Airport detection must be adaptable, proactive and evolutionary
- By Susan Cooper-Curcio
- Oct 01, 2010
Since Sept. 11, 2001, all aspects of air security have been a top priority
for governments, businesses and the public. New and emerging terrorist
threats now necessitate that airport detection be as adaptable, proactive
and evolutionary as possible.
Long gone are the days of simple metal detectors and unconcerned passengers.
Airport security has become one of the most daunting technological challenges
facing experts today.
Because of the nature of evolving threats, no single technology available today
is capable of detecting every risk to airlines and passengers. Threats to safety are
simply too complex to return to the days of a single metal detector, and a future
in which passengers simply breeze past unseen detection devices without slowing
their pace is decades away at best.
The Transportation Security Administration has adopted a layered approach
to air travel security, on the premise that a combination of varied technologies
provides an effective security net.
“By providing specific technologies for specific threats, the layered approach
to security is a constantly evolving and adaptable strategy to adequately address
ever-changing threats,” said Mark Laustra, vice president of homeland security
at Smiths Detection. “Perhaps in the future there will be one system that will be
able to detect everything, but for now that goal is still a ways off. We will continue
to create the solutions needed today while preparing for the threats we will
To be effective, airport screening must encompass three categories: people, their
belongings and air cargo. First, several overriding requirements exist for peoplescreening
technologies. The systems must be safe, speedy, quiet and relatively small
because security checkpoint real estate is limited.
When it comes to security solutions, they must be simple and reliable and, above
all else, practical. Quick throughput is essential to facilitating the flow of people
through security checkpoints. A small physical footprint also is necessary to maximize
the floor space where most security checkpoints are located -- the larger the
equipment, the more likely a bottleneck.
Weight also is an issue because of floor strength, and smaller, lighter solutions
are more likely to fit in the nation’s airports. Once, a simple metal detector fit the
bill, but since Richard Reid tried to use his shoes to conceal explosives and the
“Underwear Bomber” tried to conceal them on his person, metal detection alone
can no longer ensure safety -- it’s only part of the solution.
To address these needs, Smiths Detection launched “eqo,” an advanced peoplescreener
that uses electronic imaging in a standard checkpoint layout to detect unexpected
anomalies, concealed weapons or explosives on the body. Using harmless
millimeter-waves, the system provides a clear, real-time image of the person passing
in front of a flat panel while a remote operator checks for any hidden objects.
Because of its small footprint, consistent accuracy and speed, eqo is a promising
solution for airport security.
“Our system represents a second generation of people-screeners, providing
state-of-the-art, real-time information rather than snapshot images,” Laustra said.
“It enables fast throughput and, with our privacy safeguards, is reliable for both
passengers and operators. We are excited to see this advanced system implemented
worldwide because it addresses so many concerns and solves many checkpoint issues
in quick 360-degree turn.”
Screening Personal Belongings
The second category of necessary screening includes carry-on, checked luggage
and other belongings. As passengers cram more items into their carry-on baggage,
screening those belongings becomes a more difficult task.
In the past, X-ray systems could provide only a single view inside the complex
bags, making identifying threats a harder task. It is possible to alleviate these
concerns by providing dual views of screened belongings at different angles, helping
reveal the true contents of the bags. The systems provide not only advanced X-ray capabilities but revolutionary automatic explosives
detection as well, combining the functions
of multiple systems with leading engineering to save
time and resources.
“Essentially, we are helping the screener identify
potential threats in complex bags,” Laustra said.
“The automatic threat detection capability is a crucial
aspect to this layer of security because it gives the
screeners more information about the bags they are
scanning. At the end of the day, it saves passengers
time because of the increased throughput.”
Building on the automatic detection of explosive
threats, DHS officials can opt for a screening system
that supplies trace explosives screening technology.
Smiths Detection has a new solution, which uses
ion mobility spectrometry technology in a desktop
configuration, to identify minute traces of explosives
with a single swab followed by a rapid analysis. A mobile
IMS unit, the multi-mode threat detector, also
has been adopted into use by airlines for additional
screening at boarding gates, adding another layer of
In 2006, terrorists were discovered trying to bring
liquid explosives onto several different planes in London,
and since then, liquids have required additional
security screening. Recently, TSA purchased Smiths
Detection’s bottle liquid scanner, the RespondeR BLS.
Using a technique known as Raman spectroscopy to
assess the liquid contents of bottles without having to
open containers or damage them, the system enables
screeners to recognize the difference between a potentially
harmful liquid and one considered to be safe,
such as baby formula.
This additional layer has been aggressively deployed
across the nation by TSA and offers a solution
to screen liquids for explosives.
Screening Luggage, Cargo
The third category of necessary screening requiring
new layers of security includes checked luggage and
Following the tragic crash of Pan Am Flight 103,
when it was supposed explosives were concealed within
checked baggage, and the following TWA Flight
800 disaster, TSA invested heavily in new scanning
technology for luggage featuring automatic explosives
detection using 3-D imaging.
Airlines also use the empty space on a plane not
filled with luggage to transport commerce -- air cargo --
across the country. However, these packages
and pallets have come under new scrutiny because
they have not traditionally been screened for threats.
TSA issued new screening requirements that went
into effect in August, mandating that all air cargo be
screened in order to circumvent potential threats that
might be hidden within it.
In order to help the air cargo industry abide by
this new mandate, transportation security officials
are using a variety of security solutions including
trace detection and numerous X-ray systems capable
of screening from the smallest to the largest of
packages and pallets. Some companies use the IONSCAN
500DT explosives trace detection system to
swab individual shipments, others use one of Smiths
Detection’s 16 TSA-approved X-ray systems, and
some use both.
Direct and indirect air carriers and freight forwarders
can meet the screening mandate by quickly scanning
shipments instead of physically inspecting them
one by one, potentially harming the goods. Able to
provide the custom solutions needed in each case-bycase
basis, Smiths Detection’s pallet-sized X-ray systems --
like its HI-SCAN 180180-2is -- meet the unique
volume and throughput needs and applications of a
range of businesses including airports, customs facilities,
transportation operations, air cargo carriers and
parcel services. The system screens big items such as
pallets and standard airfreight containers, providing
dual views, detailed images and materials identification
guidance needed to ensure safety.
Because threats to airline security are evolving, it
is important that the screening technologies are upgradeable
systems, where advanced algorithms can be
developed and simply added to detect for emerging
threats. Smiths Detection is encouraging governments
and the industry to adopt global safety measurement
standards that harmonize security regulations internationally.
This would help expand the layered safety net that
faces evolving threats across the globe. It is essential
that airport security technology and information become
integrated with national law enforcement and
anti-terrorist organizations in order to provide the
rapid information-sharing needed in a crisis. This
integrated technology would allow for synchronized
awareness across multiple airports and agencies in
such situations. In combination with the multiple layers
of screening, information-sharing would create a
backbone to connect security efforts worldwide.
Security companies have long used layered security
approaches beyond the airport environment, as it also
has been proven effective in critical infrastructures,
such as government buildings, special events such as
large public gatherings and sporting events, and at
ports and border crossings around the world.
“Airport security has evolved along with the complexity
of the threats we face,” Laustra said. “We hope
to provide the best and customized security solutions
needed today while also trying to foresee what may be
on the horizon to be prepared.”
Airport security will always rely on practiced layers
of security for people, baggage and air freight. The
solutions of tomorrow will include layers of technology
that are quick, unobtrusive, upgradeable,
accurate and reliable.
This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Security Today.