Thursday, December 8, 2011

Airport Body Scanners - What Can I Expect?

By Robert Nickel

Airport security is serious business. Take a look around at all the TSA staff the next time you are traveling somewhere and are about to pass through security before you board your flight - they're dead serious about what they do, and rightly so, as they represent the last line of defense before you're up in the air. However, no matter how many screening techniques are utilized on a person- to-person basis, the need for air-tight security at an airport is an ongoing need that must rely on technological advances from time to time. Over the years, metal detecting wands and luggage scanners were both implemented as tools to assist the security screening process and both tools are now ubiquitous in the security screening/pre-boarding areas of all airports around the world. Recent events in history have necessitated the development of newer, more sophisticated screening tools - hence the introduction of the full body scanner.

Full body scanners aren't in every major airport yet, as the technology is still somewhat new and the acceptance of the added measure of security screening that these machines provide has not yet been completely embraced by the traveling public. Many people have been subjected to a full body scan, but the majority of travelers are still somewhat unfamiliar with the process and procedure involved and what they should expect the first time they have a full body scan at the airport.

The process is straightforward and simple. You will first be asked to remove your footwear, empty your pockets and remove any 'chunky' metal items such as rings, earrings, belts, etc. You will then be asked to step forward into the marked space of the scanning area or chamber. A TSA agent will then show you how to position your body and your limbs, arms extended out from your sides or above your head and legs slightly apart. You'll be asked to maintain this pose for a few seconds while the scanner takes an image of your body.

While your image is being scanned, the image is instantly relayed to another TSA agent in a private office or area. There, an individual will examine your image for any irregularities or discrepancies. When the agent is satisfied that the scan has produced nothing to report or nothing of note, the agent will communicate to the TSA agent manning the scanner that you are cleared for security and can proceed to the boarding area. If there is cause for a further individual search, that will be indicated to you at this time. Once you've been cleared, you simply exit the scanning area or chamber, retrieve your personal items and proceed to your specified gate.

The machine searches for items with low atomic numbers - carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen. If any chemicals, weapons of any sort, explosives, potentially explosive items, drugs, metals or wired items are hidden on the body of the person who is in the scanner, they will show up on the captured image. As for what you will actually "feel" during the scanning procedure? Nothing. Much the same as when you receive an x-ray at the dentist, you will not feel any actual physical sensations whatsoever. Travelers with privacy or safety concerns, have the option of opting out of the scanning machine and instead partaking in the old fashioned "low tech" full body pat-down search. Many airports are also using the swab test (your hands are swabbed with a chemical and the swab is then placed in a machine that will quickly analyze the swab for residue of various elements) as an alternative to the body scan or full body pat-down.

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