Friday, July 31, 2009

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review and You

So what is the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) and why should you care? To be brief, the QHSR is a congressionally mandated review of the nation’s homeland security policies and priorities that will guide homeland security for the next four years. Some of the discussion will be web-based and we invite you to participate.

This is a major collaborative effort involving a huge host of stakeholders.

Internal agencies and external partners including federal agencies, state, local and tribal governments, first responders, business leaders, academics, policy experts and the concerned public will be engaged. That’s where you come in! This is another way your voice can be heard and you can help shape the department’s policies and priorities over the next four years.

There will be three web based dialogues involving the following topics between August and October of 2009:

  • Counterterrorism and Domestic Security Management

  • Securing Our Borders

  • Smart and Tough Enforcement of Immigration Laws

  • Preparing for, Responding to, and Recovering from Disasters

  • Homeland Security National Risk Assessment

  • Homeland Security Planning and Capabilities

  • For all you need to know about the QHSR including a video message from Secretary Napolitano, you can go to the QHSR Homeland Security Dialogue page.

    You can also follow QHSR on Twitter: @qhsrdialogue
    Mark your calendars for

  • August 3rd–9th

  • August 31st–September 6th

  • September 28th–October 4th

  • Blogger Bob

    TSA Blog Team

    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    Can I Take my Hand Grenade on the Plane?

    Just as with my fireworks post, I'm about to state the obvious again. Hand grenades are not allowed on a plane.

    Obvious: Grenades (smoke, stun, sting, concussion, percussion, incendiary, etc) are not permitted on planes.

    Not So Obvious: Realistic replicas of grenades (belt buckles, lighters, paperweights, inert training grenades, and other gadgets) are not allowed on planes.

    On a regular basis, checkpoint lanes and checkpoints are closed because of novelty or inert grenades and grenade shaped items. When checkpoints are closed… Flights are delayed and missed causing the airline and passengers major frustration and a loss of money.

    So why is it such a big deal if the grenades are inert or just a novelty item? Well, that’s why passengers usually don’t think twice about bringing these items. They know inert grenades or novelty grenade shaped items can’t cause any harm. However, we don’t know that. All we see on the x-ray is a realistic image of a grenade complete with pin and spoon and we have to go through the motions.

    As a TSO back in 2002, I witnessed the checkpoint at Islip MacArthur Airport coming to a screeching halt because the image of a hand grenade popped up on the x-ray screen. It ended up being a metal lighter in the shape of a classic pineapple grenade with the spoon, pin and all. Even though it was a small lighter that would fit in the palm of your hand, it appeared as a larger than life grenade on the screen.

    Grenade shaped belt buckles, lighters, paperweights, inert training grenades, and other gadgets can all look like the real deal on the x-ray screen. Please leave them at home or mail them to your destination.

    Blogger Bob

    TSA Blog Team

    Friday, July 24, 2009

    TSA Wants You! Send Us Your Top 5 Questions

    We want you! That’s right, we want your input. I know, I know, there are thousands of comments within this blog overflowing with input you’ve given us, and I have already sent in my top 5 based on feedback I've read from the blog.

    What do we want? TSA wants to better communicate the “Why’s” behind security to the traveling public, and to do so, we need your expertise. We want you to send us the top 5 questions you have about TSA’s security procedures. What “Why” questions would you like to see addressed?

    Your responses will be reviewed and the most common questions will help us generate signage and other materials that address the concerns that flying public has.

    This is a huge collaborative project that not only includes you, but the TSA workforce as well. The results should be interesting.

    Please provide responses by 5 p.m. EDT Monday, July 27, 2009 to This is not a blog project, I'm just providing a virtual megaphone, so please make sure to submit your feedback to the provided e-mail address. By all means, you can post your top 5 here, but make sure you send them to


    Blogger Bob

    TSA Blog Team

    TSA Blog Podcast Interview With Airplane Geeks

    I joined Max Flight, Dan and Rob from Airplane Geeks for a podcast interview about the TSA Blog.

