Friday, December 31, 2010

70% Detection Failure Rate Being Reported is Based on Testing from 2004-2005

In the last week or so, several media outlets have referenced a “recent” report which cites a 70 percent failure rate for TSA to detect guns and knives passing through airport checkpoints. Some stories acknowledge the outdated covert testing report while not acknowledging the steps that have been taken since then to improve security. All are misleading.

It's important to note that while the report was issued in 2006 and appeared in the media in 2007, the tests it references were actually carried out in 2004-2005.

Let me point out a few things that aren't getting reported:

New Security Measures: Since 2004-2005, TSA has implemented new security measures and deployed enhanced technology, which reflect TSA's evolving approach to aviation security. Among TSA's many layers of security, both seen and unseen, these include the following:

  • Advanced technology X-ray systems, used to screen carry-on baggage, which feature multiple views of the item and enhanced detection capability. Currently, there are more than 940 AT X-ray units deployed to airports nationwide.
  • Advanced imaging technology, which safely screen passengers for both metallic and non-metallic threats, including weapons and explosives. There are nearly 500 units deployed to airports, and the use of the technology has led to the detection of more than 130 dangerous or illegal items in the last year.
  • Enhanced pat-downs, which were deployed to greatly increase TSA's detection capabilities for threats such as those seen last year on Christmas Day.
Limited Scope: Not only is the report nearly 5 years old, but the limited testing was conducted at only three out of 450 federalized U.S. airports.

Covert Testing Increases Security: TSA conducts covert testing in order to continually challenge our workforce and raise the bar to create stronger layers of security. As Administrator Pistole pointed out while testifying on the Hill recently, the results of covert tests informed TSA's decision to implement enhanced measures, such as new pat down procedures and the widespread deployment of advanced imaging technology.

Bottom line, TSA will continue to use every tool at our disposal - including new security measures based on the latest intelligence and covert testing results to keep the traveling public safe. Security is not static, but constantly evolves to meet the terrorist threats of tomorrow.

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Check out Our Holiday Travel Tips…Again

Holiday Travel Banner
Thanksgiving was only a few weeks ago, but If you’re getting ready to travel for the holidays, you’re probably coming here looking for some tips. So this post is basically the Thanksgiving travel post minus all the corny pilgrim and turkey jokes. If you need to brush up on airport security, you’re in the right place!

The MyTSA App: Our new MyTSA App (Available as an iPhone App or Mobile Web App) amongst other great features has a “Can I Bring My…” tool. You can type in the name of the item you’re curious about and it will tell you if the item is permitted or not. If it’s not included in the list, you have the option of submitting it to us for addition. We even added “tatting shuttle.” Yep, we had to Google it too, and they are permitted.

Wait Times: A crowd sourcing wait time feature is available in our MyTSA application. Check the app to see what wait times have been posted at your departing airport, and be sure to post your wait time to help others.  The more people who use this, the better, so spread the word!

Pat-downs: A very small percentage of passengers will need to receive a pat-down. To reduce the need for a pat-down, the most important thing you can do is take everything out of your pockets before you go through screening. You can put these items in your carry-on bag. Don't wear clothes with a high metal content, and put heavy jewelry on after you go through security. You will also receive a pat-down if you choose to opt out of our Advanced Imaging Technology. (Body Scanners) Check out this post to read some myths and facts about the pat-down. TSA does not squeeze, twist, or grab any body parts during a pat-down and other than inspecting the waistband and collar, our officers are not reaching inside clothing or touching any skin.

The 4-1-1 on 3-1-1 (Liquids, Gels & Aerosols): Let me start by saying this. If you’re checking a bag, make it easy on yourself and just put your liquids in your checked luggage. That way, you don’t have to worry about 3-1-1. I know that suggestion doesn’t work for everybody. Some liquids are essential and some of you understandably would not like to pay to check your luggage. If you’d rather take liquids in your carry-on, please continue reading…

3-1-1 is the name for our liquid policy. You can read
here for more details, but here is the gist of 3-1-1… Each passenger is allowed to take one clear quart-sized sealable bag and fill it with as many liquids in 3.4 oz or less sized containers that will fit, while still being able to seal the bag. Basically, don’t stuff it to the point where it won’t close.

Make sure you take the bag out of your carry-on prior to sending it through the X-ray, or our officers may have to search your bag.
Annoying Family Members: We’ve had many requests, but we cannot add annoying family members to the No Fly List.

If you have liquids, aerosols, or gels that are used for medical purposes, they do not need to adhere to our 3-1-1 policies and do not have to be placed in a bag. You may be asked to go through a TSA Family Lane (see below) so we can expedite the screening process. The liquids, gels and aerosols will need to be removed from your bags.

