comments) and on occasion will write a blog post here and there.

Here are their bios. I have also posted them on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

Tim

Hi, I'm Tim and I joined TSA in mid 2007. I'm currently a Transportation Security Officer at Sacramento International Airport (SMF) and take great pride in the support I receive.
I come from a US Army military intelligence background and am a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), I specialized in Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) and junior level analysis.


On September 11, I was one of the many US Army soldiers patrolling Fort Huachuca checking military IDs. Holding my M16-A2, I knew the United States was going to change and I would do everything in my power to make sure it changed for the good. Public service has been a great honor for me.

In my free time, I am a proud family man, hobbyist programmer, like to collaborate on open source software, and am currently finishing up my degree in software engineering.

West

Hi, my name is West, and I started with TSA in February of 2005. I work at GSO (Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, NC) and truly enjoy working at my airport. I was hired on as a Transportation Security Officer (TSO) and have since been promoted to Lead Transportation Security Officer (LTSO). I have worked as an On the Job Training (OJT) Monitor, and have been training new TSO’s since my first year with TSA.

I live in Greensboro, NC with my significantly better half Charlene, Jacob and Esau (the two cats that actually own the house), and Montana and Darwin (the dogs that are a pair of walking comedy reels).


Prior to working with the TSA, I put in 8 years with the US Army as a Military Police Officer. I also put in 8 years as a Silversmith Apprentice and am now a Journeyman Silversmith. My hobbies include sitting on a pier/boat with a fishing pole and being able to fix broken metal things.

Kelly

Hey ya’ll (yep, I’m from KY).… My name is Kelly (KellyMae) and I have been with TSA at Louisville International Airport since Dec 2006. In my two years, I have enjoyed working with the public and have helped to train other TSOs. I work part-time and half of my time is spent on the checkpoint and the other half screening checked bags.

Before TSA, I worked mostly in restaurants. Until TSA, that is pretty much all I knew and I enjoyed it very much. Working with the public since I was 15 has helped me to develop great customer service skills that I apply to my job every day and try to utilize when helping out on this blog as well.

I have always enjoyed working with people, but outside of work, my true passion is animals. My boyfriend and I have an Australian Shepherd and a cat, who don't get along of course. I also love taking pictures and have been thinking about ways to combine my passions. Until then, I will be here and hope to be more helpful in answering your questions and giving feedback.

Thanks,

Blogger Bob

EoS Blog Team

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What In the Heck Does That Person Do: TSA Customer Support & Quality Improvement Manager (CSQIM)

First off, I decided the use of “A Day in the Life Of” was cliché, so I changed it to “What in the Heck Does That Person Do?” It’s going to be a long running series highlighting various TSA positions across the nation. Our first one was a few weeks ago with Jim’s Transportation Security Inspector post.

For this installment, I reached out to Paul who works with TSA at the Orlando International airport. Paul is the Customer Support & Quality Improvement Manager.

So, what in the heck does he do? Let’s find out…

Blogger Bob: When, why and how should a passenger contact a TSA Customer Support Manager?

Paul: Should travelers require additional information or care to share more detailed concerns or express a compliment related to their experience, they can reach me through the TSA Contact Center, Got Feedback, or complete a Comment Card. Passengers can always leave general feedback on the TSA blog.

Blogger Bob: You mentioned comment cards. Some of our readers in the past have posted comments stating that they were required to show a supervisor their ID prior to receiving a comment card. Should this happen?

Paul: Not that I’m aware of. Passengers are welcome to submit a comment card without fear of retribution. Naturally we do receive a number of ‘anonymous’ cards. We review them and then share comments with the workforce.

Bob: I actually knew the answer to that one in advance. I was just testing you. That’s one of the main things that lit the fire for us to launch Got Feedback. We cringed when we read that passengers were being required to show their ID prior to receiving a comment card. Speaking of Got Feedback, I notice that you’re really active with the Got Feedback program. Your airport is among the top 10 most popular airports in the Got Feedback program. Tell me a little about your experiences with Got Feedback and how the program is working out for Orlando International Airport. Are problems resolved faster when a passenger uses Got Feedback?

