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

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48 comments:

Andrew MacKie-Mason said...

Wait, we know that it's not operating unsafely because there's a safety mechanism that prevents it from operating unsafely? Good logic, that.

Anonymous said...

You guys can't even fill out a form but you have extralegal jurisdiction to touch our junk even when we disembark trains? I bet these are perfectly safe just like depleted uranium, right?

Concerned Observer said...

Are the machines that are to be retested out of commission for the time being?
If there is any significant chance that the backscatter WBI machines are putting out an abnormal amount of radiation, I would hope that the TSA would protect frontline TSOs and shut down the units in question until proper readings are taken and proper maintenance/reparation is done.

Drawicky said...

I'll ignore for the minute the fact that the TSA can't seem to design a simple enough form that its employees are capable of filling it out correctly.

The real issue here is...did you just tell us that the machines can't be operating outside of normal levels because they can't operate outside of normal levels? Do you think we're stupid?

Ted said...

At some point the TSA will have to admit the x-ray scanners put out more energy than they are trying to lead everyone to believe. In this case they are not "fudging" the numbers enough to calm public outcry. Think of the exposure required for x-rays to hit a target and be strong enough to reflect back to be detected by a scintillator/imager. The public and TSA employees are at risk for long-term adverse health risks.

Anonymous said...

It would make sense to take the machines offline if they were doing this retesting for the interest of public or employee safety.

Unfortunately, that's a big if.

Anonymous said...

Oh, so you got the form wrong. Just the form. You never make mistakes that hurt, embarrass or inconvenience people. Just can´t happen. Because you are always right and good.

Please, look yourselves in the mirror.

Bill said...

I'm going to repeat a comment because this is a bad maintenance procedure.

Why does your test require you to do 10 scans and take an average? You should do 10 scans and if any one of them fall outside of a set variance the machine should be shut down for maintenance. Average safe levels of radiation don't matter to the one person who gets a higher dose.

Of course you still shouldn't use the machines at all because they are a gross violation of the letter and spirit of the 4th amendment.

Randy said...

Ummmmm...Ummmmm...Ummmmm...

What happens when the *safety system* fails?

Shakes Head,
Randy - andcrossesfingerswhengoingthroughait

Anonymous said...

The machines are incapable of operating at those levels.

-----------------------------------

Then why do the testing in the first place? Or for that matter, why do the retesting?

Do you understand how dumb the argument you made in this post sounds?

If that is how the TSA thinks, we are in serious trouble

Anonymous said...

As a (PhD) medical physicist, with over 20 years experience in radiation safety of devices used to irradiate humans, there is one immutable truth I have learned: Radiation safety is too important to be left to chance and "safety circuits."

Safety circuits fail. This is well demonstrated.

Control circuits fail. This is also well demonstrated.

Beam currents for radiation generators are very small and will not "blow the fuse" if they are too high and the safety (monitoring circuits) fail.

This is why we recommend a morning output check before such devices are used on people.

Why doesn't the TSA illuminati get this?

I don't know the technical parameters of your machines, but what I have gleaned is the energy is in the diagnostic radiology ranges, and if so, then you should be doing and recording daily output checks on these machines and you should not use them on living beings until you verify their output.

RB said...

Why average the readings?

If any one reading exceeds design limits would it not be prudent to take the xray machine out of service until repairs are completed?

Why is TSA so willing to xray the public with unproven and likely unsafe devices?

Anonymous said...

I don't believe you.

Mike e. said...

If I was a TSO assigned to operate one of these machines, I would be asking myself why X-Ray technicians at the doctor's office always leave the room before activating the x-ray.

Then I would realize that the x-ray machine is way more powerful than anything the TSA uses.

But then I would realize I (as a TSO) probably do several hundred more scans per shift than an X-ray tech.

Anonymous said...

Blogger Bob said:
"...well below national standards."

To which "national standards" are you referring, Bob?

Anonymous said...

You people are horrifying. You're using dangerous equipment you don't understand. You're a menace.

Anonymous said...

Sad but I don't trust the TSA with my health.

Anonymous said...

The Therac-25 machines were designed with safety systems, but it was later proven (disastrously) that the safeties didn't work as intended and several people were killed by the equipment. When the testing records don't match your expectations, that is NOT the time to throw those results out.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therac-25

Anonymous said...

SO, Bob, why, exactly, should we trust an agency with our safety that can't even do simple math??

