Airport using new body scanners (with video)

Full body scans have been introduced at the Albany International Airport without the outcry that the

Full body scans have been introduced at the Albany International Airport without the outcry that the devices prompted last year.

“Not one complaint,” said Doug Myers, the airport’s director of public affairs. He said this was in sharp contrast to the calls he received before the new scanners were installed, when people were concerned about the unfamiliar devices.

For the most part, passions have been tempered by the relative unobtrusiveness of the two scanners at the airport, which were installed earlier this month and have been in operation during the busy Thanksgiving holiday travel week.

Brian Johansson, federal security director at Albany International and three other airports, said people have been more comfortable with the scanners because of filters that are now utilized. “Before the filters went on, it was literally like x-ray glasses,” he said. “What we’ve got now is an avatar. It is a non-gender-specific stick figure, essentially. It looks like a gingerbread man.”

Front and back generic human outlines appears on a screen attached to the scanner, which is essentially a glass-enclosed cylinder. Passengers enter the scanner after putting their carry-ons and personal belongings into a tray that is X-rayed. They then stand barefoot in the scanner with their hands raised for a few seconds.

“The machine detects anomalies and puts a box in the area [on the screen],” Johansson said.

If an anomaly is detected, metallic or non-metallic, there are two officials waiting on the other side of the scanner to perform patdowns of the area indicated. Things that are commonly detected include wallets, cellphones, watches, tissues, jewelry and basically anything else on a person that isn’t clothing. In some cases, clothing itself can be detected as an anomaly, if it is bunched up. “If it doesn’t resemble the skin or the clothing, it gives us an alarm,” he said.

Johansson said it was important to detect nonmetallic objects because not all threats are metallic, as shown by the so-called “Underwear Bomber,” who had no metal in the explosive device he tried to detonate.

Because of how the scanner works — with reflected radio waves — the device is a boon to people with artificial body parts or metal in their body because the scanning stops at the skin. “We had quite a lot of people who have asked for this when it came out,” Johansson said.

The scan does take longer than the traditional passenger scanners, which are metal detectors. These older types remain in service at Albany International for periods when there are more passengers than the new scanners can handle. Albany International hopes to be able to run 150 passengers per hour through the new scanners, but the rate is now around 120 to 130 passengers an hour, too few for peak travel times.

Officials believe the rate will improve as more personnel are trained to operate the device. Because the devices were installed so close to the holiday travel season, managers had to pull people out of the training, which consists of eight hours in the classroom and six hours on the scanner.

Johansson noted that the scanners at Albany International Airport work faster than the earlier models because the older models had a delay between the review of images and the approval of passengers to move along. Since the images created by the scanners were so explicit, the people reviewing them were in another location so as to keep passengers as comfortable as possible, but this created a lag in the process. With the non-descript images created by the new scanners, officials are able to allow passengers to move along right on the spot.

Albany International is the second airport in the state to get this technology, which was certified this summer. Each scanner costs about $150,000.

Categories: Schenectady County

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