TSA looks to upgrade shoe security procedures


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rick_reno
August 11, 2005, 09:42 AM
Police state? Not hardly, soon we'll be able to keep our shoes on when boarding an airplane. That's the sign of a free country!

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8899022/

TSA looks to upgrade shoe security procedures
New technologies could ditch need to remove shoes at airport checkpoints
WASHINGTON - If the Transportation Security Administration has its way, wearing flip flops through airport security checkpoints will once again be a lifestyle choice instead of an attempt to avoid the podiatric strip tease now associated with airline travel in the post-9/11 era.

According to a federal business opportunities web site, the TSA is inviting companies to voluntarily participate in a test program to develop technologies for “Shoe Weapons Inspection Systems (SWIS) that can inspect footwear for weapons without passengers having to remove or divest them from their feet.”

In other words: the TSA is looking for a technology that will scan your shoes for bombs without making you wander around airport security checkpoints in your bare feet.

The TSA says one of its most consistent complaints comes from people that have to walk around in bare feet on cold, linoleum airport floors. And until some kind of feasible technology to scan shoes is developed, the best the TSA can offer to stem the steady stream of complaints is: wear gym socks.

A brief history of shoe removal
Inspecting shoes has a storied history. In December of 2001, just three months after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Richard Reid, dubbed the “shoe bomber,” failed to blow up a plane by igniting explosives stuffed into his sneakers.

Reid’s botched attempt so soon after 9/11 rattled federal security officials who hastily drew up plans requiring all shoes to be removed at airport checkpoints. That requirement was later relaxed; passengers are not required to remove their shoes today before going through checkpoints. However in the 9/11-era version of a Catch-22, the majority of those who do not remove their shoes are subsequently stopped just after passing through security metal detectors and made to remove their shoes anyway.

Lawmakers have continuously complained about the shoe removal policy and questioned TSA officials at hearings about its effectiveness.

And now the TSA is really looking for a few good technologies to address that problem and not just for use in aviation security, according to its published federal notice.

The TSA “is interested in measuring the state-of-the art, exploring advanced concepts of operation and assessing operational utility in pilot deployments at passenger checkpoints throughout the transportation security system,” says the notice.

However, the TSA also cautions that any technologies it qualifies for the purposes of further testing, even if taken to the pilot stage, may not result in the guaranteed purchase contract.

Back to the future
The concept of a shoe scanner isn’t new. Congress was told of such a scanner in early 2002 during hearings held as a result of Reid’s shoe bombing attempt.

At that time Lowell Burnett, then the president and CEO of Quantum Magnetics (now a subsidiary of GE Security) testified that his company had a prototype technology used for scanning shoes. It was developed as an outgrowth of the company’s landmine detection technology, he said.

Quantum Magnetics’ shoe scanner “is essentially an ‘upside-down’ mine detector,” Burnett told Congress. “When you stand on it for a few seconds, it quickly and accurately scans your shoes for explosives,” Burnett said.

And in fact, Quantum Magnetics’ device has already been tested in the real world, at San Diego’s Lindbergh airport, according to Steve Hill, a spokesman for GE Security. In those tests the device took about five seconds to scan a pair of shoes. (MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC, which is a GE company.)

Hill said the shoe scanner, part of the company’s “checkpoint of the future,” strategy, is intended to be deployed in various kinds of mass transit systems, including rail and subway.

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Reno
August 11, 2005, 09:46 AM
Is there some reason you couldn't put the explosives in a pocket instead of shoes to avoid detection, or is there something magical about shoe explosives that kill people extra dead that I'm missing?

cordex
August 11, 2005, 10:17 AM
is there something magical about shoe explosives that kill people extra dead that I'm missing?
Think "dirty bomb".

CatsDieNow
August 11, 2005, 10:47 AM
The way most of the scanners work, is by elecrtomagnetic induction.

The magnetic field is strongest in the center of the scanner and weaker near the edges - like where your shoes are. The scanner is less likely to detect metal articles in the corners of the device especially if it is not calibrated properly.

DelayedReaction
August 11, 2005, 12:18 PM
Explosives are typically detected through chemical sensors in the air, not through metal detectors. It wouldn't be too hard to place them somewhere on your body and get through the metal detector. If the electronics were stored somewhere in the carry-on, it wouldn't be hard at all to transport a weapon onto the plane.

The reason they make you put your shoes through the conveyor is that their scanners can look through them and notice something of an unusual density. Plastic explosive and shoe rubber look different when X-rayed.

dolanp
August 11, 2005, 12:18 PM
According to a federal business opportunities web site, the TSA is inviting companies to voluntarily participate in a test program to develop technologies for “Shoe Weapons Inspection Systems (SWIS) that can inspect footwear for weapons without passengers having to remove or divest them from their feet.”

If you had read this four years ago, you would surely have assumed it came out of some comedy book. Such a shame.

Standing Wolf
August 11, 2005, 08:34 PM
I received a shoe catalogue earlier this week that featured shoes guaranteed to pass through airport security—but we're not a police state.

HighVelocity
August 11, 2005, 10:27 PM
Yesterday morning at DFW airport I did NOT remove my shoes when I went through the magnatometer. The alarm did NOT go off. However the TSA agent asked to see the bottom of one shoe so I raised my foot. He then asked me to step into "The Puffer". I have seen this on TV but I did not know that DFW had installed them.
The Puffer is a booth that you step into and whisps of air are blown all over you. The air is then sucked back into the machine and analyzed for traces of explosive elements. Pretty ingenious device.

rick_reno
August 11, 2005, 10:51 PM
However the TSA agent asked to see the bottom of one shoe so I raised my foot. However the TSA agent asked to see the bottom of one shoe so I raised my foot.

Maybe he smelled dog feces? He was probably trying to determine where the odor was coming from.

Flyboy
August 11, 2005, 11:06 PM
The last time I flew commercial, I had to take off my shoes and mull around on the tile floor for several minutes while the government agents worked at about half-speed (several were standing around doing nothing, as is the norm at that airport). The floor didn't look like it'd been swept in weeks. I mean, filthy. I was glad to be wearing socks, at least.

I thought about snapping a quick picture to send to my Congresscritter, but I didn't want to be jailed for subverting security. And I'm pretty sure taking a picture of a security checkpoint (without permission, anyway) is a crime. But no, we're not a police state.

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