Answers to common questions: Stick deodorant is not limited to 3.4 oz or less, but gel or spray deodorant is. Also, any liquid makeup such as eyeliner should be placed in the baggie. That goes for perfume as well. Powder makeup is fine.

Family Lanes: Frequent flyers hate it when they’re in line behind a family, and guess what… families hate it when the frequent flyer is behind them tapping their foot and sighing. That’s why we created Family Lanes. They’re designed to let families take their time and ask questions without feeling rushed by the experienced frequent flyers who can zip through a checkpoint in no time. Also, as stated earlier, anybody carrying medically necessary liquids, aerosols and gels in excess of 3.4 oz may be directed to a Family Lane.

Travel Advice for Frosty the Snowman: You are not frozen solid and are larger than 3.4 ounces, so you may not board the plane.

Foods: Pies are permitted, but they are subject to additional screening if our officers see any anomalies. (Additional screening of pies does not include our officers tasting the pie, no matter what they tell you…) Cakes, (to include yummy fruitcakes that nobody else seems to enjoy but me) bread, donuts, turkeys, etc. are all permitted. If it’s a live turkey, you might want to have a word with the airline. Here is a list of items that should be placed in your checked bags or shipped: cranberry sauce, creamy dips and spreads (cheeses, peanut butter, etc.), gift baskets with food items (salsa, jams and salad dressings), gravy (mmm gravy), jams, jellies, maple syrup, oils and vinegars, sauces, soups, wine, liquor and beer.
Christmas Sweaters: While some Christmas sweaters can have a nauseating effect on passengers, they are currently permitted through TSA checkpoints.

Wrapped gifts may need to be unwrapped. If there’s something in the gift that needs to be inspected, we have to open it. Our officers try their best not to mangle the gift wrap, but it’s not a guarantee and it also slows down the line for everybody else when we have to do this. It is suggested that you wrap the presents when you arrive at your destination. You also have the option of shipping the items as well.

Snow Globes: We are not in cahoots with the
Heat Miser, but snow globes are not permitted in your carry-on luggage. They are sealed containers full of liquid that would have to be opened and destroyed to test. We’re not in the business of busting snow globes, so we suggest you place them in your checked baggage or mail them ahead of time.
Mistletoe: Although the name may sound a bit nefarious, mistletoe (not missile-toe) is permitted. Just don’t expect the person sitting in the middle seat to kiss you.

ID & Boarding Pass Checking & Secure Flight: As you approach a TSA checkpoint, you will see an officer checking IDs and boarding passes. Please have your acceptable ID and boarding pass out and ready to present to our officer. If your ID is in a plastic sheath or other type of holder, it will need to be removed so our officers can properly inspect them. By having your ID and boarding pass out and ready, you’ll help move the line along faster. The several seconds it takes to get your ID and boarding pass out might not seem like much time, but it really adds up when you’ve got people in line behind you.

Also, folks have had questions about the
Secure Flight program and whether the name on your ticket has to match the name on your ID. The Secure Flight watch-list matching process occurs before a passenger even gets to the airport so if you get a boarding pass, the Secure Flight watch-list matching process is done. In other words, you are clear once you get that pass.

If you have lost or forgotten your ID, you will still be permitted to fly as long as you help us verify you are who you say you are by answering a few questions for us.
Fruitcakes: Contrary to popular belief, fruitcake is a delicious edible and festive cake, not a WMD.

Inconsistencies: You may notice your screening experience at one airport doesn’t match the experience of another airport. We realize this happens, and some of it is intentional. While it can be a little confusing for our passengers, it also makes things unpredictable for those who might wish to do us harm. Our officers also can use their discretion in different scenarios that allows them to use common sense and not abide by a checklist mentality that can be studied and defeated by those who wish to do us harm.

Shoes on Belt: We recommend you place your shoes on the X-ray belt as opposed to placing them in a bin. Why? It keeps the bins from getting too cluttered and allows our officers to get a better look at items to ensure prohibited items do not get on the plane. It also speeds things up when they get a better view and don't have to stop the X-ray belt for searches.

Print out this handy dandy checklist (PDF) so you don’t forget anything and don’t forget to check out for a wealth of information on traveling through TSA checkpoints.

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

TSA's Special Counselor Guest Blogs at Disability.Gov: Screening for Passengers with Mobility Disabilities

TSA's Special Counselor, Kimberly Walton guest blogged today for Here is an excerpt from her post:

As our Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) continues to roll out across the country, more and more people with disabilities have questions and concerns about how they’ll be screened at our checkpoints - especially those with mobility disabilities... Please read the rest at

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Updated TSA Response to Claim That Nail Clippers Were Taken From Armed Soldiers in Indianapolis

On December 1, we responded to a story that had been and is still making its way onto a number of blogs and e-mail chains about the TSA screening of a military charter arriving at Indianapolis International Airport from Afghanistan. The unattributed story claims TSA confiscated multi-tools and nail clippers, while all on board were allowed to carry military issued firearms.