Paul: Yes, we do resolve them more efficiently. It provides a quick snap shot of the issue with easy contact info to initiate a reply to the traveler. We receive all types of inquiries: What can I take on a plane, lost items, why was my prohibited item taken, rude, inattentive employees etc. I do want to note that we actually do receive compliments and requests for advance assistance through the passengers with disabilities lane.
Traveler concerns are important to us and we take great pride in working to address their inquiries. Keep in mind that more than 40 million travelers process through the Orlando International Airport annually … that is a LOT of feedback!

Blogger Bob: Which Disney character has the most difficulty with airport security and why?

Paul: Sleepy (For obvious reasons) and Buzz Lightyear because he always needs to undergo secondary inspection. (Can’t divest!)

Blogger Bob: What did you do prior to working for TSA?

Paul: 33 years with the Government. 26 years with US Customs (Law Enforcement, Customs Inspector, Supervisor, Passenger Service Representative) and 7 years with TSA. (Started 2 months after the federal roll out) It’s also important to mention our program assistant Bill has spent 35 years working for the Government. 28 years with the Air Force. (Aircraft Maintenance Manager/stock clerk in grocery store) 7 years with TSA.

Blogger Bob: As a customer support manager, do you coordinate with passengers who have special needs to help make their travel experience a little better?

Paul: We provide support to travelers with special needs as well as to support local community groups. We are sensitive to providing the utmost attention to travelers with disabilities and children who may require special attention as well as wounded soldiers. As this is a tourist destination, you can image that we are busy working to provide necessary support. We also work with our airport stakeholders to coordinate various travel groups. Recently, we became aware of a local high school girls softball team (15th in the country) that was traveling to California for the tournament. We gave them a rousing send off! Our partnership with the airport and the local community has greatly improved the perception / image that travelers have of TSA.

Blogger Bob: I think that’s great that passengers with special needs can plan ahead and coordinate their travel. I’m sure that makes things much easier for all involved. What is the one best piece of advice you could give to a traveler?

Paul: Divest your items before entering the checkpoint.

Blogger Bob: Like what? The usual phones, keys and change? Do people still forget to do this? I imagine that could hold the line up quite a bit.

Paul: Yes … these items still become the most frequently forgotten items. It does impede the throughput quite a bit.

Blogger Bob: How often is a Transportation Security Officer accused of theft by a passenger who later finds the misplaced item and notifies you?

Paul: We rarely hear of this when it happens because they are too embarrassed to call back. One was a contact we received from an older woman who did call back to tell us that the missing envelope containing one thousand dollars was located on her kitchen table when she returned home. Her husband packed the luggage and forgot the envelope!

Blogger Bob: I get to read the incoming Got Feedback emails from all of the airports around the nation and I see this does happen from time to time. I just wanted to add that it’s much appreciated when the passenger calls back to admit the mistake, because it halts investigations and clears any officers who may have been wrongly accused of theft.
Blogger Bob: What is the oddest experience you have had as a TSA Customer Support Manager?

Paul: A traveler called stating that a mouse was found in her checked baggage. She later called back to say that her husband had killed the mouse and her cat placed it next to the laundry pile with all of the unpacked dirty clothes!

Blogger Bob: Ha! I hope it wasn’t Mickey or Minnie. It’s been great talking with you and I’m sure our readers will enjoy our interview. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I know you and Bill are extremely busy. By the way, I don’t care what Snopes says, I know Walt Disney is cryogenically frozen in a secret compartment beneath the Magic Kingdom. \
Please note this is not an interview with Blogger Paul from DC. This is an interview with Customer Support Paul in Orlando. ~ Bob

Friday, April 3, 2009

Incident at St. Louis International Airport

At approximately 6:50 p.m. on March 29, 2009, a metal box alarmed the X-ray machine at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, triggering the need for additional screening. Because the box contained a number of items including a large amount of cash, all of which needed to be removed to be properly screened, it was deemed more appropriate to continue the screening process in a private area. A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employee and members of the St. Louis Airport Police Department can be heard on the audio recording. The tone and language used by the TSA employee was inappropriate. TSA holds its employees to the highest professional standards. TSA will continue to investigate this matter and take appropriate action.

Movements of large amounts of cash through the checkpoint may be investigated by law enforcement authorities if criminal activity is suspected. As a general rule, passengers are required to cooperate with the screening process. Cooperation may involve answering questions about their property, including why they are carrying a large sum of cash. A passenger who refuses to answer questions may be referred to appropriate authorities for further inquiry.


Bob

EoS Blog Team

Click here to view Comments 201 & above.