Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What Happens If My Hands Alarm During an Explosives Trace Detection Test (And other questions answered)

Many shooters and others who work around chemicals or munitions have questions about flying since the recent announcement that TSA has begun randomly swabbing hands for Explosives Trace Detection tests (ETD). We’re also aware of all of the traveling military, firefighters and law enforcement personnel who are around various accelerants and munitions on a daily basis. In fact, we’re aware of all of the different people whose professions and hobbies might cause them to alarm the ETD machine because we’ve been using this technology for years. One thing to understand right away is that TSA has to balance security with convenience. Part of our mission is to keep the flying public safe, and being safe isn’t always convenient. No matter how much of an expert you are at traveling, it’s not guaranteed that you won’t be stopped for additional screening of some sort.

TSA has been using this technology since we started federalizing the airports in 2002. We are well aware that there are occasionally false positives and other cases where people who work around munitions and chemicals will alarm the machines .

From reading responses on our blog and elsewhere, it’s almost as if people think that if they alarm during an ETD test, a net is going to drop from the ceiling and federal agents will start rapelling down the walls. Not so… we have long had procedures in place that help us mitigate real threats while clearing people who pose no threat to travel.

Also, people have been doing some research and have learned that ETD machines can detect narcotics. While this is true, TSA does not calibrate our machines to test for narcotics. Narcotics will not cause catastrophic damage to a plane, so we’re not searching for them. However, we do stumble upon them while searching for other things. Wherever you can hide drugs, you can hide bombs, so we may end up accidentally finding your stash.

I’ve heard on the radio and read on Twitter that some think we’re taking DNA samples with these swabs and testing for H1N1. ETD machines cannot analyze DNA or test for H1N1.

When used to test hands, ETD swabs are not reused on other passengers. (See above photo for examples of what ETD swabs look like)

And the final question I’d like to answer is what happens if you refuse the ETD swab? If you refuse the ETD Swab, you will be referred to additional screening, which depending upon the results may result in a referral to a law enforcement officer.
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TSA Blog Team