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How to Prevent a Bomb Attack: Behind the Scenes of Airport Security

When it comes to commercial air flight, security has always been a top priority. However, since the 9/11 attacks, airport security has had to adapt to a new kind of terrorism. Implementing a number of new systems to combat this threat, modern travel security has changed dramatically - the technology becoming increasingly sophisticated.

For one thing, airport scanners are a lot more complex than they used to be. While the simple metal detectors and X-Ray scanners are still in use, there are a number of new devices used to scrutinize passengers even further:

  • Explosives Trace Detection: This technology can detect whether a passenger has handled explosive material by analysing swabs taken from the person's body or luggage and checking whether or not they contain explosive residue.
  • Bottled Liquid Scanners: After a foiled terrorist plot using liquid explosives back in 2006, most airlines have banned liquids, gels and aerosols from their aircraft. Bottled Liquid Scanners are used to screen liquids such as insulin, which have been deemed 'medically necessary'.
  • CastScope: A low-energy X-Ray device, the CastScope allows airport security to scan plaster casts, bandages and prostheses for potential security threats with minimal disruption to the passenger.


Bomb Detection

While airport security used to rely on trained sniffer dogs, modern technology is beginning to take their place. Explosive Detection Systems can create a complex analysis of each piece of luggage and allow airlines to easily check each piece of luggage. Here's how they work:

  • While EDS systems vary from place to place, most use a CT or Computer Tomography scan. All luggage passes through a hollow tube, allowing an X-Ray device to revolve around it to produce a detailed image of the contents of each bag.
  • The EDS is then able to calculate the mass and density of each object inside the bag, alerting officials to the presence of items which fall within 'potentially hazardous' categories.

Although this new method puts the poor sniffer dogs out of a job, the EDS scanners are completely accurate and when used alongside automated baggage handling systems, can check 100% of all luggage that passes through. Despite these significant advances in scanner technology, airport security still has to be very careful about who they allow to fly.


Who do They Think You Are?

In recent years, passenger tracking has played an increasingly larger role in airport security. The ability to know exactly who is boarding each flight obviously has its benefits. But what about stopping certain people from boarding altogether? The Secure Flight system has been in place in airports across the USA since 2010 and allows airports to check each passenger's details against a central system. Secure Flight then crosschecks these details against the No Fly List (a database of individuals who are not permitted to fly) and can recommend people for further, more invasive screening.

However, Secure Flight is not without its critics. A number of 'false positives' have occurred, causing huge inconvenience to those individuals. The most famous occurrences include:

  • Mario LabbĂ© - a Canadian man who was forced to change his name after being constantly compared to the wrong person on the No Fly List.
  • Yahya Wehelie - a 26 year old man stranded in Cairo after being added to the No Fly List for having studied in Yemen.

While these systems obviously aren't perfect, their operation is nonetheless essential for the safety of airline passengers worldwide.

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