Jim said...

There still has been no LONG-TERM testing to see if it is dangerous over time.

Anonymous said...

Let's see, the TSA is willing to show us SOME information, but ONLY the information that the TSA chooses in order to attempt to prevent the WHOLE truth from being revealed. Just like the TSA's approach to complying with the Freedom of Information Act request to release the REAL images that are created by the Backscatter devices. Why does the TSA NOT want the images to be released to the public? The TSA SAYS that it is to prevent terrorists from defeating the system, but the TRUTH is that the TSA does not want the PUBLIC to become truly aware of the graphic nature of the images.

This post does NOT violate the rules of the blog and I AM posting it in another forum because I have had MANY, MANY other posts censored by the TSA.

TSORon said...

Some Anonymous poster asked…
“SO, Bob, why, exactly, should we trust an agency with our safety that can't even do simple math??
-----------------------------
Its pretty simple Anon, you didn’t read the article.

“TSA requires manufacturers and/or third party maintenance providers to test each machine routinely to make sure the radiation emitted falls within applicable standards”

Pretty much that means that the TSA does not do the testing, the manufacturer or another third party contractor does.

Jim said …
There still has been no LONG-TERM testing to see if it is dangerous over time.
---------------------------

It’s not new technology Jim, it’s been around for decades. The “long-term” testing has been done and you can find the results if you take the effort to find the facts. I doubt that will happen though, the facts do not seem to matter to the posters here.

Anonymous said...

From a reporting perspective, if a large error is found during testing, it is generally scrutinized and looked at by one or multiple reviewers before releasing the results. This is generally true in every org. So I find it hard to believe that this is just a "math error".

I also agree with other posters that this kind of testing with RADIATION should NOT BE AVERAGED. Any instance of error should be examined. Were scientists not consulted for maintenance procedures?

SciMjr2 said...

ATTN TSO Ron ...

Here's my question and maybe you can answer it because nobody else seems able to.

Where does the TSA draw the line? When it eventually happens, and it WILL happen, and someone puts a bomb up their rear end ... then what does the TSA do? Do they start cavity searching everyone? Or do they simply turn up the radiation on those machines until they can see straight through our bodies?

How about this ... what happens when the terrorists finally realize that because the TSA is doing such a great job (LOL) they can no longer get a bomb onto an aircraft and they realize that the next best place to cause massive fatalities is at a crowed, bottle-necked security check point?

What does the TSA do then ... because profiling is politically incorrect so they can't do that! Exactly HOW FAR will the TSA degrade and demean the traveling public in the name of "security."

Anonymous said...

TSORon said: "It’s not new technology Jim, it’s been around for decades. The “long-term” testing has been done and you can find the results if you take the effort to find the facts. I doubt that will happen though, the facts do not seem to matter to the posters here."
-----------------------------------------

Ron, would you mind providing links to the long-term tests on these devices that you've referenced? I'm a bit confused as to how this data could even exist given the relatively short time that these machines have been operating, but I'm more than willing to review any information you might be willing to offer.

Also, I think it's a bit ironic that you are suggesting that the posters are the people who are ignoring the facts. As I understand the situation, the TSA is insisting that certain measurements cannot possibly be accurate because the machines are not designed to produce that level of radiation. This strikes me as an absolutely absurd line of reasoning: the entire point of the tests is to figure out whether or not the machines are exceeding these levels. Why even conduct tests if you are going to treat every anomaly as a measurement error?

This post has not violated any of your commenting rules and I would appreciate if you would post it without any undue delay.

James said...

The majority of [the scanners'] energy is delivered to the skin and the underlying tissue. Thus, while the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high. The X-ray dose from these devices has often been compared in the media to the cosmic ray exposure inherent to airplane travel or that of a chest X-ray. However, this comparison is very misleading: both the air travel cosmic ray exposure and chest X- rays have much higher X-ray energies and the health consequences are appropriately understood in terms of the whole body volume dose. In contrast, these new airport scanners are largely depositing their energy into the skin and immediately adjacent tissue, and since this is such a small fraction of body weight/vol, possibly by one to two orders of magnitude, the real dose to the skin is now high.

Anonymous said...

TSORon said...
Pretty much that means that the TSA does not do the testing, the manufacturer or another third party contractor does.

Fine. "SO, Bob, why, exactly, should we trust an agency with our safety that can't even hire people who can do simple math??"

Anonymous said...

