Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Advanced Imaging Technology - Yes, It's Worth It

There's been a lot of public discussion about TSA's deployment of new screening technology known as AIT. Public discussion and debate is good, and we at TSA have worked hard to inform, educate and adjust our screening protocols in the interests of security, efficiency, safety and privacy. Our FY 2011 budget request includes $573 million to purchase 500 Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units and to operationally staff, operate and maintain 1,000 units, which includes the 500 units we are deploying now. This is indeed an important investment decision and not something we take lightly. We don't take the threats we're facing lightly either.

We've greatly improved TSA's IED detection capabilities in bags through better technology and more rigorous training and testing of our officers. Getting to threats hidden on a body is more difficult, because of the limitations of metal detectors, and patting down everybody that comes through a checkpoint isn't an option anyone likes.

So starting in 2007, we began testing AIT at the Transportation Security Lab and TSA's own operational testing facility to study its capability to detect non-metallic items as well as metallic ones. Based on the success in the labs, we tested the units in the airport environment, where they proved effective in threat detection and they were accepted by passengers as a screening option. The airport testing also looked at throughput, staffing needs, real estate requirements, privacy protections, and reaffirmed all safety requirements were met for the public and our officers. We left no stone unturned.

All the work we have done in the past two years gives me confidence that this technology will significantly increase TSA's detection capability at the checkpoint. Using AIT, our officers are finding things like small packages of powder-based drugs hidden on the body. When I say small, I mean that one packet was smaller than a thumb print. We have also found small weapons made of composite, non-metallic materials.

Based on the intelligence reporting we see every day, this technology is absolutely essential to address the threat we see today. It can also be upgraded over time, either as the threats change or as the industry improves the threat detection software.

With our first 1,000 units we will be able to use AIT to screen over 60% of all air passengers each day. We take our responsibility to protect each and every traveler very seriously. We have used lessons learned from the past, and we deployed this technology only after we were fully confident it would work in an operational environment and after our acquisition process had undergone extensive reviews and approvals by DHS' Acquisition Review Board.

Which brings me back to the cost. At about 1.8 million passengers going through checkpoint screening a day - 650 million passengers a year - the annualized, full cost of purchasing, installing, staffing, operating, supporting, upgrading, and maintaining the first 1,000 units of this technology is about $1 per trip through the checkpoint.

Is it worth a dollar per passenger in the short term for increased long term security? You bet it is.

Gale Rossides
Acting Administrator

Monday, March 22, 2010

Helping Wounded Warriors

Last week, I went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC with staff from TSA’s Office of Security Operations who work on screening procedures and officer training. Prosthetics have come a long way, and Walter Reed is on the forefront of providing severely wounded service men and women with state of the art prosthetics and first class treatment and rehabilitation protocols.

As we’ve said before, about a quarter of TSA’s frontline workforce are veterans. We know that our troops deserve respect when they come through the checkpoints, and we do our best to give them the honor they deserve. We work with the Wounded Warrior Project to help severely injured veterans who have been injured with assistance to get them through the checkpoint smoothly. But sadly, we also know that some have tried to exploit our respect for those in the armed forces by impersonating them and trying to sneak bad things through. Unfortunate, but true.

As you can imagine, soldiers with shrapnel in their bodies and prosthetic limbs set off metal detectors. As part of the hospital visit, the security team looked at various prosthetics and their inner workings to better understand how to write procedures for screening people with them. We also visited and spoke with some wounded soldiers about the Wounded Warrior Project, and gave them tips to make their checkpoint experience less stressful. We also talked to them and their family members about advanced imaging technology, which reduces the chance of a pat down for people with metal implants and prosthetics.

To facilitate the movement of injured veterans, TSA partners with the Department of Defense and the Wounded Warrior Project through the TSA Military Severely Injured Program. To request assistance through this program, injured service members or their designee(s) should contact TSA by telephone, email, or fax no later than 24 hours prior to flying. This will allow enough time for the TSA Military Severely Injured program to contact local TSA officials at the departing airport who will facilitate the injured service member's screening experience.

