TSA will begin using Advanced Imaging Technology at the Juneau International Airport on January 23rd.
Transportation Security Administration officials demonstrated the newly installed machine Thursday. It began with a TSA officer giving these instructions to some would-be passengers:
“You guys want to make sure you take everything out of your pockets.”
Like the current system, passengers must take off their shoes, belts, coats and unload their pockets; all that stuff goes through the standard security x-ray.
Then the person walks into the circular unit and is told to raise arms above the head. The TSA officer presses a pink or blue button, depending on the gender, then gives these directions:
“You’ll face this direction. Look at the photo on the wall and assume that stance. Hold it until I ask you to release it. Go ahead and release. Step this way,” and the passenger exits.
To demonstrate the unit, TSA employees role-played passengers for the media. The officers are already going through training to learn how to use the Advanced Imaging Technology unit and Automated Target Response software.
Lorie Dankers is the spokeswoman for the TSA in Alaska.
“The units at this airport use what is called millimeter-save technology, which bounces harmless electromagnetic waves, essentially radio waves, off the body during the screening process,” she explains. “This is not an x-ray.”
The results are real time and the passenger sees it at the same time as the TSA officer. The computer-generated outline of a person on the screen is identical for all passengers. No body parts can be seen.
“So if a person has had a hip replacement or knee implants of some sort, it won’t detect that because it’s only looking at items on the outside of the body,” she says.
If the underwear bomber is carrying explosives in his shorts, the package will show up as a yellow image on the screen and the officer would follow-up with a targeted pat down.
“It’s not the machine’s job to tell us what the item is, it’s just to cue us that there’s something that needs to be followed up on. And so it’s not going to look different from one item over another,” Dankers says.
Advanced Imaging Technology is already in use at Anchorage and Fairbanks airports and will be installed in Ketchikan at the end of the month.
More than 540 AIT units are in airports across the U.S., but older full-body x-ray type scanners are used at other airports, including Seattle.
Federal security director for Southeast Alaska Ray Culbreath says the AIT scanners will not displace any TSA officers; Juneau currently has 54.
In addition to being the capital city and Alaska’s gateway city, Juneau and Ketchikan have been selected for Advanced Imaging Technology due to the high volume of tourists that come through their airports every summer, Culbreath says. In Juneau…
“This time of year we’re averaging between 650 and 750 passengers a day and during the summer months that more than triples,” he says.
According to Culbreath, an average of 275,000 passengers depart from the Juneau International Airport annually.