After responding, some folks, including the blog that posted the original story, stood by their claims. Well, since the facility is run by the National Guard, we went to them and received the following quote.

“TSA does not have personnel or conduct any screening in the facility where military charters are processed at Indianapolis International Airport.”

Shawn D. Gardner
Director of Public Affairs

Indiana National Guard

Please feel free to forward this to anybody who may have been misled by the original story.


Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Response to Claims that TSA Opted out of Using AIT During Opt-Out Day

As soon as the media started reporting that Opt-Out day was a bust (see 40 + articles here), reports started coming in from blogs stating that TSA had intentionally shut down the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines. This claim is utterly and completely false as AIT operations were normal throughout the holiday travel period. We tried to think of some reasons that people might have come to this conclusion.

·     First off, everybody is not necessarily screened by AIT. I think people need to understand that TSA operates out of 450 + airports. Of these 450 + airports, 70 currently have AIT. There are a total of 430 machines in the field right now. (We’re working quickly to deploy more units to the field - above and beyond the 430).

·     Even at airports with AIT machines, they are not yet deployed at all checkpoint lanes.

·     At times, machines could be shut down for routine maintenance, or maintenance issues. 

·     If the technology just arrived at the airport, it's possible passengers would see a unit in the checkpoint but not in use. Several things have to happen before we can start using them, they have to be installed, tested and we have to fully train officers on how to use the technology.

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Facts on TSA X-ray Safety

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) uses X-ray technology on people and baggage daily in an effort to find items that could cause catastrophic damage to an aircraft. Some are asking how safe this technology is how and how we maintain it to ensure there is no excessive radiation exposure for workers or the traveling public. So, I’d like to use this post to address those questions with facts provided by TSA’s director of occupational safety, health and environment, Jill Segraves. 

·     Before TSA decides to use a new technology, procurement specifications are developed that include requirements to meet the national radiation safety standard. The requirements are validated by manufacturers through third party testing or through testing arranged by TSA, to ensure it meets national safety standards. 

·     After deciding to use new technology that has proven to be safe and meets applicable standards, the manufacturer then will conduct validation tests on each individual unit in the factory during their quality assurance process before the unit is shipped to TSA. 
·     For the carry-on and checked baggage x-ray systems and the general-use backscatter advanced imaging technology equipment, the factory tests, post-installation tests and regular preventive maintenance mentioned above all include radiation safety surveys.  These surveys verify that each unit operates within specifications, is installed correctly and continues operating according to specifications for the life of the unit. When the technology operates as designed, the dose to any member of the general public, system operators, or other employees falls well below the national standard for safety.  

·     The regular preventive maintenance checks, including radiation safety surveys, are performed at least once every 12 months; after any maintenance that affects the radiation shielding, shutter mechanism, or x-ray production components; after any incident that may have damaged the system; after a system is moved or at the request of any employee. 

·     In addition, TSA partnered with the U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional) to conduct independent radiation surveys and inspections to confirm the regular testing performed by TSA. Health Physicists from the the U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional) perform the surveys and inspections. 
·     The Public Health Command’s Health Physicists also check the indicators, controls, labeling, and observe system operators to ensure proper operating procedures are followed.  The Health Physicists are also gathering area radiation dose data by mounting dosimeters within the inspection zone (that area only occupied by the individual undergoing the screening and delineated by the yellow bordered floor mat) on  certain equipment. 
·     Over the past two years, Health Physicists performed radiation surveys and inspections of 437 carry-on luggage and checked baggage systems at 34 airports during screening operations, and observed system operation and work practices.  The Health Physicists work has thus far confirmed TSA testing that shows all of these systems operating well within safety standards.
·     On top of all these steps, more than 1,100 TSOs at six airports have participated in a mandatory personal radiation dosimetry study over the past year.  The results of both the dosimetry study and other surveys to date reveal that TSA systems are in compliance with safety standards.
On a related note, a study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) at the Centers for Disease Control just a year after TSA was stood up in the aftermath of 9/11 (between August 2003 and August 2004) has been getting some attention recently. The study came about after TSA requested it when management and other employees expressed concerns about their safety on the job. NIOSH looked at the levels of radiation emissions from Explosives Detection Systems (EDS) and evaluated employee exposure to radiation at airports during baggage screening.

Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) from 12 airports were highly engaged in this study. They chose the airports to include in the study, provided valuable input, and assisted the NIOSH researchers during the on-site surveys. The report was released on October 1, 2008. You can read the report here.  NIOSH made several recommendations that TSA has since implemented.

