The Security Checkpoints of Tomorrow

With every security breach comes new challenges. The security checkpoints of the future will not only anticipate and contend with emerging threats, but also combines the best screening technologies with advanced integrated solutions to reshape the nation’s first line of defense.

On 25 December 2009, on approach to Detroit, Michigan, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate plastic explosives that were sewn into his underwear on Northwest Flight 253. By reacting quickly, other passengers were able to subdue the suspect and put out the flames. In the years since the aircraft suicide attacks of 11 September 2001 (9/11), many citizens, like those on Flight 253, have joined forces with the U.S. government and the nation’s security agencies to keep the U.S. homeland safe. Unfortunately, the more aware people become of the dangers surrounding them, the more creative the terrorist attempts also become – and, therefore, the more sophisticated the checkpoint security protection equipment must become as well.

When Britain’s internal secret service (MI5) and police forces foiled the unprecedented liquid bomb plot in August 2006, liquid threat prevention was added to the growing list of security concerns. More recently, the MI5 discovered evidence that al Qaeda may be planning to surgically implant explosives in the bodies of suicide bombers, proving again what security professionals already knew – namely, that each new terrorist tactic adds to the complexity of necessary threat detection systems. Using equipment ranging from small hand-held metal and chemical detectors to complex full-body scanners that use backscatter technology, security personnel are able to search not only baggage, cargo, and vehicles, but people as well, at critical security checkpoints.

Among the more common sites where screening is carried out on these items – and on people – are border checkpoints, airports, shipping ports, courthouses, nuclear power plants, military bases, and various “large-venue” events. However, the need for additional security is also growing in other sites such as schools and corporate buildings. Because searches are needed for a wide variety of dangers – e.g., liquid and solid bombs and other weapons, biohazardous materials, narcotics and other illegal substances – in a wide range of locations, no single screening device is sufficient to detect all possible dangers. For example, high-energy transmission x-rays used by ports, borders, military facilities, and other installations can penetrate up to 43 cm of steel, while backscatter x-rays used on humans penetrate to only about 10 mm. Both types of devices provide exceptional detection for their respective uses, but they are not interchangeable.

New Technology for Advanced Threat Detection The installation of inspection and screening systems at critical security checkpoints provides an important first line of defense in protecting the country as a whole. By detecting threats early – particularly within such critical infrastructure sectors as transportation, power, federal and municipal services, and law enforcement agencies – officials are able to avoid or dissipate a more catastrophic event such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Threat awareness, coupled with threat detection, also will usually prevent people like Richard Reid, the 2001 shoe bomber on American Airlines Flight 63, from even boarding a plane.

Obviously, government and police investigators must be equipped with the best detection equipment available in order to combat whatever threats now exist or are likely to be developed and deployed in the foreseeable future. Newer x-ray devices measure the way the rays bounce and bend, which provides better material discrimination. The combination of multiple x-ray angles and improved threat-detection algorithms results in higher quality images, lower false alarm rates, and better capability for separating organic substances – such as explosives and narcotics – from inorganic substances such as metal. Using the resulting high-resolution image, a large cargo container can be searched for hidden contraband in less than 30 seconds, significantly reducing the need for time-consuming manual inspections. As a result, port authorities can provide additional security for the critical infrastructure by scanning more containers in less time.

Software plays an important role in supporting these inspection and screening systems. Although the systems used are becoming more complex, the training needed to use the scanners effectively does not change significantly because software upgrades now supersede equipment replacement. However, as systems become even more complex, the inspection sites and inspection training involved will undoubtedly create additional concerns.

Networking the inspection sites to communicate remotely to a central image viewing area will alleviate several of these concerns – for three reasons: First, having a single viewing area for multiple locations reduces the cost of installation and management at each location. Second, the use of fewer viewing areas permits the expanded use of the most highly trained inspectors. Third, remote viewing protects citizens’ privacy rights – answering a concern voiced by many citizens because the body screening images become more detailed. 

Here it is worth pointing out that, when given the choice of a full-body scan or a hand search in an airport test study performed in Europe by the British Airports Authority and the Manchester Airport Group, over 93 percent of the passengers in the study chose the advanced technology body scan over the traditional search. The backscatter technology used in the new scanners produce exceptional quality images – front and back – in less than seven seconds, so less time is involved, there is no intrusive search, and the passengers’ privacy is protected even more because the viewing is carried out at a remote location. The software and networking abilities of new x-ray devices make all of this possible.

An Increased Focus on Operational Efficiency and Customer Satisfaction One of the most important aspects of the security checkpoint of tomorrow is that it will enhance operational efficiency – e.g., checkpoint throughput and staffing requirements – even as it improves checkpoint security. And, rather than creating stress and confusion for persons going through the checkpoint, it will make people feel calmer and more secure. Leading checkpoint security designs use advanced gating and signage systems that guide persons through the checkpoint. Moreover, the new systems feature ergonomically designed divestiture and “recompose” areas as well as material handling systems that facilitate the handling and inspection of carry-on baggage. In one live airport trial, the use of these types of systems, together with advanced security screening technologies, dramatically increased customer satisfaction while at the same time reducing checkpoint manpower costs.

Integrating a variety of people, baggage, and cargo systems with software solutions provides a more comprehensive as well as more reliable security solution. At a typical airport, for example, baggage and cargo are scanned before being loaded onto an airplane, carry-on luggage is x-rayed on a conveyor belt, people are screened with metal detectors and full-body scanning devices, and the software behind all of this transmits reports and images to a central processing location. This optimized checkpoint approach can be further enhanced through the use of third-party bin diversion. In this scenario, when a threat is detected, the bag is removed automatically and authorities are alerted, thus preventing harm to airport personnel, and any others in the vicinity, and reducing stress for the person at the checkpoint. In the near future, scanners will use automatic threat recognition rather than images to pinpoint potential hazards. These new systems will assist operators by automatically indicating the presence of hazardous materials and contraband, including liquid explosives and/or other threats. By adding newly developed automatic bag and bin handling systems, many travelers will see a fully automated checkpoint in the near future.

Rapiscan Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of OSI Systems, is a leader when it comes to implementing fully integrated all-inclusive security solutions. Their trusted products are now being used at airports, nuclear power plants, courthouses, ports, borders, government buildings, large venue events, and companies in over 100 countries. With both U.S. Transportation Security Administration and U.K. Department for Transport approval, Rapiscan provides superior baggage and people screening at airports around the world through its 620XR, 620DV, 627XR, 627DV, 628XR, 632DV, 638DV, MVXR 5000, and Secure 1000 Single Pose systems. By integrating a sophisticated software platform with an energy efficient security system offering optimized throughput and the smallest footprint of all screening technology, Rapiscan Systems offers “the security checkpoint of tomorrow,” TODAY.

Peter Kant

Peter Kant is Vice President of Government Affairs at Rapiscan Systems, where he manages the company’s worldwide government relations effort - which encompasses over 150 countries. He works directly with senior government officials in nations all over the world, as well as with elected leaders and their staffs, and the global security community at large to help formulate and identify policies that address security vulnerabilities while at the same time protecting privacy and flow of commerce.



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