    Also, spread around the podcast like mustard on a fine bologna sandwich, you’ll find another interview, good music, and some aviation related news.

    By all means, listen to the entire entertaining podcast, but my interview starts at 34:25 and 1:21:10 where I am quite deservedly blown up.

    Listen to Episode 57 of the Airplane Geeks Podcast by clicking here.

    Blogger Bob

    TSA Blog Team

    Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    Secure Flight Update

    Read Transcript (txt, 1Kb)
    On August 15th, the second phase of Secure Flight will roll out. What does that mean?

    It just means that in addition to making sure the name on your government ID matches your reservation, domestic airlines will also start asking for your birth date and gender. I should also point out that Secure Flight will be phased in over the next few months, so you may or may not even be asked for this information the next time you travel. The program will not be fully in place until 2010.

    The Secure Flight program is a "behind the scenes" security feature that is intended to:

    • Identify known and suspected terrorists;
    • Match individuals against government terrorist watch lists keeping travel safe.
    • Facilitate passenger air travel; and
    • Protect individuals' privacy.
    The biggest perk to passengers is that the program will greatly reduce the number of people who are misidentified as being on the watch list just because somebody else shares their name.

    Follow the links below for a plethora of information on Secure Flight

    (From the questions we’ve read, it seems that passengers are concerned they’re going to get to the checkpoint and be told they can’t fly since the name on their boarding pass is not an exact match to the name on their government ID. No worries! Secure Flight does not affect the way you are screened. The name you give the airline while booking your travel is used to perform watch list matching before your boarding pass is even issued, so small differences on IDs and boarding passes should not impact travel.)


    Blogger Bob
    TSA Blog Team

    Tuesday, July 14, 2009

    What In the Heck Does That Person Do: TSA Bomb Appraisal Officer (BAO)

    BAO is an acronym that has been appearing more and more in TSA related news stories and blog posts. So what does BAO stand for?

    a) Branch Artery Occlusion
    b) Best Atomic Orbital
    c) Best Available Option
    d) Bomb Appraisal Officer

    While “c” is the best available option, if you chose “d” you are correct. A Bomb Appraisal Officer is another TSA position that you may or may not have heard of. Some of you may have even been fortunate enough to meet a BAO after your bag triggered the suspicion of one of our officers.

    What does a BAO do and what experience must one have to become a BAO? To answer these questions and more, Richard, a BAO at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, (CVG) stepped out of the shadows to shed some light on his critical position.

    Blogger Bob: So what is a BAO? Tell our readers a little about the day in the life of a BAO.

    BAO Richard: BAO is an acronym for Bomb Appraisal Officer. All BAOS serve three primary roles.
    1. Workforce Training. This is where we are expected to focus the majority of our efforts. BAOs are charged with finding effective ways to share their expertise and years of real-world experience with the workforce. We build simulated explosive devices and run them through the screening process to show the workforce what the terrorists are doing and what they are capable of. This is challenging in that no two airports or groups of TSOs are exactly the same. It is incumbent on the BAOs to find effective way to do this, regardless of the challenges.

    2. Conduct Advanced Alarm Resolution (AAR). When the conventional alarm resolution process has been exhausted and the alarm has not been resolved, the BAO is to be called. At his point, the BAO is responsible for resolving the alarm, with zero margin for error.

    3. Serve as the TSA subject matter expert liaison for law enforcement and bomb squad partners. BAOs speak both TSA and bomb squad languages. This is important during a critical response event. In addition, it is not uncommon for law enforcement and bombs squads to request technical assistance and advice from BAOs for incidents at the airport as well as those unrelated to airport operations.

    Blogger Bob: Tell our readers a little about your experience prior to the TSA.

    BAO Richard: My personal experience came from 21 years in the US Army with 19 of those years as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician. I then spent 5 years as a contractor/instructor for the US Department of State Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program (ATAP) training and certifying Bomb Technicians for allied countries around the world. Essentially, I have been doing bomb disposal response or training for the last 29 years.