Some of the information below duplicates some of the information I mentioned previously but I am including it here to show steps taken since the completion of the study in 2004:

·     TSA has implemented key recommendations from NIOSH, including formalizing a comprehensive radiation safety program to meet OSHA and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requirements and evaluating TSO radiation exposure levels at selected airports through an additional year-long dosimetry study that commenced in April 2009.
·     TSA took additional steps to ensure safe working conditions for our workforce, including:
·     Adding EDS safety training to baggage screening courses;
·     Increasing the number of service technicians equipped with radiation survey meters;
·     Improving maintenance through more stringent maintenance contracts;
·     Working with EDS manufacturers to improve machine design;
·     Providing annual radiation safety awareness training for all TSOs; and
·     Using Safety Action Teams, Collateral Duty Safety Officers (CDSOs), and Employee Councils to improve health and safety communications between employees and management.

·     Consistent with the recommendations of NIOSH, each piece of TSA equipment that uses ionizing radiation undergoes an initial radiation survey upon installation and an annual radiation survey to ensure it stays in top working condition.  In addition, radiation surveys are performed after maintenance on components that affect radiation safety and at the request of employees. This provides a continuous level of safety.
·     Over the past two years, Health Physicists from the U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional) performed radiation surveys and inspections of 437 (carry-on luggage and checked baggage systems) at 34 airports during screening operations while items were entering and exiting systems with the leaded curtains constantly in motion.   The Health Physicists also observed system operation and safe work practices.  Over the past year, more than 1,100 TSOs at six airports have participated in a mandatory personal radiation dosimetry study.  The results of both the dosimetry study and surveys to date reveal that TSA systems are in compliance with the Food and Drug Administration’s standard for cabinet x-ray systems emission limits.
This is a lot of information to read through, but after reading, I’m sure you’ll find that TSA is doing its part to ensure the safety of its employees and the traveling public.

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

TSA Response to "TSA Breast Milk Screening" Video

Updated on 12/9/2010 at 8:25 P.M. to add that proper procedures were followed.

Nearly a year ago, a passenger going through airport screening on two separate occasions requested that her breast milk be visually inspected and not screened by the X-ray machine.  She filed a complaint with TSA regarding her screening experience. TSA investigated the matter and sent a letter of apology to the passenger in March of this year. The passenger has flown since these events occurred and has provided TSA a written confirmation that she no longer experiences issues.

After the investigation, the officers received refresher training for the visual inspection of breast milk (an infrequently requested procedure). I’d like to reassure readers that while our top priority is to prevent a terrorist attack and to ensure that your family, friends and loved ones arrive safely at their destinations, we also strive to provide the highest level of customer service to all who pass through our security checkpoints. Our policies and procedures focus on ensuring that all passengers are treated with dignity, respect, and courtesy. We go to great lengths to train our security officers in the proper way to inspect individuals and their personal items.

We extend our sincere apologies to any passenger who may have experienced discomfort and inconvenience during the screening process. We appreciate hearing from passengers and
encourage you to share your experiences with us Although the proper screening procedures were followed at the time, we acknowledge this particular passenger experienced an out of the ordinary delay, and have worked with our officers to ensure we proceed with expediency in screening situations similar to this.

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Friday, December 3, 2010

Don’t You Believe It

A couple of articles have been making the rounds lately. While to me they are obviously satire, some are taking them hook line and sinker. A quote from one of my favorite Tom & Jerry episodes comes to mind: “Don’t you believe it.”

This story supposedly took place in Denver. It never happened. And the quote from the “Head of Scanning???” Well, no such position exists and nobody by that name works for TSA. Which means, it was never said by a TSA employee. Some are upset – an understandable reaction, if it were true. But it’s not. The article attributes the quote as being given to CNN. Try Googling it and see what you come up with. (Hint – it won’t be a CNN article.)

This story supposedly took place in San Francisco. Again, this story is false. There are no reports to back this up. If the man was cuffed as the article states, there would be a police record as our officers do not use handcuffs.

There are a lot of satirical articles and parody Twitter accounts out there right now. By all means, enjoy them and have a laugh at our expense, but “Don’t you believe it.”


Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

TSA Response to Claim That Nail Clippers Were Taken From Armed Soldiers in Indianapolis

A story has been making its way onto a number of blogs about the TSA screening of a military charter arriving at Indianapolis International Airport from Afghanistan. The unattributed story claims TSA confiscated multi-tools and nail clippers, while all on board were allowed to carry military issued firearms. The bottom line is the story is not accurate and couldn't possibly be true.

At Indianapolis International Airport, military charters arrive at the remote transit terminal, exclusive for these types of flights.  TSA staff does not have access to this facility and, we do not conduct any screening operations there. Also, nail clippers have never been prohibited by TSA.  

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team