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"