By Molly Priddy, 3-27-12
||Caption: A plain-clothed Glacier Park International Airport employee demonstrates how to stand in the recently installed Advanced Imaging Technology machine. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
Travelers who visit Glacier Park International Airport can expect new security measures in the form of a full-body scanner now positioned to become the primary screening method at the airport.
The Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machine is one of 300 recently purchased by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for airports around the country. The total purchase equaled roughly $44.8 million, with each machine costing roughly $150,000.
The purchase of additional AIT units is part of a contract with L-3 Communications, and includes the option to buy 200 more machines.
An AIT machine uses millimeter waves to scan a traveler’s full body looking for metallic and non-metallic objects, and the automated target recognition software highlights any area on the passenger that may require additional screening.
It is not an X-ray machine, said Lorie Dankers of the TSA at a March 27 demonstration at the airport. Dankers discussed the new scanner with various media, while plain-clothed TSA employees demonstrated how to use the machine and what happens to passengers as they go through it.
Upon entering the machine, passengers hold their hands over their heads while their bodies are scanned. After exiting the scanner, a generic body outline appears on a screen, visible to the passenger and to the TSA agents. Any anomalies are highlighted with a yellow box, and that area is subject to a targeted pat down, Dankers said.
The machine pings off the passenger like sonar, Dankers said, and does not penetrate the body, which means those with joint replacements will not set off the alarms.
The TSA noted that the imaging technology is safe for all passengers and meets all known national and international health and safety standards. The energy emitted by the millimeter wave technology is 1,000 times less than the international limits and guidelines, according to a statement from the TSA.
In that same statement, the TSA said eliminating the detailed image of a passenger and replacing it with a generic outline removes the need for a separate TSA officer to look at the image in a remotely located viewing room.
This form of security screening speeds up the process, Dankers said.
“We find it also protects the privacy of the passenger,” she added.
Dan Fevold, who oversees TSA operations for the state as the federal security director for Montana, said the security employees will start using the scanner at GPIA for hours at a time immediately, and all security staff members should be fully trained to operate the machine within a couple weeks.
As with other full-body scanners, airport passengers will be allowed to opt out of the procedure, Fevold said. Those who do will be escorted past the scanner and the metal detector and be required to go through a standard pat down, he said.
Passengers who are ineligible for the scanner, such as children, will use the traditional metal detector, he said.
There are already AIT scanners in Billings and Bozeman, Fevold said, and Helena will get the state’s final scanner in the second week in April. Currently, there are nearly 500 AIT units at 78 airports nationwide.
For more information, visit www.tsa.gov/ait
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