Why does anyone think TSA employees are capable of reading the calibration equipment when the Savannah train incident (and Bob's claims as to the cause of that incident) show us that the employees of the TSA can't even read a clock?

Anonymous said...

Hey Bob -

The link to the updated test results no longer works.

Anonymous said...

Bob,

I find it interesting that you allow a certain TSO to represent your organization on this blog after he mocks a concerned traveller who felt she was inappropriately touched in a checkpoint here.

This attitude does not seem to reflect your published core values.

http://www.tsa.gov/who_we_are/mission.shtm

Anonymous said...

I got irradiated on March 18 and still got a pat down.

So more cancer for me and I got touched by someone who makes less than half my hourly pay...

Wonderful

Concerned Observer said...

I am disappointed, but not surprised. I can only assume that the machines in question, which may be malfunctioning, have not been taken out of use at any point because of the abnormal recorded measurements.

Hopefully this is an issue that the TSA's union will pick up and run with. Proper safety measures appear to have been, and continue to be, ignored by the TSA.

Anonymous said...

It is necessary for all WBI machines to be taken offline until each machine's radiation level has been verified by independent testers. This is necessary to protect both TSOs and travelers from harmful levels of radiation.

Anonymous said...

As I grew up for 22 yrs. with my late father owning a large security company with close to 200 employees at any given time, I agree with the U.S. Travel Agency asking for identity identification.
Better yet, for frequent flyers, along w/frequent business travelers, all airports in the U.S. should allow them to make an appt. in advance to show them their i.d., passport, s.s.card, etc., while having two separate lines; for them, a faster one, while showing them again, along with all pilots and stewardesses (I'm referring to the Egyptian pilot about five years ago who was flying from the East Coast to the U.K. and purposely crashed, killing everyone). Unfortunately. Of course, everyone will still have to have their carry-on's searched, and pass through a metal detector.
However, several things; the 'full body scanners' are not worth anything,and are hazardous; radiation techs do make everyone wear a very heavy lead apron before they go back into their room; a body scanner showed what looked like a long object a passenger's boot, which a cat-scan later showed was a long knife; he was allowed to pass; also, no one should have to take their shoes off, unless they look very suspicious; many young men still read the 'anarchist's cookbook'; the only thing they succeed in blowing up is themselves. Worst of all is anyone at all allowed to carry cell phones or laptops while accessing the internet while in flight-what does anyone think these idiots have been blowing up European countries with for quite some time? The only advice I can give anyone is to fly smaller commuter or Southwest airlines-they don't fly very far and carry as much jet fuel, which is very flammable, and don't do the damage these cretins would like to do.
If anyone looks a bit startled (referring to the late woman in Phoenix), perhaps they're just afraid of flying. It isn't tsa's
agents fault. They are not properly trained.
God Bless and good luck to everyone, take care~

Anonymous said...

So we're trusting our safety to people who can't fill out forms correctly... I thought if government workers could do one thing well, it is paperwork.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
I got irradiated on March 18 and still got a pat down.

So more cancer for me and I got touched by someone who makes less than half my hourly pay...

Wonderful

March 21, 2011 12:44 PM

So, how much did you make while writing such a pointless post? BTW, you're COOL.

SciMjr2 said...

Here's the problem I have with these machines (BackScatter & MilliMeter) is that we are unsure if they are actually safe! Look back in time and see all the things that we were told were "completely safe." Fluoroscopes, asbestos, lead paint, X-Rays when they were first developed ... etc. etc. Why do you believe that these machines won't be the cause of numerous deaths in years to come? Because the government said so? The Federal Government is self serving ... they care about themselves and that's it! If they REALLY cared about us why would they COMPLETELY ignore and constantly lie to the traveling public? Mr. Pistole has to be one of the most arrogant officials I have seen in YEARS. He claims how he went through the pat-downs and he sees nothing wrong with it. NO KIDDING! Do you HONESTLY believe that Mr. Pistole ... big boss ... HEAD of the T.S.A. got the EXACT same pat-down and attitude from the T.S.A. officers that the rest of us do??? I HIGHLY doubt it!

Anonymous said...

TSORON said Pretty much that means that the TSA does not do the testing, the manufacturer or another third party contractor does.
So Ron if the testers pass the machine but two days later there is a malfunction of the machine, and no one at the TSA is qualified to detect this. Who is to blame then? I suppose it doesn't bother you to go stepping into an xray machine with unqualified personal running equipment they don't understand. I hope your not a frequent flyer Ron and you have your life insurance premium paid up.

kellymae81 said...

