Toledo Express gets full-body scanner

Toledo Blade

Step into the new full-body scanner at Toledo Express Airport and you’ll be asked to raise your hands above your head like a football referee signaling a touchdown.

Two vertical columns whir past, and then you step out to a position just beyond the scanner and wait until a Transportation Security Administration agent tells you you’re free to proceed.

Unless another agent viewing the scanned image in a booth in another room observes something unusual, it takes about 20 seconds.

Full-body scan normally takes longer than the concurrent X-ray inspection of your carry-on baggage, TSA spokesman Jim Fotenos readily remarked during a media demonstration Friday.

Mr. Fotenos escorted reporters through the demonstration Friday as Toledo Express became the latest passenger-service airport where security screeners using X-rays or radio waves are able to peer through travelers’ clothes to see what might be hidden beneath.

In Toledo’s case, it’s the latter: the “millimeter-wave” device that TSA has deployed at Express’s single-file security line transmits a burst of radio signals that reflect off a subject’s body, and the resulting patterns are digitized into an image.

But even the X-ray “backscatter” scanners in use elsewhere are not as dangerous as some critics have made them out to be, Mr. Fotenos asserted.

“You receive about the same level of X-ray that you do during two minutes of a flight,” he said.

In either case, the faces of screened subjects are blurred so as to be unidentifiable to the person in the remote booth watching the pictures, whose responsibility is limited to identifying any “anomalies” and, if there is an anomaly, instructing agents at the checkpoint to detain that traveler for further attention.

Once each traveler is either cleared or referred, the screening images are deleted and the image-viewing screener looks at the next one.

There is no system for retaining images or communicating them to any other devices, Mr. Fotenos said.

As agents are rotated through the various screening jobs — which also include such tasks as baggage inspection — care is taken that the image-viewer is never assigned next to a position where a freshly scanned traveler might still be present, he added.

Along with fears about radiation, critics have decried the full-body scans as invasive to travelers’ privacy.

But a sample screening image shown Friday to reporters was hardly the stuff of centerfolds or pin-up posters.

For starters, it was in black and white.

And while the outline of a brassiere could be seen, there was nothing observable that couldn’t be shown on a magazine cover — or in a newspaper.

What stood out prominently was a box the size of a portable cassette player protruding from the subject’s right hip.

That, Mr. Fotenos said, is the sort of thing screeners are looking out for, along with any metallic or nonmetallic material that might pose a threat to safe aviation.

The system is designed to highlight as well any liquids, gels, powders, or plastics that might be hidden under travelers’ clothes.

So whereas travelers in the past were advised to remove jewelry, coins, wristwatches, or other metallic objects before passing through checkpoints, the scanner will pick up on any foreign object concealed under clothes or in a pocket.

Scanners are not “a silver-bullet technology” for aviation security, Mr. Fotenos conceded.

The radio waves — or, in the case of “backscatter” scanners, X-rays — are too weak to penetrate skin and won’t reveal anything hidden in body cavities.

But in conjunction with other inspections and screeners’ observations of passenger behavior, they are a security-enhancement tool.

“TSA is doing everything it can to ensure their [passenger] safety,” Mr. Fotenos said.

The equipment and its installation at Toledo Express cost about $270,000 in taxpayer funds, he said.

“In the interest of the safety of the flying public, this is much needed,” said Jerry Chabler, chairman of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority’s airport committee, who stepped through the scanner several times during the demonstration.

Those who do not wish to be scanned may opt out at the checkpoint and instead undergo a “pat-down” search, Mr. Fotenos said.

And at times when the security line backs up, he said, some passengers may be sent through a standard metal detector at the checkpoint instead of the scanner.

But the scanner is expected to be the primary passenger-screening system at Toledo Express, the spokesman said, and travelers will not themselves have the choice of going through metal detection instead of scanner screening.

Security agents alone will decide who goes through the metal detector if the scanner line lengthens.

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