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New body scanner gets trial run at airport

AIT millimeter wave machine set to begin screens Jan. 23

Posted: January 13, 2012 - 1:12am
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TSA Security Officer Noah Teshner, center, demonstates how to use the new millimeter wave Advanced Imaging Technology body scanner as Security Officer Cindy Chapman, right, guides him through the three-to-five second scanning process at the Juneau International Airport on Thursday. TSA officals expect the unit to go into action Jan. 23.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
TSA Security Officer Noah Teshner, center, demonstates how to use the new millimeter wave Advanced Imaging Technology body scanner as Security Officer Cindy Chapman, right, guides him through the three-to-five second scanning process at the Juneau International Airport on Thursday. TSA officals expect the unit to go into action Jan. 23.

A new body scanner has been installed at Juneau International Airport and Juneau’s Transportation Security Administration officers are going through training on the new equipment.

This is in preparation for when travelers in Juneau will start being screened with the new scanners on Jan. 23.

The Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machine is a second-generation model — which means it is not the kind that produces incredibly detailed images of individual bodies. Instead, this machine uses different technology that shows a generic outline of a person — kind of like an eerie chalk outline — and if an item is detected a yellow box with a red outline will appear in that location. If a person passes the test, a green screen pops up with an “OK” and the passenger is clear.

TSA Northwest Region Public Information Officer Lorie Dankers said the machine uses millimeter wave technology, which bounces “harmless radio waves” off the body to detect items on a person. If a person has a wallet in his pocket, that will appear on screen as a yellow box on the body outline. If a person has concealed a weapon, it also will appear as a yellow box on the body outline. The technology does not attempt to distinguish specific item shapes.

Dankers said this model does not transmit or store images.

Juneau TSA officers demonstrated the machine for local media on Thursday. They stepped into the machine, which is mostly enclosed and a few feet longer than a traditional metal detector. It has marks on the floor where passengers should place their feet, facing away from the openings. A TSA officer operating the machine told the “passenger” to face the picture on the side and “hold that stance.” They stand with feet slightly apart and arms arched up overhead for three to five seconds. Anyone who cannot do so would have to go through the metal detector and follow up with a pat down.

“The results are real time. The passenger sees it at the same time the officer does,” Dankers said. “If there is something on the individual it shows up as this yellow box here. If there is a need for a follow up it is in the targeted area.”

A follow up consists of a pat down, but only in the areas on the body where the yellow boxes showed up on screen.

Dankers said if a person fails the test and boxes appear on screen, they are not allowed to pass back through to place items in a box to be X-rayed. TSA officers follow up with a pat down.

“There is one exception for children 12 and under,” Dankers said. “Children are allowed to go through the walk through metal detector more than once and they don’t have to remove their shoes. TSA is working to reduce the number of pat downs on children. Typically the officer will say ‘did you leave something in your pocket?’” Then the child may go through the AIT again.

Dankers said some people will love this technology a lot more than past security screening at airports. Those who have had — say, hip replacement surgery with pins remaining — or those who have had similar procedures that usually set off the machines, will typically be able to go through these new machines without a problem. That’s because the machines don’t X-ray or scan inside the body, just for what should be on the surface.

“Advanced Imaging Technology is always optional for any passenger,” Dankers said. “If they don’t want to go through it, they are allowed to go through the metal detector with follow-up screening.”

This system apparently won’t change the employment numbers at JIA for TSA. Ray Culbreth, TSA federal security director for Juneau and Southeast, said Juneau has 54 officers that have two shifts and cover the airport seven days a week.

These kinds of scanners are already in place in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and over the next few weeks one will head to Ketchikan. None of Alaska’s airports have the first-generation version of these scanners, which produced the passenger-specific images — like at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

But why would TSA put this new technology in Juneau or Ketchikan? Their passenger counts are relatively low compared to major transportation hubs in the Lower 48, or even Anchorage.

“Any threat could come from any airport,” Culbreth said. “On 9/11 the utilization was based from the smaller Category 3 airports in the United States. Juneau is a Category 2 because it’s the state capital. TSA felt it was very important to have this technology in Juneau.”

As for Ketchikan, it is a gateway city and Culbreth said there are many who utilize air transportation there because of cruises. He said it will help ease travel for those who are less mobile or who have medical procedures that would often cause them to have more extensive searches.

Culbreth was uncertain whether the machines would pick up heavy scarring from some medical procedures. Last year, state Rep. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage, went through Seattle’s machines and was flagged for a pat down because of scarring from cancer treatment. She objected to a pat down on a second trip and is a proponent for changing TSA’s more invasive security measures.

Culbreth said TSA has no immediate plans for the scanners in other airports in the state.

The Juneau and Ketchikan scanners are funded federally through $44.8 million allocated in September for 300 units. There are 540 AIT machines at 110 airports nationwide, which includes both versions of the technology.

Those with concerns about the process or who would like to notify TSA in advance of special considerations prior to going through the line can contact TSA Cares up to 72 hours prior to departure. For more information, visit 1.usa.gov/stnzz0.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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