INTRO: Ever since the thwarted 'shoe bomber' incident and the suicide bombing on a Russian aircraft last year, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration has actively looked for ways to better check passengers' bodies for bombs. Until recently, that meant unwelcome pat-down searches. But Ky Plaskon (kie PLASS-kon) reports from Las Vegas that the TSA is trying out a new hands-off system.
AUDIO: CUT 10 AIRPORT AMBI Snk in and hold under throughout
TEXT: Checking baggage for explosives is no problem. Airport security can put them in x-ray machines, open them up to look inside or use advanced machinery to check for traces of chemicals that can be used in explosives.
AUDIO: CUT 1 SFX AIRPORT SECURITY OFFICER Stand right here, please.
TEXT: But checking people's bodies is not so easy. A TSA initiative begun in September to rigorously frisk more people led to dozens of sexual harassment complaints. So, the TSA turned to technology?installing what looks like a longer, more complex walk through metal detector in 9 airports around the country?including McCarran International in Las Vegas. Jose Ralls is the TSA Director for McCarran.
AUDIO: CUT 2 RALLS The machine actually will talk to the individual, tell them to stand inside and wait and as soon as they are cleared it will tell them to proceed. We will also have staff that is out there, this is a very new product to make sure that people get accustomed to it.
TEXT: They are called Explosive Detection Trace Portals. They test the air for traces of explosives. Mr. Ralls watches one airport passenger go through the process from a distance.
AUDIO: CUT 3 RALLS Now he knows to go on through, you hear it? And he just waits and as soon as the air is analyzed he will be able to proceed forward.
TEXT: The machine blasts air downward and across whoever's inside the portal. Mr. Ralls says that often startles people.
AUDIO: CUT 4 RALLS That is why our people are out there to explain to them the noise that they will be hearing.
AUDIO: CUT 5 SFX Blasts of air
TEXT: The way it's supposed to work is that suspect particles on clothing and exposed skin are blasted toward the floor where - within 7 seconds - the machine can detect 40 types of explosives. If any are found, security is alerted. According to its manufacturer, Smith Detection, the portals have less than a 1 percent error rate. Company vice president Mark Lastra says this technology is commonly used elsewhere.
AUDIO: CUT 6 LASTRA Mostly highly controlled facilities such as nuclear power plants and government buildings with high security needs.
TEXT: Along with increasing security, the TSA hopes to cut down on passenger wait times. So, it is collecting data from the airports in this test phase to see if the machines are faster and more efficient than human inspectors. So far, the detectors have received mixed reviews from passengers.
AUDIO: CUT 7 PASSENGER 1 It's going to make me feel a lot safer on the flights.
TEXT: Another passenger is worried that the machine might wrongly single out people who work with gunpowder or other chemicals.
AUDIO: CUT 8 PASSENGER 2 It depends on how sensitive it is. People do absorb chemicals from the different jobs that they do.
TEXT: But this woman says the technology doesn't go far enough.
AUDIO: CUT 9 PASSENGER 3 Going back to September 11, this probably wouldn't have stopped it from happening. So maybe people have to be more inventive now.
TEXT: The Transportation Security Administration plans to deploy five more of these portals elsewhere in the nation by late spring and eventually would like the explosive detectors to be as common as metal detectors. For VOA News Now, I'm Ky Plaskon in Las Vegas.