We look forward to continuing our work with the Department of Defense to identify protocols that improve how we screen people with disabilities.

TSA Blog Team

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Advanced Imaging Technology: "Radiation Risk Tiny"

You may have read a recent article stating that Advanced Imaging Technology used at TSA checkpoints is not safe. Because of the discussion the article has created, I wanted to share this with you.

The American College of Radiology posted an article titled: ACR Statement on Airport Full-body Scanners and Radiation and then WebMD followed up with an article titled New Airport Scanners: Radiation Risk Tiny which quoted the ACR article.

From the ACR article: "An airline passenger flying cross-country is exposed to more radiation from the flight than from screening by one of these devices. The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement (NCRP) has reported that a traveler would need to experience 100 backscatter scans per year to reach what they classify as a Negligible Individual Dose. The American College of Radiology (ACR) agrees with this conclusion. By these measurements, a traveler would require more than 1,000 such scans in a year to reach the effective dose equal to one standard chest x-ray."

"The ACR is not aware of any evidence that either of the scanning technologies that the TSA is considering would present significant biological effects for passengers screened."

We also asked the Johns Hopkins University of Applied Physics Laboratory to perform an independent radiation safety engineering assessment of our Advanced Imaging Backscatter Technology and they determined that the radiation dose to scanned individuals from this general use system is within the requirements of ANSI N43.17 2002 and 2009.

In the coming weeks, the FDA will be posting similar information on their web page.

For your reference:

Backscatter technology projects an ionizing X-ray beam over the body surface at high speed. The reflection, or "backscatter," of the beam is detected, digitized and displayed on a monitor. Each full body scan produces less than 10 microrem of emission, the equivalent to the exposure each person receives in about 2 minutes of airplane flight at altitude. It produces an image that resembles a chalk-etching.

Millimeter wave technology bounces harmless electromagnetic waves off of the human body to create a black and white image (not a photograph). It is safe, and the energy emitted by millimeter wave technology is the energy projected by the system is thousands of times less intense than a cell phone transmission. This technology is not new. TSA is not the first to use this technology. It's currently being used in Canadian airports and U.S. courthouses in Colorado and Texas as well as international locations.

This Standard limits the reference effective dose2 delivered to the subject to 0.25 microsieverts (25 microrem) per screening.

For your reading pleasure, here are some documents relevant to security screening of humans using ionizing radiation:

ANSI/HPS N43.17-2009 Radiation Safety for Personnel Security Screening Systems Using X-Ray or Gamma Radiation

NCRP commentary 16, Screening of humans for security purposes using ionizing radiation scanning systems

NCRP Statement 10, Recent Applications of the NCRP Public Dose Limit Recommendation for Ionizing Radiation (2004)

NCRP report no. 116 Limitation of Exposure to Ionizing Radiation (1993) ISBN 0-929600-30-4 recommends annual limits on radiation dose for the general public. Report 116 also introduces the concept of a negligible individual dose.

NCRP report no. 160, Ionizing Radiation Exposure of the Population of the United States (2009)

Screening Individuals with Backscatter X-Ray Systems by Daniel Strom

HPS Position Statement Use of Ionizing Radiation for Security Screening Individuals

HPS Public Information Radiation Exposure During Commercial Airline Flights

American College of Radiology (ACR) Statement on Airport Full-body Scanners and Radiation Ionizing Radiation

Information on laws and regulations applicable to manufacturers of people screening security systems that use x-rays is on FDA's X-Ray & Particulate Products other than Medical Diagnostic or Cabinet page.

ANSI/HPS N43.17 is not a mandatory standard. More information on the ANSI standards setting process is available on the ANSI website.

The concept of justification based on a societal benefit appears in the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) report 60 (see paragraph S14).

