TSA and Technology: Working Better Together for You

New Page 1 TSA Leadership   Through partnerships with industry, TSA has deployed the latest technology to detect weapons and explosives in a variety of transportation environments. Here's a snapshot of what we're working on to better serve you:

Passenger Screening - In six airports, TSA is testing explosives detection trace portals, also known as "puffer" machines.  The airports are in San Diego; Tampa, Fla.; Providence, R.I.; Rochester, N.Y.; Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss.; and John F. Kennedy in New York.  At the security checkpoint, puffs of air are blown at a passenger walking through a portal which is similar to a walk-through metal detectors.  The air is then analyzed for explosives.  At the TSA lab, our scientists are reviewing the latest equipment models for deployment as part of yet another operational test that will involve eight airports.

  This passenger walks through an explosives detection trace portal, also known as a "puffer" machine. This passenger walks through an explosives detection trace portal, also known as a "puffer" machine. Passengers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, John F. Kennedy in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago O'Hare may undergo screening by an explosives detection Document Scanner.  Under this pilot program, the Document Scanner analyzes samples collected by swiping the surface of a document over a collection disc and alerts the screener if explosive residue is detected. If the presence of explosives is indicated, the passenger is referred for additional screening. A more highly automated version of this same technology is under review by TSA.  

Finally, technology known as "backscatter" is also under review at the Transportation Security Laboratory.  Backscatter signals interact with explosives, plastics and metals, giving them shape and form - and making them easy to visually interpret.  When a passenger steps into the machine, the technology produces an outline of the passenger and allows a screener to detect explosives, prohibited items or a weapon.  TSA has been interested in the technology for some time and has worked to address privacy concerns associated with this new equipment.  With the addition of some software enhancements, TSA expects the technology to be deployed for field testing in 2005.  

Checked Baggage Screening - TSA has partnered with private industry to develop next-generation explosives detection equipment for the screening of checked baggage.  Currently, TSA uses two types of equipment to screen checked baggage - Explosives Detection Systems (EDS) and Explosives Trace Detection (ETD) equipment.   EDS are the size of a mini-van and employ technology similar to a medical CAT scan whereas ETD equipment is much smaller - about the size of large suitcase.  Screeners working with the portable ETD use a swab on a piece of luggage; the swab is then analyzed for traces of explosives.

New technology is being developed to increase the efficiency and throughput of existing EDS machines, and TSA scientists are testing upgraded models of ETD equipment.

Biometrics - TSA is focusing on the use of biometric technology to further enhance security and customer service.  This summer, TSA launched the Registered Traveler (RT) Pilot Program in five airports - Washington Reagan, Boston-Logan, Houston's Intercontinental, Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Under the RT program, passengers volunteer to undergo a security assessment and are enrolled in the program if approved.  In return, these travelers have an expedited screening process, avoiding additional screening at the checkpoint most of the time.  RT users are still required to go through primary screening at the checkpoint, but initial results have shown a faster process. TSA is analyzing the results of the pilot program and will expand it to additional airports in 2005.  

  TSA screeners review checked baggage using an Explosives Detection System (EDS). TSA screeners review checked baggage using an Explosives Detection System (EDS). Another program using biometrics is the Transportation Worker entification Credential (TWIC) program.  In this pilot, a card that includes biometric information is used to verify theentity of individuals with access to secure areas of the nation's transportation system.  Now in its third, or Prototype, phase, TSA expects an estimated 200,000 transportation workers in 40-plus transportation facilities across the country to participate in the program.