Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Archives of Internal Medicine on TSA Backscatter: “There is no significant threat of radiation from the scans.”

It’s no secret that Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) has been a hot topic ever since we first wrote about in 2008. While we’ve posted many times on the subject, readers often want to hear from independent third parties to see what their take is. That’s understandable.  So, as we’ve  done in the past, we’re going to highlight another piece on backscatter safety from a third party.

This report comes to you from the Archives of Internal Medicine. In the report, they conclude that there is no significant risk from the radiation emitted during the scans. You can read the full report here:  

Airport Full-Body Screening: What Is the Risk?

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team


If you’d like to comment on an unrelated topic you can do so in our Off Topic Comments post. You can also view our blog post archives or search our blog to find a related topic to comment in. If you have a travel related issue or question that needs an immediate answer, you can contact a Customer Support Manager at the airport you traveled, or will be traveling through by using Talk to TSA.
 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

“MyTSA” App Named Best Government App by Technology Industry Groups

My TSA app screen shot on smartphone. Last week, TSA was honored to accept the award for the Best Government Mobile App from the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) at its 9th Annual Excellence.Gov Awards event in Washington, D.C.  The annual event honors programs that have pushed the boundaries of innovation, quality, and overall effectiveness in the federal government’s information technology area to improve services to citizens, enhance government operations and provide a more open and transparent government.

The “MyTSA” mobile web and iPhone app was launched in July 2010 to put the most frequently requested TSA information directly into the hands of travelers, anywhere, anytime.  The app has four features, which include:
  • Airport Status: Check what airports are experiencing general delays (not flight specific) or search for conditions at a specific airport. This information is provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
  • “Can I Bring…?”: Type in an item you’d like to bring on a trip to find out if it is permitted or prohibited, and whether you can pack it in your carry-on or checked bags.  If your item isn’t in the app, you can submit it for consideration.
  • Guide: A consolidated guide to the most frequently requested security information, including the rules for liquids, gels and aerosols; ID rules; tips for packing and dressing to speed through security; and guidelines for the military, people traveling with children and those with special needs.
  • Security wait times: You can post your security wait time and see what wait times other passengers have posted for U.S. airports. The more people that use the wait time portion of the app, the better it works. 
While we greatly appreciate the award for our app, we plan to continue improving our users’ experience by implementing user’s suggestions and other innovations.  A few things we’re working on now are adding type-ahead functionality to the “Can I Bring” part of the app to help find items quickly even if you’re not sure how to spell them, adding video to the Guide section, and increasing the number of airports in the app so users can select the airport nearest them regardless of size and even set a “favorite” airport for status updates. 
Thanks to all who have submitted feedback, and if anyone else has ideas for improving the app, you can provide feedback by using the “About” button and selecting “Provide Feedback” on both the mobile web and iPhone versions.  We look forward to hearing from you!
    Lynn
    TSA Blog Team

    If you’d like to comment on an unrelated topic you can do so in our Off Topic Comments post. You can also view our blog post archives or search our blog to find a related topic to comment in. If you have a travel related issue or question that needs an immediate answer, you can contact a Customer Support Manager at the airport you traveled, or will be traveling through by using Talk to TSA.

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    Who Are You? TSA Exploring Identity Based Screening and Known Travelers

    A common statement we hear at checkpoints is "I'm not a terrorist!  Why do I have to go through screening?" While it's extremely likely that's the case, the current system provides us little basis to make that judgment in advance of you arriving at the airport - unless you're on a terrorist watch list.  But... What if we combined our layers of security (i.e. Behavior Detection Officers and watchlists) with more of an identity-based system as opposed to a one size fits all approach where everybody more or less receives the same kind of screening?

    For some time now, there has been much talk about implementing a Trusted Traveler program and switching to more of an identity-based approach. Good news... Administrator Pistole is on board with a known traveler approach. He spoke earlier this month at the American Bar Association and talked about his vision for this concept. You can read his remarks here.

    The Washington Post also had a story about a new report from the U.S. Travel Association that's calling for changes to airport security that are similar - though not identical - to the idea that Administrator Pistole has previously talked about. We think this type of national conversation is incredibly valuable and hope others continue to weigh in with their ideas to guide the future of checkpoint screening.

    One point to keep in mind as we think about these issues is that it's important that we not create a system that would allow a person seeking to do harm to spend several years creating a "clean" background to gain access to a club that guarantees a "right" to expedited screening.

    What we hope to do is figure out how to gain more knowledge about the people who are traveling to potentially provide a more streamlined screening experience at the checkpoint.

    One possibility would be to have willing passengers provide more information about themselves. A recent example of using identity-based screening would be the decision Administrator Pistole made to change way we screen pilots. It just makes sense that the person who has been cleared to control the plane should not need to undergo the same level of screening. 

    Physical screening will likely never go away completely, but the idea of adding identity-based security makes good sense and it's an idea we're actively exploring. So, we'd like to hear your suggestions and ideas. So sound off! (Not that that's ever been a problem here before). 

    Blogger Bob
    TSA Blog Team

    If you’d like to comment on an unrelated topic you can do so in our Off Topic Comments post. You can also view our blog post archives or search our blog to find a related topic to comment in. If you have a travel related issue or question that needs an immediate answer, you can contact a Customer Support Manager at the airport you traveled, or will be traveling through by using Talk to TSA.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    TSA Scanner Levels 10x Higher Than Expected?

    I recently posted about mistakes made in radiation testing reports. Since then, I’ve seen a lot of chatter on the web about how our advanced imaging technology (AIT) backscatter machines were operating at higher levels. While there were errors in the reporting, please rest assured that our body scanners were still screening well below national standards.

