Joe Belgane

Look at the entrance of most commercial office buildings, mail rooms, air cargo hangers, landmark checkpoints or the perimeters of entertainment venues and you are likely to see X-ray security screening in place. While today’s advanced technology delivers meaningful explosive detection capabilities, experienced and well-trained X-ray screeners are a key component of successful screening.   

Misinterpretation of suspicious items is a liability risk that may lead to unnecessary evacuations or, even worse, the mishandling of a true IED threat. MSA’s SmartTech® integrates with existing X-ray equipment providing real-time access to experienced bomb technicians, allowing for instant analysis of any suspicious item. This technology allows any facility – regardless of size or scope – the ability to examine any package through highly-trained eyes. Moreover, their subject matter expertise serves as a critical resource for the training and continuing education of today’s X-ray screening operators. 

Today’s Challenges

The recent Austin, TX bomber is just one example highlighting the need for an experienced screening eye. While pipes, like those used as explosive containers in this instance, are easily identifiable by X-ray, the switches used present a more significant interpretation challenge. Both clothespins and mousetraps are commonly used as switches due to their simplicity and versatility, but they are difficult to screen because of the low density of the wood. Only by using a variety of X-ray machine enhancements is the screener able to properly assess the switch on this IED.

Following high-profile incidents like Austin, security managers become acutely more aware of the value of proper – and continued – X-ray screener training. Let’s discuss three methods of delivering this critical education.

On-Site Training

Comprehensive on-site training delivered by experienced subject matter experts is critical. Education should include X-ray interpretation, explosives recognition and IED awareness, understanding of security checkpoint operations, as well as vehicle search inspection, if applicable. While these are general areas of focus, the training should be custom designed to best align with the unique threat spectrum anticipated within that unique environment. As an example, an X-ray screener operating within an air cargo facility views a library of images far different than those viewed by an operator working an X-ray machine at the entrance of a city landmark.  Screeners must be properly trained to identify and address the threats they will most often be required to identify within their deployment.

Ongoing Updates and Bulletins

The average security screener often lacks the experience required to quickly identify and assess the multitude ever-evolving IED presentations. A robust and successful training program stays ahead of the evolution of homemade explosive devices and combats high screener turnover. This is possible with consistent and targeted informational bulletins that regularly communicate trends, timely tips and images screeners are likely to face in the current landscape.  

Real-Time Suspicious Item Feedback

Regardless of deployment, X-ray screeners are required to analyze hundreds, if not thousands, of items each day and many of them unique. By viewing suspicious items real-time with the support of an FBI-certified bomb technician, screeners increase their knowledge base and build confidence in their assessment abilities. 

Empowering today’s screeners with the right tools and training is key to eliminating guesswork, protecting people and assets and minimizing business disruption.

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