    Blogger Bob: Do other Bomb Appraisal Officers share a similar background as yours? What kind of experience do you need to have under your belt to become a BAO?

    BAO Richard: Typically all BAOs have a very similar background. We’re “Bomb Guys”. Either as a military EOD Technician or as an FBI certified Public Safety Hazardous Devices Technician. TSA has established as a minimum requirement that all BAO candidates have been a Certified Bomb Technician from either of these two programs and served a minimum of 3 years as a technician in a Bomb Disposal Unit. All BAOs are interviewed, tested and hired based upon their experience, background and understanding of the terrorist threat. Nationally, if you add it up and divide by our numbers you are looking at an average of 17.5 yrs experience, per BAO across the board. That is an incredible amount of expertise at TSA's fingertips.

    Blogger Bob: Before BAOs, how did TSA handle situations with possible explosives? How have things changed since Bomb Appraisal Officers came on board?

    BAO Richard: In the old days (2 years ago) the only safe procedure was for the TSOs to contact the local Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs), evacuate the terminal and wait until a Bomb Squad arrived and cleared the item. These evacuations cost the aviation industry millions of dollars annually. More importantly, the increased security risks inherent in evacuations are significant. The presence of BAOs available to TSOs prevents unnecessary evacuations and minimizes disruptions in service and risks to all. Adding BAOs to the resolution process allows a Bomb Technician trained individual the opportunity to look at the item, look at the X-Rays and make a “more knowledgeable” determination of whether the item is dangerous and whether the terminal should be evacuated or not. Since implementation of the BAO Program, BAOs working with the TSOs have responded to and safely resolved thousands of alarms at their airports over the past two years.

    Blogger Bob: Have you ever had any experiences at the TSA where you thought you had a bomb on your hands?

    BAO Richard: Thinking I actually had a bomb? No, but when BAOs respond, we all approach with the understanding that if the TSO has called us for assistance, then we assume a viable threat until we determine it is not. Safety first, then a methodical process for checking and determining whether a hazard is there. Understand though that if we still cannot make a positive determination the item is not a bomb, then passengers are evacuated and the Bomb Squad is notified.

    Blogger Bob: With all of the shared experience of Bomb Appraisal Officers, it makes sense that they train Transportation Security Officers and share their knowledge. Can you touch more on the training side of your job?

    BAO Richard: Training TSOs IS the BAO mission. Here at CVG our BAOs are on the floor, providing training approximately 6 hours of their 8 hour day. Each day, each BAO is required to build a new training device and use that device to provide a “new learning point” to the TSOs, and we provide 24-hr a day support. Our goal is to keep TSOs current on the products, procedures and practices of the bad guys, so they can better identify it when it is presented to them. Currently ongoing as we speak every TSA employee at CVG is receiving a 6 hr block of classroom instruction and demonstration from the BAOs on explosives, IEDs and terrorist methodology.

    Read Transcript (txt, 1Kb)

    Blogger Bob: Do BAOs go through any training even if they have extensive prior experience?

    BAO Richard: Absolutely, all new BAOs are required to complete a 3 Phase training certification program. Phase-I all BAOs are required to complete Basic Screener Training (CP and CB). Phase-II is the BAO Certification and Instructor Presentation Skills Course. Since all BAOs will be spending most of their time conducting training, IPS certification is required. Then in Phase-III each new BAO is required to complete a minimum 40hr OJT course with a Senior BAO at an airport with an established and successful BAO-TSA Training program. Once all 3 phases are completed they are certified as operational BAOs.

    Blogger Bob: To many travelers who don’t understand the liquid threat, they feel that prohibiting items over 3.4 oz such as toothpaste and mouthwash is insane. The baggie baffles many a passenger. How would you defend the legitimacy of the 3-1-1 program if confronted by a curious passenger?

