National Security

One Step Closer to Enhanced Shoe Scanners at Airports

According to a press release from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a prototype shoe scanner to detect the trace elements of explosives on footwear worn by potential terrorists traipsing through airports is one step closer to fruition. On June 18, 2019, DHS highlighted the efforts of its Science and Technology (S&T) section and the shoe scanner they came up with to preempt any would-be terrorists trying to pass screening and board an airplane while wearing explosive-laden footwear.

The impetus for such a piece of technology stemmed from a terrorist who successfully bypassed airport security measures, boarded a plane, and hoofed down the aisle while donning shoes with a fuse…and enough explosive matter to reduce everything to unrecognizable remnants. Thank goodness it turned out differently. That would-be conflagration was impeded by air travelers on board a flight on December 22, 2001, mere months after the Twin Towers were rock-piled in the Big Apple.

The DHS press release explained: “…three months after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Richard Reid attempted to light a fuse in his shoe onboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. Luckily, nearby passengers and crew noticed and subdued him. FBI experts later found explosives in his shoes.”

Inconveniences at airports when Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening involves checking footwear at terminals across the country are a far cry from the worst-case scenario.

Per the TSA website, “TSA currently uses CT technology to screen checked baggage, but is just beginning to use it in the security checkpoint. The scanning technology is able to detect shapes and densities of items including bulk and liquid explosives that could be a threat to commercial aviation.” The scanners piggyback on traditional CT technology commonly used on patients undergoing imagery orders in medical facilities.

DHS foresees their new shoe scanner machinations being field-tested at select sites sometime later in 2019. As of today, they haven’t completed construction of the first prototype.

Given that many humans detest inconvenience, despite post-9/11 living in a society still plagued by the threat of terrorism, wishing to speedily go about their everyday lives, DHS and TSA officials have been busily engineering a duality to catch threats while also mainstreaming airline travel flow. So much so that there’s even a guy in charge of the two-fold protocol. John Fortune is DHS’s program manager presiding over the agency’s Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, the unit charged with shoeing in the Apex Screening at Speed Program.

As Mr. Fortune put it: “We are looking for a two-fold benefit—to improve detection of current and emerging threats to aviation and to improve the passenger experience in the airport.”

As it steps toward futurism and technological enhancements to improve air travel processes, TSA’s mission is stated thus: “TSA requires detection technologies that effectively and efficiently screen people for concealed explosive threats. Currently, as people move through checkpoints they must remove outerwear, footwear, belts and headwear, slowing the line and decreasing public acceptance. False alarms are frequent, causing inconvenient and intrusive pat-downs and searches [emphasis added].”

Travelers’ claims of too touchy-feely TSA agents across the aviation grid have been widely publicized, some reportedly resulting in lawsuits against TSA agents‘ “groping” at screening checkpoints.

The shoe scanners DHS has been working on are designed to screen footwear on walking passengers, negating air travelers from having to stop, remove their shoes, place them in plastic bins, and wait until they are given the green light. The newest techno-stuff allows unimpeded flow as passengers walk through a glass tube, their footwear screened as they proceed.

(Credit: DHS.gov)

Besides analysis of walking passengers, Apex engineers also have designs on technologic ways to acquire “data through most garments and reliably” detect a “wider range of prohibited items regardless of concealment.” Ahem, sounds creepy…but I get it: It’s necessary, to stay terror-free while I tool on to my destination.

As emphasized above, some of us hate the bottleneck and slowed pace at airports, exacerbated when we may be running a tad tardy or just marvel at personal punctuality. However, such inconveniences are necessitated by the jihadis who try to cloak mayhem at our country’s target-rich environments such as airline terminals.

As one who prides himself on deliberation and thrives on a measured pace to stave off mistakes (still have my boo-boos though), I try to plan ahead for such potential delays. Frankly, technology or not, the additive philosophy of Homeland Security figureheads and TSA officials charged with ensuring safety in our nation’s aviation system to “swiftly” move security processes and “enable rapid screening of passengers and their belongings” can easily turn into needless mistakes. Just like our coverts conduct recon, jihadis observe operations and viably come away with any perceived weaknesses from which they concoct destructive plans. Haste makes waste, and there is nothing more than terrorists would love than to waste Western culture at any pace.

What’s your stance on airport screening ventures and how TSA agents handle such necessities?

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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