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TSA Will Retest All Airport Full-Body Scanners

March 15, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Practice Management
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All 247 of the radiation-emitting full-body scanners in U.S. airports will be retested after maintenance records on some of the devices showed levels of ionizing radiation 10 times higher than expected.

Not to worry, said the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Merely a math error. The testing procedure calls for technicians to take 10 separate radiation readings, add them up, then divide by 10, said TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball. “They didn’t divide by 10,” he explained.

Um, I guess that’s reassuring. That would mean the true levels of emitted radiation were 10 times lower than the maintenance records indicated. Even the “forgot to divide by 10” erroneously high levels were, according to the TSA, many times less than a single day’s worth of natural background radiation.

Still …

Kimball said the TSA ordered the retests out of “an abundance of caution to reassure the public.” According to USA Today, the agency on Friday posted maintenance reports from 127 X-ray-emitting devices on its Web site. If you can find them on the site, then please let me know, because I sure can’t.

Anyway, the TSA promised that it would make its maintenance contractors retrain their workers and that it would post all further maintenance reports online.

Some observers, including members of Congress, remained unreassured. Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a written statement:

If TSA contractors reporting on the radiation levels have done such a poor job, how can airline passengers and crew have confidence in the data used by the TSA to reassure the public?

On another reassuring-the-public front, the TSA announced last month that it would begin testing new software to address complaints that the full-body scans were too revealing—amounting to a virtual strip search.

Some airport monitors showed body outlines with a level of detail that made some passengers extremely uncomfortable. The TSA responded that the monitors were in separate rooms that did not allow the screeners to see the actual persons being scanned and that no images would be recorded or stored. Nevertheless, outrage ensued.

The new software will generate a generic human outline, not an image of the actual traveler, with the location of any “potential threat items” marked on the outline, according to a TSA news release.

No word yet on a less-intrusive version of the TSA’s enhanced pat-downs.

Related seminar: Imaging Advances: Abdominal, Thoracic, Skeletal

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