    For those of you who like to get into the weeds, the “10x higher” issue stems from a field on the survey form that was not divided by 10 as the survey specified. So, the amount was incorrectly reported as 10x higher than it was supposed to be, not 10x higher than the requirement. So, how did we know the number in the third example was inaccurate? That’s an easy one. The machines are incapable of operating at those levels. They’re designed that way… Like the protection a circuit breaker provides to a home, the AIT machines contain safety systems that prevent the production of radiation levels in excess of federally established limits.

      For those of you who like to get into the weeds, the “10x higher” issue stems from a field on the survey form that was not divided by 10 as the survey specified. So, the amount was incorrectly reported as 10x higher than it was supposed to be, not 10x higher than the requirement. So, how did we know the number in the third example was inaccurate? That’s an easy one. The machines are incapable of operating at those levels. They’re designed that way… Like the protection a circuit breaker provides to a home, the AIT machines contain safety systems that prevent the production of radiation levels in excess of federally established limits.

    You can read the post I mentioned above about how we’re going to retest all of the machinery and post the results on a special section of our web page.

    Blogger Bob
    TSA Blog Team

    If you’d like to comment on an unrelated topic you can do so in our Off Topic Comments post. You can also view our blog post archives or search our blog to find a related topic to comment in. If you have a travel related issue or question that needs an immediate answer, you can contact a Customer Support Manager at the airport you traveled, or will be traveling through by using Talk to TSA.




    Saturday, March 12, 2011

    TSA Releases Radiation Testing Reports

    TSA’s mission of keeping the traveling public safe is carried out at more than 450 airports across the U.S. and its territories. A large part of keeping the public safe includes using the best technology available. Some of the screening technologies use X-ray technology, such as backscatter imaging technology, multi-view advanced technology X-rays, explosive detection systems, and single projection X-ray systems to screen baggage. TSA has implemented stringent safety protocols to ensure the technology used at airports is safe. 

    While these machines improve our ability to stay ahead of threats to aviation security,  it’s also important that we’re doing everything we can to ensure our technology is safe for passengers and our officers.

    How do we do this? Well, in addition to radiation testing of the machine before it leaves the factory, and again once it is installed at an airport, TSA requires manufacturers and/or third party maintenance providers to test each machine routinely to make sure the radiation emitted falls within applicable standards. Additionally, radiation tests are performed after any maintenance that could impact the X-ray emissions and if the unit is ever relocated from its initial installation position.
    By conducting ongoing radiation tests throughout the life of the technology, TSA is going above and beyond regulatory standards to ensure passengers and operators are not being exposed to excessive radiation doses. 

    To increase our transparency – and to let you see for yourself that the technology is safe – we will be posting all future radiation reports online. You can see where they’ll be posted here. 

    As we prepared to take this step, and to verify our safety procedures, TSA recently selected 15 airports of varying sizes and reviewed reports generated from testing X-ray technologies at these airports over the last two years. You can also find all of those reports here. 

    The reports confirm that each piece of technology included in the review operated well-within applicable the national safety standards.

    TSA did not alter or edit the reports. Names were redacted to protect privacy and several pages were incorrectly marked as SSI, but other than that, the reports are there, warts and all.

    Warts? Well, while looking over these reports, we found some inaccuracies in contractor reporting that affected the documentation of some of the test results.
    • Lack of notation for the latest calibration date for the machine being tested or the most recent calibration date noted had expired on survey meters
    • Information missing regarding warning labels and other required labels on machines
    • Calculation errors not impacting safety
    • Missing survey point readings (e.g., If the test procedure required 13 points around the machine to be tested, in some cases, readings for only 11 points were reported)
    • Inconsistent responses to survey questions
    • No reading of background radiation noted
    • Missing other non-measurement related information 
    While these inaccuracies didn’t impact the overall assessment that the technology is safe, they are still unacceptable. We took immediate steps to hold contractors accountable and fix the mistakes, and are taking additional measures to build on the robust safety protocols currently in place, by:
    • Requiring re-testing of all backscatter advanced imaging technology units in airports, as well as all technology with inaccurate reports, by the end of March 2011;
    • Requiring contractors to re-train personnel involved in conducting and overseeing the radiation survey process;
    • Requesting the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) re-evaluate TSA’s safety program and update its 2008 report;
    • Expanding an existing partnership with the U.S. Army Public Health Command to conduct additional independent radiation surveys and radiation safety compliance audits at airports equipped with X-ray based technologies;
    • Increasing TSA oversight on the overall radiation survey and documentation process; and
    • Ensuring all appropriate contractual remedies are considered and implemented, as necessary, in the event that radiation inspections are incomplete or delinquent.
    • Also, every machine using X-ray technology that is deployed in an airport will have a new radiation test conducted within the next 12 months.
    • Administrator Pistole has also directed TSA to commission an independent entity to evaluate these protocols.
    • To provide additional transparency, TSA is posting all reports currently being conducted – and, as I said above, all future radiation reports – at www.tsa.gov as they’re completed.
    To put things in perspective, here are some sources of radiation you may not have been aware of:
    • One year of naturally occurring background radiation: 300 millirem 
    • Annual recommended limit to the public of radiation from man-made sources: 100 millirem
    • Chest X-ray: 10 millirem 
    • Flight from New York to Los Angeles: 4 millirem 
    • One day of natural background: 0.1 approximately 1 millirem (corrected 3/16/11 20:56)
    • Drinking three glasses of water a day for a year: 0.045 millirem
    • One backscatter X-ray scan: Approximately 0.005 millirem 

    Blogger Bob
    TSA Blog Team

    If you’d like to comment on an unrelated topic you can do so in our Off Topic Comments post. You can also view our blog post archives or search our blog to find a related topic to comment in. If you have a travel related issue or question that needs an immediate answer, you can contact a Customer Support Manager at the airport you traveled, or will be traveling through by using Talk to TSA.