New body scanners might save time, alleviate worries

Lexey Swall/Staff 
 Ken Teske, a training specialist for the Transportation Security Administration, stands inside a body scanner to demonstrate how Millimeter Wave Advanced Imaging Technology works during a staged media event  Friday at Southwest Florida International Airport. The airport started using the first of six body scanning machines Thursday, February 16, 2011. The machine uses Advanced Imaging Technology which screens passengers for metallic and non-metallic threats that could be concealed under a passenger's clothing. The machines use electromagnetic waves that are safe for passengers and the body outline shown on the security screen is a generic outline that looks the same for all passengers.

Naples Daily News

Lexey Swall/Staff Ken Teske, a training specialist for the Transportation Security Administration, stands inside a body scanner to demonstrate how Millimeter Wave Advanced Imaging Technology works during a staged media event Friday at Southwest Florida International Airport. The airport started using the first of six body scanning machines Thursday, February 16, 2011. The machine uses Advanced Imaging Technology which screens passengers for metallic and non-metallic threats that could be concealed under a passenger's clothing. The machines use electromagnetic waves that are safe for passengers and the body outline shown on the security screen is a generic outline that looks the same for all passengers.

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Faster, safer, more private.

That's the motivation behind the installation of new body scanners at Southwest Florida International Airport, officials from the Transportation Security Administration said Friday.

One advanced imaging technology scanner is already fully operational and five new machines will be installed at the airport's departure gates within the next three weeks, said Robert Cohen, the airport's federal security director.

The new machines, which cost about $150,000 each, have automated target recognition software that eliminates the need for generating body images of individual passengers.

"What you've seen in the past, the passenger-specific images on the screen, won't exist anymore," said Cohen. "This scanner picks up anomalies and indicates them on an identical image for all passengers."

As passengers enter the six-sided, transparent booth, they place their feet on two yellow markers on the floor of the machine. They then must raise their arms above their heads for the scan.

A TSA agent watches the generic outline of a body on a computer screen. If the machine detects a suspicious metallic or non-metallic object, it will appear on the outline as a yellow box, indicating the area on the passenger's body where the object is located.

The passenger can see the same image the TSA agent examines during the process. If a suspicious object is indicated, the agent can examine that area of the passenger's body.

Cohen said that during a training day on Thursday, agents processed 931 passengers through the machine and performed only six pat downs. Using traditional metal detectors, processing that many passengers typically results in 70 to 75 pat downs, he said.

Fewer pat downs and more targeted searches can increase the speed of airport lines, Cohen said.

While 150 passengers can pass through a traditional detector each hour, Cohen expects 200 passengers to pass through the new machines per hour, initially. Eventually, that number could grow to 250.

Passenger complaints have decreased in the 140 airports where 600 scanners have been installed, he said.

About 300 million passengers have passed through the machines since TSA began installing them in 2010, resulting in just 750 complaints.

"The initial reaction from passengers here has been great, as well," said Cohen.

Dick Palmer said Friday that he travels frequently to Fort Myers from his home in Columbus, Ohio.

He recently encountered one of the new scanners in Columbus, after he told a TSA agent of his new knee replacement.

"They directed me to the machine and I just went in and put my arms up, then passed through without a problem," he said. "It was certainly faster than being pulled aside and having someone pass the wand over you."

TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz said the scanners do not detect objects under the skin, so those with joint replacements or artificial hips can pass through without delay. The machines will not detect other objects hidden within the body, either.

"Scanners are just one layer of detection and we have many layers, both seen and unseen," she said.

Shamideh Bazel also uses the airport frequently, traveling between homes in Naples and Pennsylvania. She said her main concern when passing through scanners is safety.

"When I travel, I want to reach my destination safely," she said. "I know they are just doing their job and I never have any problems, but I am concerned about health. I'm not sure if I get radiation."

The new scanners utilize millimeter wave technology that is safe for all passengers, including pregnant women and children, said Cohen. The energy emitted during a pass-through is about 1,000 times less than international standards allow.

The full-body scanners are optional, but a passenger who declines to pass through will receive alternate screening, including a pat down, said Koshetz.

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