TSA rationalizes airport security, emphasizing risk-based priorities

Published 8 December 2005

TSA emphasizes technology, explosives detection

The announcement last week by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that passengers would again be allowed to carry scissors and small knives on board received most of the press attention, but much more important for public safety — and for homeland security businesses — was the new emphasis by TSA to harness the latest technology to bolster air travel safety. Central to the new focus are explosives detection training and technology improvements, which will also include increasing the number of trace explosives portals from 43 to 340 by the end of 2006. Sixteen of the new portals are scheduled to be installed by the end of 2005. “Just as we have invested in our people to help reduce the risk that explosives will be taken aboard a plane, we are also investing in technology for this purpose,” TSA assistant director Kip Hawley said. “This new technology uses puffs of air to help detect the presence of explosives on individuals.” The TSA has recently completed enhanced explosives detection training of more than 18,000 officers. The training focused on identifying X-ray images of improvised explosive parts, rather than simply trying to scan for assembled bombs. Also, the TSA has updated a database of images to include more improvised explosive images, which are randomly projected onto X-ray screens at checkpoints to help maintain and improve skills.

We note that the changes in TSA’s airport security policies reflect principles and a risk-based strategy set forth in a recent assessment by DHS secretary Michael Chertoff. “The changes reflect not only a new and evolving threat environment, but also our determination to make good decisions based on data and metrics, a practice that TSA will continue to employ going forward,” Hawley said.

-read more in this InformationWeek report

MORE: As we reported recently [see issue of 10/20/05], trained wasps could replace dogs for sniffing out drugs, bombs and bodies. Scientists say a species of non-stinging wasps can be trained in only five minutes and are just as sensitive to odors as man’s best friend, which can require up to six months of training at a cost of about $15,000 per dog. Report