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Las Vegas Airport Site for TSA Testing of New Security Technology

By Kelly Hoggan

TSA uses a special checkpoint at Las Vegas's McCarran Internation Airport to test new screnning technologies.

The Transportation Security Administration has responsibility for screening air travelers and their carryon and checked luggage at more than 450 US airports. As well, TSA is constantly on the lookout for new security technologies to improve its capabilities and how the hundreds of millions of flyers it interacts with annually are exposed to the screening experience. Because of these twin needs, the agency has been testing new tech at a special security checkpoint at Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport.

Controlled Passenger Flow

As pointed out by USA Today, in a September 5th article posted at its website, TSA is using what it calls an “innovation checkpoint” with the purpose of evaluating new screening practices. While regular checkpoints at McCarran typically screen in excess of 1,200 flyers hourly, the pace is much more measured at the special lane, where about 200 passengers are screened per hour. The lower passenger processing rate allows TSA screeners and their leaders to more fully assess advantages, as well as any drawbacks, to the new technology being evaluated.

Computer Laptop Screening

In addition to the number of flyers processed hourly through the Las Vegas airport’s innovation checkpoint, other differences are also evident. For one, TSA’s use of new computed tomography (CT) machines at the checkpoint means passengers don’t have to remove computer laptops from their bags. Rather, they simply keep their laptops in their bags and place both into the CT device’s entrance portal, which quickly renders vivid 3D images that allow TSA screeners to thoroughly view any carryon luggage. Transportation Security Administration leaders are so enthused about the capabilities of the new CT machines they’re planning to roll out hundreds of them at US airports over the coming year.

Identity Verification Improvements

The government security agency has also been testing new ways of verifying air travelers’ identity as well as whether they have a flight they’re scheduled to board as they head through a TSA checkpoint. Using newly developed “ID credential authentication technology,” passengers being processed through the special McCarran checkpoint don’t need to show an airline boarding pass to TSA screeners. Instead, they simply hand over their ID to a screener, who then inserts it into a machine. Once inserted, the machine checks the ID against TSA’s Secure Flight database and then informs the screener if they have the agency’s PreCheck designation as well as whether they possess a ticket for a flight that day. (Travelers can begin the application process for PreCheck at the TSA website here.)

Speedier, More-Comfortable Body Scanning

TSA is also using a new type of whole-body scanning at the McCarran special checkpoint. Using what’s known as “millimeter wave passive scanning,” the screening machine creates a 3D image on a remote monitor for analysis by TSA screeners. Privacy for those being scanned is also enhanced, as the millimeter wave technology creates a generic body outline that shows only areas that might be of security concern. In addition, flyers going through the passive scanning machine don’t have to raise their arms above their heads, and it only takes about a second to go through the device.

Rollout to Other Airports

TSA is using the international airport at Las Vegas to test these approved technologies because of its mix of business and vacation travelers as well as the facility’s size. With this effort, it’s clear that agency leaders are highly focused on improving security screening effectiveness as well as decreasing the time flyers spend going through a TSA checkpoint.

CT machines are already scheduled for deployment to many US airports in the coming months. If they pass the certification process at McCarran, TSA plans to put millimeter wave passive scanning and credential authentication technology into equally widespread use. Air travelers will benefit the most from such technological improvements, as the time they spend in a TSA security line will decrease steadily with the technology’s increased usage.

Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 400-plus commercial airports.

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