Instead of getting security "pat-downs," some passengers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport will soon be screened by one of two new devices: a high-tech imaging system or a highly sensitive puff of air.
The airport is one of just four nationwide chosen by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to participate in a pilot program to test the new technologies, which are used to detect explosives and plastic weapons at the same time.
One of the devices, called an Explosive Trace Portal, works by firing a small cloud of air that checks a passenger's clothing for microscopic traces of explosives. If an alarm sounds in the walk-through device, the passenger is screened further. The other machine, called an X-Ray Backscatter unit, creates a photo-like image that allows screeners to see through clothing to search for explosives and plastic weapons, eliminating the need for pat-down checks.
They will be used only on those passengers who are selected for additional screening. Dennis R. Schrader, Maryland's homeland security director, said BWI's participation in the pilot program is the result of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s commitment to working with the federal Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration.
"The governor knows that technology is a key component in moving ahead with security, which is why we've offered our services to test these new devices," Schrader said. "We want BWI to be on the cutting edge."
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the TSA has used Baltimore's airport as a model for testing new equipment and security screening strategies. The airport - the first in the nation to have a fully federalized security force - has speeded up its security lines by implementing theme-park-style security lines and flat-screen televisions displaying detailed instructions for passengers.
BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said the two new screening devices, which are expected to begin operation this year, will help to further streamline security at the bustling airport.
"These new technologies should make the screening procedures more effective and efficient," Dean said. "One benefit will be a reduced need for physical pat-downs, which can be time-consuming, and, to some people, intrusive."
The TSA, which began testing the machines at various airports last year, is footing the bill for the new devices, each of which costs more than $100,000.