Portland International Airport (PDX), a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) designated research airport, often tests new technology or procedures. One new technology recently implemented at PDX was ScreenADAPT®, an X-ray image analysis training system that tracks the eye movement of trainees as they inspect simulated bags to enhance visual search skills.
ScreenADAPT®, a collaborative research and development effort by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and TSA, is just one of several projects S&T has developed that is now in operational use with DHS components and first responders.
“The goal with ScreenADAPT® was to develop training methods and tools, through technology innovation, that would be relevant, challenging, intuitive and engaging to enhance Transportation Security Officer (TSO) visual search skills,” said S&T Program Manager Darren P. Wilson. “The result is an advanced X-ray image analysis training system that allows TSA to better analyze and understand TSOs visual search effectiveness and efficiency.”
After participating in the evaluation and testing of ScreenADAPT®, leadership at PDX requested to keep the ScreenADAPT® systems instead of returning them to the TSA headquarters. PDX spearheaded the full implementation of ScreenADAPT® as a permanent part of their hub and spoke training programs and built a dedicated ScreenADAPT® training area. They now use more than ten ScreenADAPT® systems on a daily basis.
“The training effectiveness evaluation indicated that using ScreenADAPT® in X-ray image analysis training not only resulted in TSOs identifying threats faster, but also clearing bags faster,” said Wilson. “They were able to make faster decisions with more confidence and fewer false alarms.”
The initial hesitation of TSOs to use a new training system was quickly overcome when they were able to see the ease of use, the performance impacts at the checkpoint and experience firsthand the benefits of ScreenADAPT®.
“Once seeing the benefits and utilizing the program, there was a complete turnaround in their attitude,” said James Wesolowski, Supervisory TSO at PDX. “Supervisors, managers and officers all want to use ScreenADAPT® because of the benefits of the program.”
Wesolowski found the simulated X-ray images presented in ScreenADAPT® to be clearer than in previous training programs. Another valuable benefit is the instant feedback TSOs receive after sessions. Trainers can help walk through deficiencies with trainees in a way that has made officers at every level more effective. This feedback is based on ScreenADAPT’s® eye-tracking ability to show where and how long someone is looking at the X-ray images. That is a major advantage, Wesolowski shared.
In addition, ScreenADAPT® allows a coach or supervisor to have a more hands-on approach to training. The program can automatically adapt to give trainees more training on the threats they miss the most. For example, if TSOs are missing guns, more guns are inserted into the training.
“The ability for ScreenADAPT® to tailor to threats the officer is missing most, allows that officer to build a larger image library in their mind,” said Wesolowski. “Threat items become easier for the officers to identify, increasing their detection rate. Having a bigger mental image library adds to the confidence of the officer.”
“Once the session is complete, the coach or supervisor has the ability to review the session with the officer in one-on-one sessions,” added Wesolowski. Trainers can take a much more personalized approach with individual officers, said Wesolowski. This approach has also led to better communication between TSOs and trainers.
“During that time, the coach or supervisor can have a conversation about the importance of being able to articulate why you called for a bag check,” explained Wesolowski. “When an officer can articulate what they are perceiving as a threat item, they feel more confident in the bags they are pulling to be checked.”
PDX has been so pleased with the resulting performance improvements since implementing ScreenADAPT® that Portland leadership has sent the machines to its smaller, spoke airports.
TSO performance at Rogue Valley International–Medford Airport has also seen a marked improvement since using ScreenADAPT®.
“Before, we’d struggle to understand the mistakes we were making,” said M. Alex Hemingway, TSO and instructor in Medford. “But now knowing where we’re looking in a bag, the training has become far more effective.”
Hemingway said ScreenADAPT’s® individualized training that tailors the type of threats and level of difficultly to the user is especially beneficial.
“If you’re amazing at knives, why take time doing knife sessions?” said Hemingway. “Training becomes far more effective when it’s tailored to your weaknesses.”
Overall, the implementation of ScreenADAPT® has been very successful and is helping harden aviation security at airport checkpoints all over Oregon.
“All it takes is a couple sessions to see where I’m making mistakes, and this knowledge I can take with me out onto the floor,” said Hemingway.
For more information on ScreenADAPT®, please contact First.Responder@hq.dhs.gov.