July 21, 2008

Indianapolis Airport’s Calming Features Should Make for Serene Security Checks

By Jeremy Herb, The Indianapolis Star

Jul. 21--Passengers going through security at the new Indianapolis International Airport terminal will be greeted by a mural of flowers, blue-lit panels and ambient music. Families will be directed to separate lines, away from travelers in a rush.

The experience will be nothing like the often chaotic, cramped, institutional-feeling checkpoints of old.

It's all part of an effort to inject calm into the process of getting passengers to their gates and reduce the sense of hassle most associate with being scanned and probed for weapons and explosives.

The new approach, conceived with help from psychologists, is part of the Transportation Security Administration's "checkpoint of the future," and passengers at Indianapolis' airport will be among the first to experience it.

"Most airports were built prior to September 11," said TSA spokesman Elio Montenegro. "New airports offer us an opportunity to take empty space, come in and work with planners. We can provide space for security equipment, comfort for passengers, and it's a brand-new game."

The new terminal, which opens in October, also will feature the latest security technology, including full-body imaging machines that peek beneath a passenger's clothing. Privacy advocates call it a "virtual strip search."

But the scanners -- which would be used only when a passenger sets off a metal detector and opts not to be patted down -- are just one of many new elements to a checkpoint that, like the rest of the airport, will have a whole different look and feel.

Security officials say the full-body scanners will make flying safer and allow passengers to avoid pat-downs at checkpoints, but critics call them a further erosion of passengers' privacy rights.

The scanners use millimeter-wave technology that penetrates clothing and produces an image of the body, revealing concealed weapons and other items hidden by clothing.

While the images that are captured by the new machines reveal only an outline of the body, the American Civil Liberties Union says the scans expose too much, including embarrassing medical details such as colostomy bags or the effects of a mastectomy.

"They create a very graphic picture of the naked body," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's technology and liberty project. "I don't believe Americans should be subjected to a virtual strip-search for the privilege to board a plane."

The ACLU has asked Congress to prohibit the use of the machines for routine screening.

TSA officials say they have taken steps to answer privacy concerns.

The images produced by the scanner conceal body contours, said Robert Ball, federal security director at Detroit Metro Airport.

Also, TSA workers viewing the images do so in a secluded room, out of passengers' sight, and no images are saved or stored.

Indianapolis' new terminal will have the scanners when it opens, said Robert Spitler, director of security for the Indianapolis Airport Authority, though TSA has not determined how many Indianapolis will receive. The scanners cost about $150,000 each.

Besides 11 U.S. airports, they have been installed in England, Spain, Japan and several other countries.

In Indianapolis, many passengers arriving from airports that contain the full-body scanners said they noticed the new machines but weren't concerned.

"I don't have a problem giving up a little privacy to be safe," said Mike Gilbert, 41, an Indianapolis resident returning from Phoenix.

But passenger Avi Lagu, 67, who recently flew in from Boston, said he thinks the new machines invade privacy.

"Passengers have no rights," he said. "Just like being naked -- you take off your shoes, you take off this and that. I don't think it's right."

Indianapolis also will receive 14 advanced X-ray machines for scanning carry-on baggage. The new machines generate a high-definition image and provide multiple angles that will allow for quicker scans.

The airport also will get an automated bin system, which will return bins to the front of the line like a bowling ball return.

When the TSA designed its new checkpoints, security was the main concern, but psychology followed close behind.

The new checkpoints include elements to relax passengers from the time they approach the metal detectors to the moment they collect their carry-on luggage.

"The idea behind checkpoint evolution is to calm the effect of the checkpoint," said David Kane, Indiana's TSA federal security director. "Our analysis tells us that if you can insert lighting into the environment on the softer side of the spectrum . . . if you can put music into the environment, it has a soothing effect and brings down anxiety."

While the layout has yet to be finalized, nearly everything in the new checkpoint has been designed with the passengers' stress levels in mind, from a wider line to a new TSA uniform color. The blue uniforms also are supposed to command more authority.

The checkpoint also will feature murals and etched glass pieces. Softer, blue lights will radiate from panels. Music -- New Age-like pieces -- will add to the mood.

After passengers collect their bags, seating in a "re-composure" area will let them take their time before heading to the gates. The benches will be built with seats at different heights, creating a psychological divide that encourages people to sit next to one another.

Machines and layout aside, the TSA will be looking for people who aren't calm.

TSA has begun employing "behavior detection officers" in airports, assigning them to spot abnormal behavior exhibited by people who seem to be hiding something. Indianapolis started using such officers in March.

The officers look for facial expressions, gestures and other movements that make passengers stand out.

When officers notice someone acting strangely, they ask a set of questions to determine the reason for the behavior. If the person remains suspicious, the officer may call for additional screening.

TSA officials did not reveal specific behaviors they look for, citing security concerns, but Paul Ekman, a psychologist hired by the TSA to train its officers, said the checklist includes 30 items.

Critics say behavior detection is just racial profiling, but Ekman disagreed.

"Not only is it illegal to do on basis of race, but I think it's a great mistake because if there is another terrorist attack, it may well be a native-born American," Ekman said. "TSA knows racial profiling is out. What they like about this is, it's behavior profiling, not racial."


--A more spacious checkpoint. There will be two; both will be expandable.

--Behavior-detection officers. Officers are trained to look for abnormal behavior throughout the terminal.

--New blue TSA uniforms. The new police-like blue uniforms are supposed to command more authority.

Star report


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