Anon said: I got irradiated on March 18 and still got a pat down.
So more cancer for me and I got touched by someone who makes less than half my hourly pay...
Wonderful


I would just like to know #1, what someones pay has to do with anything and #2, do you think you are better than someone bc you make more money than that person?!!!!! Such fine logic, that is!! Someone's pay has NOTHING to do with who that person is OR the job they are trying to do.... just sayin...!!!

Anonymous said...

So Bob ... I have a question. I'm seeing the equivalent of TSA "mythbusters" on the internal page of my agency's website, trying to extol the virtues of the Nude-O-Scopes. Fortunately, it's unclassified so I can mention it.

Is TSA that desperate that it's trying to get the rest of the civilian service on board with the harassment? Interestingly enough, it was a shill article. Next to nothing on the privacy angle, didn't even address the legality and effectiveness. It was just a bunch of TSA assurances.

I see enough propaganda here. I don't need to see it at work.

Anonymous said...

kellymae, a lot of people have a chip on their shoulder if their situation is less than the people they "serve." I've noticed this especially with TSA. Groping and harassing travelers is a way of "sticking it to the man" because they can.

RB said...

kellymae81 said...
Anon said: I got irradiated on March 18 and still got a pat down.
So more cancer for me and I got touched by someone who makes less than half my hourly pay...
Wonderful

I would just like to know #1, what someones pay has to do with anything and #2, do you think you are better than someone bc you make more money than that person?!!!!! Such fine logic, that is!! Someone's pay has NOTHING to do with who that person is OR the job they are trying to do.... just sayin...!!!

March 27, 2011 4:31 PM

.............
Kellymae, your blog profile doesn't mention that you work (or did work) for TSA. In fact you were on the blog team for a short time.

Have you left TSA?

Anonymous said...

kelliemae81 said:
"I would just like to know #1, what someones pay has to do with anything and #2, do you think you are better than someone bc you make more money than that person?!!!!! Such fine logic, that is!! Someone's pay has NOTHING to do with who that person is OR the job they are trying to do.... just sayin...!!!"

I didn't write the orginal post but I'll take this one on.

#1: The pay for TSOs is commensurate with level of education and training. It is inadequate to hire and retain the quality of employee needed to staff a security organization.

#2: Better in what way? More likely the original poster was pointing out that he/she is more educate and trained, likely with more experience.

You may be "just sayin" but you're not saying much; next time you need to see a doctor, I hope you'll find one that feels his/her efforts only merit minimum wage. By your logic, it has nothing to do with the quality of the doctor who is, quite possibly, a wonderful person.

The reality is that I expect to pay for quality and don't expect to get quality unless I pay for it. The TSA is an excellent example of not paying for quality and not getting it.

Anonymous said...

Radiation damage accumulates over ones lifetime. IMO, there's no "safe" level when it comes to *voluntary* exposure!

My 2 cents,

Anonymous said...

In addition to the radiation issue, the scanners slow down the security line and annoy already stressed out passengers. Previously, you had to take your laptop and liquids out of your bag, you now have to take off your belt, watch, and everything else in your pockets. Now instead of 10 items strewn about when you go through security, you now have 20 items scattered about. It also seems odd that I get a pat down after the scanner. That does not seem efficient to me or maybe I am cuter than I thought. When I went through security at Miami airport, the screeners were ogling pretty girls and making them go through the scanner. They were all laughing like hyenas. TSA says the images are not seen by the people doing the screens. Yeah right. Someone at TSA needs to 'man-up' and just admit the scanners don't work and get rid of them and go back to the metal detectors.

Anonymous said...

so. The good news of the day - Texas may introduce legislation to make pat-downs a felony. *cheers* No more freebie cop-a-feel from the micro-nazis at TSA. I'm just wondering how long before people realize TSA never was useful.. its mostly a sinecure.

Anonymous said...

I just spent a considerable amount of time reading the large number of reports posted. Not a single one shows the test results of these scanners in the past year. They do show a desperate need for retraining the technicians who are performing these tasks. Am I to believe that the those in charge of daily operation are better qualified?

I'll take the pat-down...

Laurey Howell said...

You really did explain the situation of the machine very well. I hope that they can explain and show some 3d scanning software too.