Car engines have gone through it. So too have fireworks, gassed chainsaws, even still-bleeding alligator heads.
Those are among the gaggle of unusual items that pass through mammoth beige-colored machines resembling hospital CAT scans located below airports across the country. The machines are tasked with examining checked baggage for every manner of bizarre or illegal items once bags glide beyond ticket counter conveyor belts into an area that the general public rarely gets to see.
On Friday, Transportation Security Administration officials at Miami International Airport gave a behind-the-scenes look at some of the technology deployed to screen passengers for harmful — or downright odd — items not allowed on airplanes.
The walk-through comes at a time of heightened concern over terrorist activity on airplanes or airports. It follows a U.S. Department of Homeland Security directive late last month that instated new security measures at about 280 foreign airports with flights into the U.S.
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Among the new rules are heightened passenger and personal-device screening and expanded use of canine screeners.
We know that terrorists are still interested in commercial aviation, we know that they are trying to devise ways to hide explosives in your every day electronic devices. We have always felt that we are at a heightened state of alert, what’s changed is what has happened in other countries.
Sari Koshetz, a spokeswoman for the TSA
“We know that terrorists are still interested in commercial aviation. We know that they are trying to devise ways to hide explosives in your every day electronic devices,” said Sari Koshetz, a spokeswoman for the TSA. “We have always felt that we are at a heightened state of alert. What’s changed is what has happened in other countries.”
While the technology TSA officials displayed at MIA isn’t necessarily new, the administration seldom shares information on its processes. TSA implements 20 layers of security, Koshetz said, some seen and some unseen, to keep passengers safe.
Take the giant luggage CAT scans: If TSA officials notice a potential threat within a bag, the luggage is diverted into a separate room where X-ray images of its contents can be more closely analyzed. If a closer look still doesn’t reveal what’s inside, TSA officials will move the luggage into yet another room to open it and remove any banned items.
Other security measures, like the gray tube-like x-ray machines at checkpoints, are probably better known to travelers. What they haven’t seen is what happens on the TSA side.
TSA implements 20 layers of security, some seen and some unseen, to keep passengers safe.
When a passenger enters the x-ray machine, feet on the yellow foot prints and hands up in the air, TSA officials on the other side press a blue or pink button for male or female. The machine turns on and spins for exactly three seconds before a generic image of a person shows up on the official’s screen. If any area of the body is marked with a yellow box, that area will then get a pat down. Otherwise the screen turns green and passengers can move ahead.
Things as harmless as cellphones in pockets or watches on wrists can return a yellow caution box; other concealed items will also show up on the machine. The Advanced Imaging Technology uses electromagnetic waves that emit 10,000 times less energy than a cell phone call.
Also on the TSA side of checkpoints are machines that check paper swabs and liquid bottles for explosives.
The swab will be used on palms, hands or inside luggage to pick up 12 different types of explosive particles. Those will show up even if someone used gloves while handling them because the particles become airborne and get very sticky, said TSA supervisory officer Daniel Tabares. “It’s going to get on something,” he said.
TSA Explosive Trace Detection machines can pick up 12 different types of explosive particles from a single paper swab.
The swab then goes through a gray machine resembling a large cash register with a screen, called an Explosive Trace Detection machine. It lights up with the word “alarm” if something is detected.
Passengers who take liquid medications that are beyond the allowed carry-on luggage limit of 3.4 ounces also get scanned for explosives. (Travelers are allowed 3.4 ounce liquids, in one quart-sized, clear zip-top back bag per person, also known as the 3-1-1 rule.)
Medications exempt from that rule go inside a small machine called the liquid bottle scanner that lights up red if the liquid has any kind of explosive material inside. Both the passenger and the liquid get a more thorough look over if that occurs.
Also on hand were K9 officers to sniff out explosives, including two new award-winning recruits: Dux, a gray German Shorthaired Pointer who won the Top Dog award, and Dealer, a black Labrador Retriever who graduated with distinguished honors.
95 percent Percentage of MIA travelers who pass through TSA security in less than 15 minutes
Despite all the tech and procedures, 95 percent of travelers pass at MIA through TSA in less than 15 minutes, according to TSA officials. The administration recommends arriving one-and-a-half to two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight.
During the walk through Friday afternoon, Cleveland resident Denise Kirk, tanned and on her way home from a vacation in Miami with her husband, went through security in about five minutes. She said she’s mostly had positive experiences with the TSA security procedures.
Kirk said the thorough security put her at peace before her flight. “It’s what we have to do to be safe,” she said.