TSA Prefers That We Leave Hand Grenades At Home

The Transportation Security Administration has been working on its image, engaging readers on its blog with the latest travel security information, inviting fans to “meet the bloggers” and more. The TSA is also finding that its message is more palatable with a dose of humor.

This week on its Transportation Tips post, TSA asks readers to please leave their grenades at home. “After reading the title of this post, your first thought probably was, ‘That’s obvious.’ Not always so”, writes Bob Burns. Just this year, TSA officers have discovered 43 grenades in carry-ons and 40 in checked luggage.

Most of the grenades were inert, replica or novelty items, like antiques someone might buy on eBay. “But a few were live smoke, flare, riot, and flash bang grenades, which can pose major safety issues to aircraft and also violate FAA hazmat regulations,” added Burns.That the majority of grenades TSA sees won’t actually explode isn’t the issue. The problem is that they look just like real grenades during screening, slowing down the process, if not closing and evacuating terminals.

The “please don’t bring” advice goes for grenade shaped belt buckles, lighters, soap, candles, MP3 players, paperweights, inert training grenades, and other items can all look like the real thing when x-rayed.

How Do Dogs Find Explosives At Airports?

Behind every bomb-sniffing dog at the airport is hours and hours of repetition and reward. For many, their training starts with a canine kindergarten and continues until they graduate from an elite academy run by MSA Security. Around 160 teams work with these dogs, usually in tandem with the same handler for eight or nine years, until the dog is retired. Smithsonian magazine looks into what goes into training these dogs and how, exactly, dogs detect bombs. Here’s an excerpt:

Merry and Zane Roberts, MSA’s lead canine trainer, work their way along the line of luggage pieces, checking for the chemical vapors-or “volatiles”-that come off their undersides and metal frames. Strictly speaking, the dog doesn’t smell the bomb. It deconstructs an odor into its components, picking out just the culprit chemicals it has been trained to detect. Roberts likes to use the spaghetti sauce analogy. “When you walk into a kitchen where someone is cooking spaghetti sauce, your nose says aha, spaghetti sauce. A dog’s nose doesn’t say that. Instinctively, it says tomatoes, garlic, rosemary, onion, oregano.” It’s the handler who says tomato sauce, or, as it happens, bomb.

Thanks, Smithsonian magazine. I will never smell spaghetti sauce the same way again.

[via Gizmodo]

Baggage Scanning Technology Evolving

The latest in baggage scanning technology looks kind of like the CT scanner hospitals use to to look inside the human body much like a loaf of bread, one slice at a time. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials hope this new tool will do a better, faster job detecting explosives in baggage.

The Explosives Detection Systems (EDS) machine runs with CT scan technology, modified to detect explosives in baggage and taking the place of TSA agents manually swabbing each bag. Fully-automated, the machine can scan at the rate of 240 bags an hour. TSA has installed 455 of the machines in airports since January.
Rather than multiple 2D images in traditional x-ray scanners, this new generation CT-like scanner displays dynamic images using a baggage scanning technology called Array Motion Imaging (AMI). AMI presents a moving image of baggage to the machine operator, as though someone were turning it around from side to side or up and down, enabling them to see all areas of the bag.

In the past, careful packing might have allowed prohibited items in baggage to pass by TSA machine operators not “seeing” them. This scanning technology lowers the odds of that happening substantially with new, multiple views as baggage passes though the system.

“It can be deployed anywhere,” said Jeffrey Allison, TSA acting federal security director told thenewsstar.com. “It is portable and can be moved from one location to another. It is a great service for the passengers and it reduces the number of false-type alarms.”

Built by Reveal Imaging, the $340,000 EDS machines are being paid for with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestmant Act of 2009, a $30 million fund earmarked to improve airport security across the nation in all areas.

TSA began using advanced imaging in 2007. An evolving program, imaging can detect a wide range of threats to security in a matter of seconds to protect the flying public. Imaging is an integral part of TSA’s effort to continually look for new technologies that help ensure travel remain safe and a step ahead of evolving threats.

The TSA imaging program encompasses more than just baggage, it also includes the “scanning” of people as well. Too big to fit through a machine, human beings are handled differently, using a a variety of non-invasive methods that are preferred over unpopular pat-downs.

Since imaging technology has been deployed at airports, over 99 percent of passengers choose to be screened by this technology over alternative screening procedures. According to a CBS poll, 4 out of 5 Americans support the use of advanced imaging at airports nationwide.

Additionally, passengers with joint replacements or other medical devices that would regularly alarm a metal detector often prefer this technology because it is quicker and less invasive than a pat down.

“We are always looking for new technology and procedures that will both enhance security while strengthening privacy protections,” TSA Administrator John Pistole said.

Reveal Imaging photo

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AK State Rep. takes ferry back home after refusing TSA full body scan

When Alaska State Rep. Sharon Cissna tried to fly from Seattle back home to Juneau, she was was directed towards one of the new full body scanning machines. When something showed up on the scanner that needed extra attention, she was told she’d need a full pat-down instead.

Cissna, who has a mastectomy refused the invasive security treatment and left the airport, opting to travel back to Alaska by ferry.

The journey on the ferry from Seattle to Juneau takes twelve hours, but it doesn’t involve being subjected to invasive TSA security measures.

Her chief of staff reports that she did indeed undergo a full body scan that showed her mastectomy. It was not clear why the full body scan then required a followup pat-down.

Kudos to her for taking a stand and refusing to deal with this security theater. After investing millions in these new scanners, and giving up a lot of our privacy, there should be absolutely no need to force passengers to go through three different levels of security just to get on a plane.

Gun carrying jetBlue pilot in hot water after embarrassing backpack incident

In what can only be described as a monumental screwup, a pilot for jetBlue managed to lose sight of his federally issued gun, and spent the next 40 minutes trying to locate it.

The pilot in question, Michael Connery Jr. was boarding his plane when he set his backpack down to chat with a fellow crew member. In the boarding process, a passenger on a different flight picked up her own bags, and accidentally grabbed Connery’s backpack as well.

Packed inside that backpack was a 40 caliber handgun – issued as part of the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, operated by the TSA.

Once the passenger realized the bag was not hers, she set it down on an empty seat on her plane. Another passenger pointed the unaccompanied backpack out to a crew member, who alerted the authorities. Meanwhile, Connery had already delayed his own flight while he tried to locate the backpack – taking 40 minutes to contact the airline to the incident.

Once he got his bag back, TSA officials confiscated his gun while they conducted their investigation.

While the armed flight officer program may be a good idea on paper, simple mistakes like this show how easy it is to completely defeat all security measures at the airport. Had the plane with the backpack departed on time, a gun could have been on its way to Florida in the hands of a random stranger.