    BAO Richard: The last two liquid explosives threats have originated in Europe and targeted U.S. flagged airlines. This type of threat is not new, but our enemies are persistent and totally committed. They learn from their mistakes and then make adjustments all the time to try and stay ahead of security. Explosives come in ever changing shapes and materials to include a caulk like explosive that looks and feels just like toothpaste or Sunscreen. If we added personal hygiene products such as toothpaste to the “must be sampled” list, the lines would back up forever. It is just simpler, easier, and more logical to restrict those things in the sizes already established to minimize the risks to passenger aircraft.

    Blogger Bob: Do you have any frequently asked questions you’d like to answer?

    BAO Richard: The most common question we get is based upon the word Appraisal in our title….. “So, what does a Bomb cost?” :) To TSA, it would cost a lot if it makes it on a plane, but seriously, All BAOs are trained and certified explosives security specialists and what we provide is an expert assessment of the item or material of concern based on the totality of circumstances. After doing so, we determine what the appropriate course of action should be. Our focus is, training every day, and safety all the time.

    I have to add that the BAOs are not stand alone security assets. While much is made of BAO expertise, we rely on the expertise of the TSO workforce in order to do our job. We are all partners with a common goal and we add an additional expert resource to the TSA’s many layers of security.

    Blogger Bob: What does the future hold for the BAO program?

    BAO Richard: The success of the program has driven an increasing need from the Federal Security Directors for more BAOs. Originally authorized to hire approximately 300 BAOs, TSA is now looking to add additional BAOs to expand the program significantly. Expansion provides the opportunity to train more people and nobody loves to talk about their job more than a “Bomb Guy”.

    Thanks to Rick for taking the time to answer my questions. He and the other BAOs in the field are an extremely critical part of TSA’s mission and we are fortunate to be able to learn from all of their combined experience.


    Blogger Bob

    TSA Blog Team

    Thursday, July 2, 2009

    Can I Take My Fireworks on a Plane?

    It’s almost the 4th of July! Certain things come to mind on the 4th. American flags, green lawns, BBQ, the smell of lighter fluid burning on charcoal, cold beverages, hot dogs, hamburgers, pies, and fireworks.

    Fireworks... symbolic of our fight for independence from Great Britain, they are the one constant major staple in every town across America on the 4th of July. Some states allow fireworks, others don’t. Some enforce the ban, others are lenient. There is one constant though...

    Fireworks are never allowed on a plane.

    You can’t check them in your baggage and you can’t put them in a carry-on. Every year though, people all over the country try to fly with fireworks.

    For all of you history buffs out there, here is a timeline of Independence Day milestones over the years:

    1777 – Thirteen shots were fired, toasts were made and parades marched in Philadelphia.

    1938 – Congress makes Independence Day a paid holiday for federal employees.

    1978 –Young Blogger Bob burns his thumb while lighting a bottle rocket.

    2009 –A traveler’s holiday is ruined because they packed fireworks in their luggage and end up missing the only flight to their destination.

    Have a great holiday and stay away from the kid on your block that likes to point roman candles at people and pets. Don’t be the guy at 15 seconds into this ATF video, and beware of the sparkler or you could end up like this little girl.

    Q: Can I take my fireworks on a plane?

    A: No.

    Blogger Bob

    TSA Blog Team

    Wednesday, July 1, 2009

    You're Fired! But not yet...

    When one of our employees ends up in hot water for a serious crime, the first thing we hear is “Why didn’t you can that employee on the spot?” Well, I went to our lawyers and asked that very same question and they fired me! (Joking) They graciously agreed to write a blog post. It kind of makes me feel bad about telling lawyer jokes at a party last night. (I’m kidding, I’m kidding…) Many thanks goes out to the TSA legal team for all they have done for our blog! ~ Blogger Bob

    From our Lawyers:

    Our Blog readers have asked why TSA simply does not fire an employee “on the spot” when the employee is arrested for a serious crime. Here is a general answer to that question.

    Like other Federal employees, TSA employees who have completed a trial period (or probationary period, if applicable) are entitled to certain procedural safeguards and due process prior to removal from their government position.

