Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Procedures for Traveling with Powders

TSA is enhancing its ability to test powder at checkpoints across the nation. We haven’t received any specific threats that led us to this new procedure but certain types of powders can be used in improvised explosive devices (IED) so it just makes sense. 

Q: How will you test my powder?
A: Our officers will be using explosives detection tools including X-ray machines and mobile test kits. 

Q: How much powder can I bring?
A: As much as you like as long as it’s not one of the prohibited powders such as black powder or other hazmat. 

Q: Is this new procedure going to slow down the screening process?
A: No. Based on the frequency of the inspections during the pilot phase, you stand a very small chance of having your powder inspected. However, some items will alarm which TSA may not be able to clear. 

Q: What should passengers do if they are carrying powders?
A: Nothing different. Just be aware that some powders may require further screening. The majority of most commonly carried powders such as baby formula and makeup are unlikely to require any additional screening. 

Q: Will my powdered baby formula need to be inspected?
A: Probably not. During the pilot phase, we found that powdered baby formula did not cause any problems, but there is always the chance that it could happen. 

Q: Is this new?
A: No. We’ve been looking at various ways to screen powders since late 2008 at several airports: LAX, JFK, DCA, DTW. Also, we’ve been screening powders all along, but now we have a new tool we can use when we need to take a closer look. 

Q: Does this timing of this have anything to do with 9-11?
A: No. We’re starting this procedure now because the kits we tested in 2008 are ready to be deployed nationally. What we’ve learned from 9-11 and the UK liquids plot is that those who wish to do us harm are looking to use items that aren’t prohibited, and in the case of August 2006, items that seem harmless, to do damage to planes. This kit allows powders to come through checkpoints without inconveniencing the vast majority of passengers. 

Q: Is this an effort to find narcotics?
A: No. 

Q: What types of powders can be used as explosives?
A: Certain types of explosives, mixtures of fuels and oxidizers, can come in a powdered form and could be used as components of an improvised explosive device. 

Q: Will TSA require passengers to open urns with human remains to test the contents?
A: No. We have procedures in place to screen urns in a very respectful manner without opening them. But there might be a need for an officer to swab the exterior of the urn and run a test using this same kit. 

Q: What will officers do if they find a threatening powder?
A: They will follow the same procedures that are in place now. Bomb Appraisal Officers will be summoned to the checkpoint, and possibly law enforcement officers if necessary. 

Key Takeaways:

  • There is no ban on powder;
  • Inspections of powder are few and far between.

  • On the lighter side of things… 

    Q: Am I allowed to powder my nose?
    A: Yes. 

    Q: Can I wear a powdered wig through the checkpoint?
    A: Only if you’re a barrister or a member of the UK Parliament. 

    Q: Have you seen the movie “Powder?”
    A: Yes and it really creeped me out. 

    Blogger Bob
    TSA Blog Team