Pulling the Puffers

TSA made the decision to pull the puffers from screening checkpoints. Click here for the story. The question was posed to me by a local radio station as to whether the puffers, formerly known as Portal Trace Detectors, were a waste of money. My answer was: not really. It was a test of technology and the technology did not meet the standards required to be used in the rigorous environment of an airport. 

 

Portal Trace Detector (aka Puffer)
Portal Trace Detector (aka Puffer)

What the puffers really represented was how airport security was still inadequate to meet the threat in 2004, even after all the changes made in the post 9/11 aviation security overhaul. 

In August of 2004, two Chechan suicide bombers downed two Russian airliners by smuggling bombs through the screening checkpoint. The immediate reaction in the U.S. was initiate more pat-down searches. This resulted in a backlash from passengers who felt the searches were too intrusive. Soon, the portal trace detectors made their debut as a less intrusive method of detecting explosives on individuals. The real question is, where were they ten or twenty years ago?

Since 1973, checkpoint security has relied on metal detectors to detect whether an individual is carrying a weapon. However, metal detectors do what is says on the box, it detects metal. It does not detect explosives. In the 1980s, terrorists quit using dynamite and started using plastic explosives, which metal detectors do not detect. Yet, we continued using the detectors as our primary screening until…well, even until this day! 

The TSA has started deploying the body imaging technology to screening checkpoints. While not full proof and while not without controversy, it is a significant step in improving airport security.

And by the way, TSA now says you should put your shoes directly on the conveyor belt for the x-ray machine. Apparently it’s harder to see through them when they are in the bins. Click here for the story.

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