Monday, March 15, 2010

Changes to Airline Security on the way... not just for PWD

One good part about being on the Continental Airlines Customers with Disabilities Advisory Board is that we get some advance warning from other companies outside of Continental such as the work mentioned in my previous post about POCs and Advanced Aeromedical.

This meeting we got a significant update on the upcoming changes to TSA Security Check Points at all US airports, rolling out later this year. Because of the recent switch in security from metallic threats to plastic ones, TSA and related security agencies are working on two advanced imaging technology that will begin to phase out the current walk-through metal detectors. These changes began as early as 2007, but due to the fact that the imaging created was quite graphic, changes had to be made to make sure privacy was ensured. These changes are finally going to be visible in the travel experience this year.

TSA uses two types of imaging technology, millimeter wave (radio frequency) and backscatter. Currently, there are 43 imaging technology units in use at 20 airports. There are 40 millimeter wave units in use at 19 airports and three backscatter units in use at one airport.

This month, March 2010, TSA began deploying 150 backscatter imaging technology units, which were purchased with American Recovery and Reinvestment Art (ARRA) funds. TSA plans to deploy a total of approximately 450 imaging technology units in 2010.

While this seems like an "electronic strip search," there are a lot of privacy mechanisms in place, TSA ensures. The images are viewed by someone in a completely different area so they do not know which person they are scanning, the imaging blurs the face and body parts of the passenger, images are deleted immediately after approval so they can not be stored, printed, saved, or sent, and no cameras or cell phones are allowed in the scanning areas.

The radio frequencies and backscatter technologies are also very safe medically; the radio frequency is 1000 times less than a cell phone, and the backscatter imaging is similarly less than an xray, even though the scanner will shoot about 10-12 images per passenger for various angles to check for plastic explosive devices.

While this new technology is great for people with metal implants that previously set off the older metal detectors, it will slow down security for people with service animals, wheelchairs and external medical devices as they will all now have to be screened. But this will also change. Where previously individuals in wheelchairs were scanned with the "wand and felt" technique, the agent will hold a small unit the size of a briefcase and will be checking people's hands at random, also for plastic.

Additionally TSA will be working more on training for handling passengers with traumatic brain injury, autism, diabetis, and other hidden disabilities and how these new technologies may affect this group.

For a complete report on this TSA technology visit

No comments: