Cross-posted from the TSA Blog.
What’s the biggest threat to an airplane? A knife? A pistol? While these items can be dangerous, with hardened cockpit doors installed after 9/11, an improvised explosive device poses the biggest threat to aviation security today.
I’ve talked about using Advanced Imaging Technologies to detect non-metallic and metallic threats, including IEDs already, but today I wanted to talk about another technology we have to detect explosives hidden on people and in bags. While going through checkpoints, you might have seen officers using little white swabs at TSA checkpoints at one point or another. In case you had no idea what our officers were doing, they were conducting state of the art Explosives Trace Detection (ETD) tests. And all along you thought they were giving your items a complimentary cleaning…
ETD tests are used in checkpoint, checked baggage, and cargo environments. We swab things such as laptops, shoes, film, cell phones, bags, wheelchairs, hands, casts - you name it. Certain procedures call for an ETD test.
Basically, our officers run the white swab over the area in question to collect a trace sample. They then place the swab in the ETD machinery which analyzes the sample for extremely small traces of explosives. The test takes a matter of seconds.
In the TSA of the past, our ETD machines were anchored to certain checkpoints or baggage areas. This is a mobile technology and we’re now going to take advantage of that luxury.
Recently, we tested ETD technology outside its regular use at checkpoints and checked baggage areas, and confirmed its ability to be used in other areas of the airport like the gate to check for explosives residue on passengers. Why the move? Since the attempted attack on 12/25, we looked at ways to immediately strengthen security using existing technology and procedures in different ways. ETD is quick, good for security and cost efficient.
Sure, we’re improving the checkpoints with technology such as Advanced Imaging Technology machines, but we currently have ETD machines at every checkpoint in the country and this new procedure will help us beef up security. Explosive Trace Detection is a highly effective, proven technology.
So as you travel, you might be asked for a swab of your hands at the checkpoint or gate. It’s painless and quick. The swabs are disposed of after each use and will not be used on more than one person. This is another way we can help keep the flying public safe from attempted attacks such as the one on 12/25.For additional reading, check out these new articles on our expanded use of ETD technology:
USA Today: TSA takes explosives screening to fliers
TSA Blog Team
Published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, D.C