The latest generation of full-body security scanner is headed for Metro Airport and will be used to screen airline passengers sometime within the next several weeks, according to Transportation Security Administration officials.
“The device uses electromagnetic waves that are bounced off the body to determine if something is concealed underneath a person’s clothing,” said Jon Allen, a TSA spokesman based in Atlanta.
The new scanners employ software that eliminates a problem with earlier versions, which were considered invasive because they revealed body parts in too much detail, Allen said.
Instead, a generic image of the human body is produced that highlights in yellow the location of any items underneath someone’s clothing. If such an image pops up, the person is pulled aside for a targeted pat-down to remove and examine the item, Allen said.
Bill Frain, a senior vice president of L-3 Security and Detection Systems, the machine’s manufacturer, said larger airports across the country that had earlier versions of its Advanced Imaging Technology machines have all had software upgrades this year so they produce only the generic human body images.
As a mid-sized airport, Baton Rouge never got the original full-body scanner with the early software, said Jim Caldwell, the airport’s marketing and air service development manager.
He said the airport uses a metal detector and pat-down searches to screen passengers. The new full-body scanner will replace the metal detector, which will be available for use as a backup, he said.
“This clearly enhances security with none of the privacy issues the previous machines had,” Caldwell said.
Frain said his company’s full-body scanners have been deployed to protect security at a variety of sites, including airports, court houses, prisons, Fortune 500 companies and the Green Zone in Iraq.
He said the sophisticated technology of the machines allows as many as 200 to 300 airline passengers to pass through per hour.
Frain said the millimeter wave imaging machines the company produces enhance security because they can detect more potential threats than metal detectors.
“The system detects a broad range of concealed devices and anomalies,” Frain said, including plastics, liquids or other items.
Allen, the TSA spokesman, said the advanced imaging technology “gives us the greatest opportunity to detect and deter evolving threats to aviation.”
He said airline passengers will still have to remove their shoes, and carry-on baggage still must go through x-ray scanning.
Since the new screening device picks up anything in pockets or inside clothing, Allen said, passengers will need to get used to making sure they have nothing on them that might show up on the device as an anomaly.
“A handkerchief, billfold, whatever, is going to show up as an anomaly,” Allen said. “The advice we give to people is for anything like that, put it in a carry-on bag, purse or laptop bag and place it on the belt to go through the x-ray machine.”
The scanners with the new software installed offer advantages over the previous version, Allen said.
For example, he said, previously a TSA agent would review the more detailed body images in a remote room and would radio to an agent if something showed up that he or she believed needed to be checked more thoroughly.
Since the new software uses a generic human shape, the image is displayed right at the machine, and an agent can pinpoint and deal with any issue with the person as he or she is standing at the device, the TSA spokesman said.
Allen said the electromagnetic waves emitted by the new scanners are “one-ten thousandth” of what is permitted for cell phones.
He said they do not penetrate the skin and pose no health or safety threat.
Allen said people with surgical implants prefer the new scanners because their implants do not trigger an alert as is often the case with metal detectors. That means those people are not pulled aside for a pat-down, he said.
Handicapped people who are not able to walk through a scanner will be subject to pat-downs, as is the case now with those unable to walk through metal detectors, he said.
Allen said TSA purchased 300 new full-body scanners in September that will be distributed to airports across the country.
Baton Rouge is among the first group of airports due to receive a scanner from that order, Allen said. He said the machines cost about $150,000 each.