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Effective screening for airport checkpoints.

WEAPONS AND EXPLOSIVES detection at airports continues to be a top priority, yet the majority of X-ray systems at airport carry-on checkpoints use older technology. Budget constraints and a lack of certainty about the best new technological advances have led to upgrade delays.

Tests conducted two years ago by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) might shed some light on the road to airport security, but the details remain classified.

It is, however, known that the week-long series of FAA tests found that a key ingredient to security, not surprisingly, is a well-trained and highly motivated team of operators. X-ray equipment will do its job if the operators are able to do theirs.

Both the systems tested by the FAA--the vapor detector system and the enhanced X-ray system (EXR)--performed well when operated by qualified professionals.

The EXR systems included dual-energy and backscatter technologies such as those manufactured by EG&G Astrophysics Research, Heimann, and AS&E. When used by well-trained, highly motivated operators, the systems were effective in detecting small amounts of explosives hidden in various consumer items. In particular, dual-energy X ray with inorganic stripping (IS) capability proved effective.

IS is a feature of the most advanced dual-energy X-ray systems. It allows the operator, with a push of a button, to peel away, or strip, the inorganic image information leaving the organic image information, which would include potential threats from plastic explosives.

To attain excellent screening results similar to those attained during the FAA tests, resources must be allocated to upgrade checkpoint systems. The majority of X-ray systems used for carry-on screening at airports are not dual-energy systems with the IS feature. These older systems need to be replaced or retrofitted with this or a similarly advanced technology.

Once the upgraded equipment is in place, screeners need to be given expert training on recognizing the potential threat information that the dual-energy X ray with IS or similarly advanced technology can provide.

One X-ray manufacturer is attacking this problem with a three-pronged strategy:

* Innovative check-in desk installations that allow one professional security officer to run several X-ray machines.

* Testing and training products that improve operator skills and retention level.

* New operator-assist features for X-ray systems that simplify operator tasks.

In July 1991, American Airlines began operating a new security screening installation for check-in luggage at Terminal 3 in London's Heathrow Airport. This installation includes 22 X-ray systems equipped with IS and capable of detecting both weapons and explosives.

These enhanced X-ray systems are built into the check-in counter so that the passengers' bags can be screened as the passengers are checking in, saving the passenger time and significantly reducing the queuing so common at international terminals.

The images from these check-in stations are transferred to a remote console away from the noise and distractions of the terminal floor. Because the environment is conducive to concentration and the normal check-in process allows extra time for detailed screening, three security screeners are able to handle the images from all of the X-ray systems. With fewer screeners needed, it is possible for the airline to employ screening operators of a higher caliber.

A similar system was installed this summer at the American Airlines facility at Orly Airport in Paris, and others are in the planning stages by several airlines at other international terminals.

With between 1,000 and 2,000 enhanced X-ray systems installed worldwide, and more than 10,000 X-ray systems of all types in use, the industry has a real interest in improving the effectiveness of personnel responsible for the operation of those systems.

Training and testing products are available to provide operators with improved ability to interpret X-ray images of both explosives threats and weapons. One system, for example, concentrates on interpretations of images from dual-energy X-ray systems with IS. The focus is on developing a formal approach to analyzing each image for potential threats as opposed to memorizing a selected group of threat objects. This training and testing system has been designed to exceed the FAA's proposed Screener Proficiency Evaluation And Reporting System (SPEARS) requirements for training.

The training and testing system provides the screener with all the tools that are normally used on the X-ray system, just as if the screener were operating a normal X ray and viewing real images. It is, in effect, an X-ray simulator.

The system consists of a number of training modules, including training and testing, a library of threat images, real-time testing and monitoring, and performance reports and graphs.

The testing module includes preboard screening simulation. The operator is presented with actual X-ray images, some with threats, some without, and some that are ambiguous. He or she is required to take appropriate action. The system then provides useful feedback, showing the operator how well he or she performed and how to correct mistakes.

The training and testing product is available as a workstation, suitable for checkpoint or classroom training or integrated directly into the X-ray system to minimize space requirements and reduce the cost of the system. In addition, a testing-only version is available as a product integrated with the X-ray system.

This training system specifically addresses the need to upgrade the capabilities of the carry-on checkpoint screener to exploit the new explosive detection features of dual-energy X-ray with IS.

In addition to the training program, new operator-assist features appear on advanced X-ray systems. Basically, these features depend on sophisticated computer and software capability to analyze potential threat images and then provide a visual alert to the operator on the nature of that threat and its location.

Operator assist does not come cheaply. Prices range from $200,000 to $500,000. Companies developing these systems include Vivid, EG&G Astrophysics, and Imatron.

An upgrade to enhanced X-ray costs approximately $55,000 per system. The accompanying SPEARS-type training products cost around $24,000.

Whichever level of sophistication a user selects, the operator cannot and should not be completely eliminated from the system. Continuing to develop innovative ways to improve the effectiveness of the screening system operator is a priority.

David S. deMoulpied is director of marketing for EG&G Astrophysics Research Corporation in Long Beach, CA.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Demoulpied, David S.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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