    The procedural safeguards for TSA non-trial period employees are set forth in TSA’s policy on addressing unacceptable performance and conduct. Prior to being removed, an employee is entitled to receive written notice of the agency’s proposal to terminate their employment, entitled to review any and all evidence relied upon, and the employee must be given an opportunity to respond to the alleged misconduct, orally and/or in writing. This is the “due process” referenced above.

    TSA must have sufficient factual information to propose an employee’s removal. Arrests are usually based on off-duty misconduct, and TSA will not likely have sufficient information/evidence to immediately initiate a removal, even if the arrest is based on a serious violation of law. TSA officials work closely with Federal, state and/or local law enforcement officials to gather all of the information necessary to take appropriate action. Once the information/evidence is gathered, the proposal to remove is issued and the employee generally has seven days to respond to the proposed removal.

    An indefinite suspension is also an option available to TSA management when an employee has been arrested, there is more than a mere suspicion or allegation of misconduct, and management believes prompt action is necessary. An employee who is indefinitely suspended is not in the work place and does not receive pay during the indefinite suspension. In the interim, TSA decides how to address the misconduct.

    By placing an employee who has been arrested for a serious crime on indefinite suspension, TSA can protect the security of other TSA employees and the traveling public while taking the time to effectively investigate the misconduct and provide the affected employee with his/her job related procedural safeguards.

    In certain cases involving Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), TSA has special authorities, which enable us to act more quickly when TSOs engage in serious misconduct. Specifically, when there is clear evidence that TSOs have engaged in conduct involving theft, illegal drugs or alcohol use on duty, managers may issue what we refer to as a “one step” removal notice, which immediately terminates their employment. Similarly, when the agency becomes aware of allegations of TSOs engaging in serious misconduct but needs to gather additional information, a “one step” indefinite suspension may be used. In these “one step” actions, the employee is provided the opportunity to respond before the “one step” removal or “one-step” indefinite suspension is effected. This opportunity to respond is known as the “pre-decisional” provision under TSA policy and comports with due process requirements. The “one-step” concept allows management to effect the action immediately after the pre-decisional requirement is completed, if appropriate.

    In most cases, the agency spokespeople cannot disclose exactly what disciplinary action, if any, is taken against an employee. This is because specific information concerning employees, including any disciplinary action taken, is protected by the Privacy Act, which often constrains us from disclosing the information. Even if we cannot tell the public these details, rest assured that TSA takes such issues very seriously and will take appropriate action to address any misconduct.

    This has been a word from our TSA Lawyers.

    Clear: What Gives?

    First off, for those of you who aren’t familiar, Clear was one of the three Registered Traveler programs that allowed you to move to the front of the line after paying them a fee and providing some info for ID purposes. It was money that many road warriors will willing to spend to save some time.

    Last week, Clear announced they were ceasing operations.

    Clear was not a TSA program, but many are looking to TSA for answers. Here are some of the questions that keep popping up:

    Can I still use my Clear card as ID at a TSA checkpoint?

    Clear cards are no longer accepted as a primary form of ID.Are there any other Registered Traveler programs in operation right now?Yes. Two service providers remain in operation at this time. FLO Corporation and Vigilant Solutions.

    What’s going to happen to the customer data that Clear collected? Is it secure?

    Questions about how the data is managed should be directed to Clear.

    Will there be another company that takes over the program in airports?

    Good question. This is a market-driven, private sector venture offered in partnership with airports and airlines. Another vender could potentially enter the field.

    Will Clear members be able to transfer memberships to other service providers?

    That decision is between CLEAR, the other service provider, and the card holder.

    After TSA’s pilot ended in July 2008, all RT service providers were obligated to follow data security standards to continue offering service. Service providers’ use of data, however, is regulated under its own privacy policy and by its relationship with its customers and sponsoring airport or airline. The information provided to TSA during the pilot will be destroyed as shown in the schedule on our web page.

    ***Update. This post was edited on 7/2/09 at 1300 to reflect additional information that was provided after it went live. ***