FAA urged to boost baggage tech

Inspector general says high-tech explosives detectors could be used much more

In light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration should maximize the use of advanced explosives-detection equipment and step up its software-based program to measure the performance of workers who screen baggage, the Transportation Department's inspector general said at a congressional hearing Oct. 11.

DOT IG Kenneth Mead told members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Aviation Subcommittee that bulk explosives-detection systems, including InVision Technologies Inc.'s CTX system, "continue to be seriously underutilized."

As of July, the systems, which are used to screen checked baggage, were screening an average of 350 bags per day nationwide—even though a single system can screen about 150 per hour, Mead said. As of Sept. 30, 142 systems were deployed at 47 airports, he said.

One major reason for the detection systems' limited use is that until recently, airlines were only compelled to screen baggage when a passenger was flagged by the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System. Using information in airline reservation systems, CAPPS identifies passengers who may pose an increased security risk.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the FAA has required that the systems be used continuously, Mead said, but recent visits to seven airports showed that air carriers were not doing so. Airlines have been reluctant to use CAPPS out of fear of inconveniencing passengers, he said.

FAA Administrator Jane Garvey said 19 bulk explosives-detection machines remain in warehouses—for which the agency has been criticized—but that all of them will be deployed to airports within 90 days, after preparations are made for their installation.

Mead also said the FAA needs to design clear performance standards under its program to monitor the work of baggage-screening employees and to certify screening companies. The FAA plans to rely on threat image projection (TIP) software, which displays fictitious objects or bags on screeners' monitors to test their response.

Mead said that the complexity and scope of airport security may require that "one federal organization" be responsible for purchasing, deploying and using security equipment to screen passengers, employees, carry-on and checked baggage, and cargo.

However, "Regardless of where and with whom governance resides, we need to focus more attention on developing new advanced security technology and increasing the use and deployment of current equipment," Mead said.

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