Random Facts:

For comparison, the energy projected by millimeter wave technology is 10,000 times less than a cell phone transmission.

We, and all objects around us, generate millimeter wave energy - and we are exposed to it every single day.

Backscatter technology uses low level X-ray and a single scan is the equivalent of two minutes of flying on an airplane.

Full Body Scanners at Security Okay by Travelers - When it comes to the newest addition to airport security, 79 percent of travelers said they are comfortable with U.S. airports using full body scanners that can see through clothes.

We've written many posts on Advanced Imaging Technology and you can read them all HERE.

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Monday, March 8, 2010

Live Aviation Security Chat with Secretary Napolitano on Facebook 3/9/10

Tomorrow at 3:00 PM EST, stop by White House Live or the White House Facebook App for a real-time chat with DHS Secretary Napolitano.

Go ahead and figure out your questions now and stop by tomorrow and maybe you’ll get your question answered. Remember, this is an aviation security chat, so if you have questions about carnivorous plants, it’s probably not the best forum.

Speaking of the Secretary, earlier today she announced President Obama's intent to nominate retired Army Major General Robert A. Harding as the new appointee for the job of TSA Administrator. Take a gander over at C-SPAN.


Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Friday, March 5, 2010

Backscatter Advanced Imaging Technology on Its Way to First Eleven Airports

The first 11 airports receiving advanced imaging technology (AIT) units are gearing up for their arrival.

Advanced imaging technology safely screens passengers for metallic and non-metallic threats, including weapons, explosives and other objects concealed under clothing that might normally go undetected.

AIT units are currently being set up at Boston Logan International airport, and within a week they’ll be at Chicago O’Hare International airport. You should see the rest of the airports on this list in action by this summer:

· Boston Logan International (BOS)
· Charlotte Douglas International (CLT)
· Chicago O’Hare International (ORD)
· Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International (CVG)
· Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FFL)
· Kansas City International (MCI)
· Los Angeles International (LAX)
· Mineta San José International (SJC)
· Oakland International (OAK)
· Port Columbus International (CMH)
· San Diego International (SAN)

A total of 450 AIT units will be deployed by the end of 2010 and the additional airports will be announced in the near future.

You might be wondering why it takes so long to deploy these machines. Well, it’s not as if you can pop these out of the box and plug them in. Many factors are taken into consideration before AIT units are deployed, including the airports' infrastructure. These machines are big, and don’t forget about the remote viewing location that goes along with the machines. So as you can imagine, there is much planning going on behind the scenes before these machines actually arrive at their airports and are ready to screen.

We’ve posted here on the blog about AIT many times in the past, and here are some links to previous blog posts to help answer some of the questions you might have:

Can your image be saved or printed? No.

What will my image look like? What will TSA officers see? Take a look…

Will children be screened with this new technology? Yes and no.

What’s the difference between millimeter wave and backscatter? Read here...

Has my privacy been taken into consideration? Are these machines safe? Yes.

Currently, 40 AIT units purchased previously are deployed at 19 airports nationwide.


Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What Ever Happened To The Shoe Scanner Idea?

What ever happened to the Shoe Scanner Idea? It’s still cooking! TSA started collecting data on Shoe Scanning Detection technology in the fall of 2008 and is currently soliciting industry input as it looks to explore future use of shoe scanning systems. In addition, TSA has requested funding for shoe scanning detection technology as part of the FY11 budget.

This would be a win-win because it’s the perfect balance of security and convenience. Shoe removal has long been considered one of the most inconvenient aspects of airline security, so this would be welcomed with open arms (and shoed feet) by the flying public. I can assure you that our officers want this technology to work just as much or more than the passengers do. This would allow them to focus their attention on other things and there would be much less clutter on the X-ray belts. So the passengers and officers would be gaining all of this added convenience and security to boot. (Shoe pun intended)

Check out the recent USA Today article on this subject.


Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team